Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 6

lady-mary-charles-blake-downton-abbey

SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Philip John. Originally broadcast: 27 October 2013, ITV.

Alfred hears that he’s got a job at the Ritz, Mr Bates has a lot on his mind, Rose arranges a surprise for Robert’s birthday, and Violet sacks a gardener for theft so Isobel fights his corner…

When is it set? Spring 1922. Michael Gregson went to Munich “a few weeks ago”.

Where is it set? The house. Violet’s house. Isobel’s house. The Netherby Hotel. A country lane.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* There’s mention of Cora’s brother, Harold (who has yet to appear in the show). He lives in America and has got himself into financial troubles over oil leases.
* Simon Lowe plays a snooty maître d’ at a local hotel.
* Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) is a friend and colleague of Mary’s mate Evelyn. He comes to stay at Downton and is initially a bit brusk. He works for the government, looking into Britain’s farming estates, and rubs Mary up the wrong way by suggesting that national food production is more important than saving the aristrocracy.  

Best bits:
* Poor Edith. At breakfast she asks if there’s any post for her, clearly hoping for word from Michael Gregson. There isn’t. She later makes some phone calls and discovers that he’s vanished into thin air: no one has heard from him since he moved to Germany.
* Young gardener John Pegg calls Isobel ‘your ladyship’. She starts to explain that she’s not a lady, then just says, “Oh, never mind.” Great comic timing from Penelope Wilton.
* Thomas Barrow sees Rose coming out of Mrs Hughes’s pantry. “I wonder why Lady Rose was down here,” he says. Mrs H: “And I’m afraid you will continue to wonder.” She clearly thinks he’s a twat.
* When grumpy Jimmy says he doesn’t know why Alfred is nervous about his new job, Mr Carson swats him down by saying it’s because he’s intelligent. “Only stupid people are foolhardy.”
* Kevin Doyle continues to make every scene featuring Mr Molesley a delight. Having heard that Alfred is quitting, he goes – literally cap in hand – to Mr Carson to say he’s willing to take his place. Sadly for Molesley, Mr Carson is holding a grudge because Mr M once turned the job down.
* Edith gets a letter from her doctor: her symptoms, it says, ‘are consistent with those of the first trimester of pregnancy.’
* Charles Blake makes a good first impression. His relationship with Mary is cliché city – he annoys her, then they get on – but it’s a good performance and he feels like her intellectual equal.
* Rose’s surprise for Robert’s birthday? She’s arranged for a band from a London night club to play at the house. Of course, it’s the band she heard at the Lotus Club two episodes ago… including their African-American singer, Jack Ross. This causes a fuss amongst the lazily racist world of Downton Abbey. “Have you never thought of visiting Africa?” asks Mr Carson. Jack points out that his ancestors left there in the 1790s. As slaves. Embarrassed Carson then switches tacks pointing out that he’s proud of how Britain abolished the slave trade.
* Mary catches Rose snogging Jack Ross.

Worst bits:
* Tom Branson’s long goodbye is still dragging on. He’s going to move to America, he says. Yeah, right.
* Thomas Barrow, meanwhile, is blackmailing Miss Baxter for information. Yawn.
* There’s a rather predictable subplot about things going missing from Violet’s house.
* Anna and Bates go for a meal at local hotel The Netherby, but the maître d’ won’t give them a table simply because they’re not upper class. However, Cora is *coincidentally* eating there, sees the couple, comes over and embarrasses the maître d’ into giving them a table.

Real history:
* Jimmy mentions a new film: The Sheik (1921), which was directed by George Melford. Mrs Patmore says she likes its star Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926). (“He makes me shiver all over,” she says. “What a very disturbing thought,” says Mr Carson under his breath.) However, after Ivy has seen the movie, she reckons Valentino is slithery. She also mentions his co-star Agnes Ayres (1898-1940).
* Mr Carson compares Mr Molesley to ‘Kaiser Bill’ – aka Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) – who abdicated reluctantly.
* Mrs Patmore mentions the Norman Conquest of 1066.
* Charles Blake works for David Lloyd-George (1863-1945), the Prime Minister.
* Carson quotes Robert Henley, the 1st Earl of Northington, who in 1763 said: “If a man sets foot on English soil then he is free.”
* Jack Ross and his band perform I’m Just Wild About Harry. The song was written in 1921 by Noble Sissle (lyrics) and Eubie Blake (music) for Shuffle Along, the first successful Broadway show written by and starring African-Americans.
* Cora asks Robert if they’ve ever met “this Senator Fall” that her brother is involved with. Albert B Fall (1861-1944) was a US Senator from New Mexico. In April 1922, it was revealed that he’d granted lucrative oil-drilling rights to his friends in return for $385,000. The furore was known as the Teapot Dome Scandal, named for one of the government-owned oil fields.

Upstairs, Downton: Mrs Hughes mentions the green baize door, the stereotypical threshold in an aristocratic household that divides the servants’ area from the rest of the building. When initially cooked up by actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, Upstairs Downstairs was planned as a comedy called Behind the Green Baize Door. 

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet watches the live jazz band performing in Downton Abbey’s hall: “Do you think any of them know what the others are playing?”

Mary’s men: Two admirers come to stay at the house, Mary’s old friend Evelyn Napier and his pal Charles Blake. She doesn’t get on with the latter and makes some barbs towards him; then they sit next to each other at dinner and he calls her out for being a hypocrite. “You seem to have brought a traitor into our midst,” she later says to Evelyn. Charles, meanwhile, tells Evelyn that he’s not keen on Mary because she wants everything on a plate. “She feels much the same about you,” observes Evelyn.

Doggie! Isis sits with the family as they have an evening drink.

Review: A disposable episode in some ways, though the introduction of Charles Blake shows promise.

Next episode…

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