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 Michael Engler. Originally broadcast: 18 October 2015, ITV.
The Minster of Health, Neville Chamberlain, comes to visit. But while Violet tries to get him onside, tragedy strikes… Also, the Carsons’ marriage hits a hurdle, Mary and Edith’s love lives move on, and Daisy gets the hump when Mr Mason and Mrs Patmore grow closer.
When is it set? 1925.
Where is it set? Downton Abbey and its estate. Yew Tree Farm. Violet’s house. The village. A courthouse in York. Catterick race track and a nearby pub. A park and Edith’s office and flat in London.
Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Mr and Mrs Drewe have left Yew Tree Farm; in their place comes Daisy’s father-in-law, Mr Mason.
* Miss Edmonds (Antonia Bernath) applies for the job of editor at Edith’s magazine. In the interview, Edith points out that they were born in the same year (1892).
* Neville Chamberlain (Rupert Frazer), the Minister for Health, comes to dinner.
* The opening scene sees Mary and Tom walking up a rise that allows the director to show off the amazing countryside around Highclere Castle.
* Downton Abbey has a rare foray into dramatizing a real-life person: the Minster for Health, Neville Chamberlain, is on inspection tour of the north of England so the Dowager invites him to Downton. She wants to bend his ear about the local hospital.
* The Bateses ask Andy why he’s always giving Thomas the brush-off when Thomas tries being friendly. He says he’d rather not say when there’s a lady present, and Mr Bates and Anna share knowing smile. (He’s basically scared of giving gay Thomas the wrong idea.) Later, when Andy wants to learn about pig-rearing, Mr Mason gives him some books… but it soon becomes clear that Andy can’t read. And who realises and helps him? Thomas. Aww.
* Mrs Hughes tells Mrs Patmore that Mr Carson was unhappy with a meal she’d prepared. “I think the correct response is to say, ‘Men!’ and sigh,” replies Mrs P.
* Miss Baxter turns up at court to testify against the man who once coerced her into stealing some jewels, but then learns he’s changed his plea to guilty. She’s been spared having to appear on the witness stand, but she’d built herself up to face the man and it feels a bit anticlimactic. “Shall I go back in and ask him to plead not guilty after all?” jokes Mr Molesley and they laugh.
* Edith and Bertie’s romance begins to blossom: he even kisses her. “God, what a relief,” he says when she reacts well. “I thought I might be pushing my luck.” The storyline has two likeable actors, and the fact Bertie doesn’t know Edith has a secret daughter informs everything.
* The motor-racing scenes are fun: 1920s cars roaring round the track.
* Robert has been feeling painful twinges for several episodes. He says it’s just indigestion. But during a lively discussion over dinner, he’s clearly suffering terribly. He stands shakily… then violently projects blood from his mouth! Downton Abbey becomes a horror movie for a few minutes! (His ulcer has burst.)
* Mary overhears a cryptic conversation about secrets and Marigold…
* At last the Andy/Thomas subplot develops. For about 27 episodes now, there’s a moment where Thomas Barrow tries to be friendly to footman Andy and Andy brushes him off. It was getting so tedious.
* “Do other butlers have to contend with the police arriving every 10 minutes?” asks Mr Carson, aware of how repetitive the show has become.
* Oh, Christ – the hospital subplot. There’s also a rather silly sub-subplot where Violet’s maid, Denker, gives Dr Clarkson a piece of her mind so Violet temporarily sacks her.
* Tom Branson – a defender of the Bolsheviks and violent Irish nationalists – is now hobnobbing with a Tory minister.
* Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) comes to Downton. When Violet, Isobel and others argue in front of him, he says he didn’t expect to witness a battle royal. “Don’t you enjoy a good fight?” asks Violet. “I’m not sure I do, really,” he replies. It’s an in-joke: 15 years after this time, when Prime Minster, Chamberlain tried appeasing Adolf Hitler. Although they don’t feature here, Neville Chamberlain’s wife, Anne (1883-1967), and her brother, Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936), are mentioned.
* Tom Barrow jokes that he, Mary and Edith are part of the bright young things – a fashionable set of upper-class socialites in the 1920s. “I don’t know about bright,” says Mary.
Upstairs, Downton: Both incarnations of Upstairs, Downstairs did episodes based on the ‘famous person comes to dinner’ idea: King Edward VII in the 1972 episode Guest of Honour, and John F Kennedy in the 2012 episode The Love That Pays The Price. Even more aptly, Neville Chamberlain was also dramatized in the 2012 series, in the episode A Faraway Country About Which We Know Nothing.
Maggie Smithism of the week: When her maid says Dr Clarkson can no longer claim Violet’s friendship, Violet replies, “If I withdrew my friendship from everyone who has spoken ill of me, my address book would be empty.”
Mary’s men: Henry Talbot invites Mary to see him testing a new car round the track at Catterick. She’s interested in him and thinks he’s attractive, but she “won’t marry down” and he’s not as well off as she is. When she visits him at Catterick, he takes her to a pub – which is a rare thing for Mary.
Review: With only a handful of episodes to go, a less cosy show would have killed off Robert. Here, however, he’s basically fine despite spraying blood all over the dinner table.