Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 2

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 Catherine Morshead. Originally broadcast: 28 September 2014, ITV.

The damage from the fire that ripped through Edith’s bedroom is dealt with. An art historian comes to Downton, Isobel visits Lord Merton, while Robert and Carson clash over the planned war memorial.

When is it set? We start the day after the preceding episode. A line of dialogue from Rose tells us that the events take place shortly before, and then on, Wednesday 23 April 1924.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey. The local cricket ground. The Drewes’ farm. The Dowager’s house. Lord Merton’s home. The village. The Grand Hotel in Liverpool.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Footman Jimmy’s been given the sack after being caught in bed with a guest in the previous episode. He and Thomas Barrow share a touching moment as he leaves: despite their differences – remember the time Thomas tried it on? – they’ve become good pals.
* A local chemist (Roberta Kerr) sells Anna some contraception. She doesn’t seem to be overly keen on profits, though: she pointedly suggests that abstinence works just as well!
* Simon Bricker (Richard E Grant) is an art-expert friend of Charles Blake’s who wangles an invitation to Downton so he can view a painting. He’s recently been in Alexandria, hence his suntan, and swaps some flirty banter with Cora. (After Maggie Smith, Richard E Grant becomes the second actor from Gosford Park to appear in Downton Abbey. Gosford Park was a 2001 movie written by Julian Fellowes that can be considered Downton Abbey’s direct antecedent. Indeed, the initial plan was that the series would be a TV spin-off from the film.)
* Mrs Elcot (Naomi Radcliffe) is a local woman who’s conveniently on the spot to give Carson some food for thought when he objects to the war memorial being in the centre of the village.
* Local copper Sergeant Willis (Howard Ward) shows up to ask about Mr Green’s time at Downton. Apparently, a witness to his death has come forward…

Best bits:
* The tension between Robert and Mr Carson over where the village’s war memorial should go.
* Edith is still visiting her daughter, who’s living in secret with local farmers. Mr Drewe has come up with a plan: they’re going to pretend that Edith is the child’s unofficial godmother, so Edith tells her parents that she’ll help the girl financially. But there’s trouble in store: Mrs Drewe is clearly not a fan of Edith being at the farm so often.
* Mary’s subplot is good fun. She and suitor Tony Gillingham have decided to stay in a hotel incognito so they can get to know each other better. Only Anna knows the truth, and says Mary should take clothes she can put on and take off without help. “Well, I’ll have his help,” jokes Mary. “Honestly, m’lady,” replies Anna, “you’d better hope I never write my memoirs.” Mary then asks her maid for a big favour – can Anna source some contraception? “Oh, my God,” says Anna. “I mean, I beg your pardon, m’lady.” Anna is nervous – what if she’s recognised in the shop? – but manages to buy a cervical cap.
* When Charles Blake and his friend Simon Bricker are due to arrive, Robert says, “Do people think we’re some sort of hotel that never presents a bill?” Cora replies: “You’ve already made that joke.”
* Rose keeps dropping hints that she wants a wireless installed at Downton Abbey, but Robert plays a straight bat: “No.” Cora says she wouldn’t mind having one. Robert: “That’s because you’re American.” When it’s finally installed, the entire household listen to the King make a speech. “I suppose *he* can’t hear *us*?” asks a nervous Mrs Patmore.

Worst bits:
* Robert says the wireless is a fad and won’t last. Hashtag period drama.
* Cora and Rose want to invite Sarah Bunting to dinner. Robert is against the idea, obviously, given how rude Sarah was last time.
* A witness to Mr Green’s death has come forward. Two years after the fact.

Real history:
* Rose mentions the Russian refugees living in York. Robert says they’re scattered all over Europe. They’d fled after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.
* Dr Clarkson tells Isobel about the new drug insulin, which is going to make a big difference. “A diagnosis will no longer be a death sentence,” enthuses Isobel. Insulin had first been used as a medicine in Canada in 1922.
* Mary has a copy of Marie Stopes’s Married Love, an 1918 book on family planning.
* Simon Bricker is interested in a painting in the Downton collection by Italian Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca (c1415-1492).
* Charles knows Simon because they’re both members of Boodle’s, a London gentlemen’s club founded in 1762.
* Robert refers to Sarah Bunting as a “tinpot Rosa Luxemburg”. Rose asks, “Who’s that?” and Cora explains that Luxemburg (1871-1919) was a German communist who was shot and thrown in a canal. “We wouldn’t wish that on Miss Bunting,” she adds, looking at her husband. He just says, “Hmm.”
* When Robert criticises the Bolsheviks currently ruling Russia, saying that their savagery means they get no sympathy from him, Tom Branson rather lamely compares them to the English killing Charles I (1600-1649).
* In her attempts to convince Robert to buy a radio, Rose points out that King George V (1865-1936) is due to speak on the wireless to mark the opening of British Empire Exhibition, an event that ran at Wembley Park in London from 23 April 1924 until 31 October 1925.
* Cora mentions the fall of the Bastille, a key moment of the French Revolution that happened on 14 July 1789.
* Mary says she’s not “some overheated housemaid drooling over a photograph of Douglas Fairbanks”. Fairbanks (1883-1939) was an influential American movie star, director and producer.
* Robert bows to pressure and a wireless is installed in Downton’s lobby. The first thing it plays is a song by band leader Jack Hylton (1892-1965).

Upstairs, Downton: The servants of Eaton Place got themselves a new-fangled wireless in the Upstairs, Downstairs episode An Old Flame (1975), which is set in spring 1923 – ie, about a year before this episode of Downton. In both shows, the household’s cook is naïve about how the device works.

Mary’s men: She affects disinterest when Charles Blake visits Downton. He’s resigned to having lost Mary to Tony Gillingham, but implores her to be sure about it. “You’re cleverer than he is. That might have worked in the last century when ladies had to hide their brains behind good manners and good breeding. But not now.” Although Charles doesn’t know it, Mary has to plan to see if she is sure. Despite telling her family that she’s going on a minibreak with a female friend, she actually meets Tony in Liverpool so they can stay in a hotel together.

Doggie! Isis can be glimpsed sitting serenely as Cora shows a painting to Simon Bricker. Later, in a bad mood, Robert tells his wife not to let Simon flirt with Isis: “There is nothing more ill-bred than trying to steal the affections of someone else’s dog!” The next day, Isis joins Robert as he walks through the village.

Review: The subplot of Simon Bricker flirting with Cora is fun, especially the detail that Robert is blind to it – he just spots that Simon likes his dog.

Next episode…

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