Downton Abbey: series 6 episode 4

gwen

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: 11 October 2015, ITV.

With Carson on honeymoon, Thomas Barrow is acting butler. Also, Mary has her head turned, Miss Baxter has a dilemma, Tom Branson is back in the fold, and an old face returns to Downton…  

When is it set? We begin the day after the previous episode ended. So it’s somewhere in the middle of 1925.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey, its estate and the agent’s office. Violet’s house. Rosamund’s house in London. The Royal Automobile Club. The farm that used to be the Drewes’ and is now run by Mr Mason.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Violet’s minty friend Lady Shakleton visits again, and this time brings her nephew – who turns out to be Henry Talbot, the man Mary met last summer at a shooting party. He’s in Yorkshire to look at a car he hopes to race at Brooklands.
* John Harding (Philip Battley) is the treasurer of Hillcroft, a college for women of which Rosamund is a trustee, and he comes to Downton for lunch. He also brings his wife with him… who turns out to be former Downton maid Gwen (Rose Leslie).

Best bits:
* Sgt Willis shows up again – but for once it’s not about Mr Green’s death. This time, he’s come to question Miss Baxter. A man called Peter Coyle is on bail for theft, which does not surprise Miss B. She knows him of old – he’s the man who once coerced her into stealing some jewels. Will she testify against him?
* Anna is pregnant but keeping it secret, even from her husband. It seems to be going well, but then she feels twinges of pain. Mary leaps into action, insisting that they go to see the specialist in London immediately. He performs a small, routine operation and all is fine. When she gets home, Anna lets her husband know she’s expecting a baby.
* Bringing Gwen back for a guest appearance is a fine idea. We haven’t seen her since the first series, when she left to be a secretary, so it’s been more than a decade from her point of view. She’s gone up in the world and married respectably. Anna and Tom Branson both recognise her and say hello, but Gwen is embarrassed when Lady Mary only finds her familiar. Then a bitter Thomas Barrow deliberately embarrasses Gwen in front of everyone by outing her – thankfully the family react with kindness. There’s also a few back references to the episodes in which Lady Sybil helped Gwen apply for jobs.
* Mary says that all she was taught as a girl was “French, prejudice and dance steps.”
* Going downstairs to welcome the Carsons back from their honeymoon, Violet says she’s not been in the Downton kitchens for 20 years. “Have you got your passport?” asks Isobel.
* Mary is uncharacteristically positive about Edith’s plan to hire a female editor for her magazine. “That was nice of you,” says Rosamund when Edith’s out of earshot. “A monkey will type out the Bible if you leave it long enough,” deadpans Mary.

Worst bits:
* While he’s been in America, Bolshevik firebrand Tom has had a conversion – he’s now a fan of American-style capitalism where someone can raise themselves from nothing to a fortune.
* The hospital subplot continues to go round in circles.

Real history:
* Molesely thinks Baxter should testify in the trial but she’s not sure she will. So he quotes philosopher Edmund Burke (1730-1797) – “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”
* Henry has driven at Brooklands, a motor-racing circuit near Weybridge in Surrey, quite often. It held races from 1909 until 1939.
* Mrs Patmore sarcastically refers to a stroppy Daisy as Karl Marx (1818-1883), the father of socialism. She’s got the hump because her father-in-law might miss out on a new home.
* “You’re a braver man than I, Gunga Din,” says Robert, quoting Rudyard Kipling’s 1890 poem.
* The Royal Automobile Club’s building seen in this episode, at 89-91 Pall Mall in London, was built in 1911.
* While the servants arrange some decorations to welcome the Carsons, Mr Bates thinks they’re putting too much effort into it. “We’re not striving for a setting by Diaghilev,” he says. Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev (1872-1929) as a Russian ballet impresario.
* In a mangled piece of logic, Violet cites Magna Carta – a wildly influential piece of legislation signed by King John of England in 1215 – as a reason why the nobility should run the country.
* Now that Mrs Hughes has married Mr Carson, there’s confusion over her name. Rosamund says it’s like Jane Eyre, the eponymous character of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel, being asked to be called Mrs Rochester. (Later, Carson and Hughes please the family – if not historical accuracy – by asking that she still be called Mrs Hughes.)

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet asks Lady Shackleton about Henry’s place in the world. “He’s nowhere near the earldom,” replies Lady S. “About 40 strong men would have to drop dead.” Violet: “Well, nothing is impossible.”

Mary’s men: After several episodes in hibernation, Mary’s love life is awoken when Henry Talbot breezes into Downton. A few days later they have dinner together in London and flirt. She says that she hopes he’s building up to making a pass. “Will you accept?” “No, but I shall enjoy the process enormously.”

Review: Gwen provides a fun subplot and Mary’s clearly starting a new romance. But the Miss Baxter storyline fails to fly. 

Next episode…

 

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