The Last Stand (2013, Kim Jee-woon)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.

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Watched: 21 August 2019
Format: A secondhand DVD I bought from a branch of CEX while on holiday in Whitby, North Yorkshire, in February 2019. It cost £1.
Seen before? No.

Review: Arnie’s first leading role after his seven-year stint as Governor of California sees him as local sheriff Ray Owens, a man who lives in a sleepy border town where everyone knows each other and Harry Dean Stanton is a cantankerous farmer. But the film often feels bored by this setting and its characters, because we cut away for long stretches to Forest Whitaker’s FBI agent. He inhabits a coarse, CSI/techno-thriller world and is called into action when an elaborate heist busts a drugs kingpin free from federal custody. (Meanwhile, back in Somerton, Arizona, Arnie gets a call from a woman who’s worried because her morning milk hasn’t been delivered.)

The criminal – Eduardo Noriega’s stunningly uninteresting Gabriel Cortez – then speeds off in an easily recognisable, one-of-a-kind, 1000-horsepower Corvette ZR1. It’s a sub-Fast & Furious plan to race for the Mexican border, and when Ray gets wind of it he and his cohorts (Luis Guzmán, an irritating Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander from the Thor films) prepare for the kingpin’s arrival in their town…

There are half-hearted nods here and there towards the Western genre, but the film is overwhelmed to the point of suffocation by macho A-Team action and misfiring comedy. There’s an appalling script – heavy on jarring exposition, light on any character depth – and some truly dreadful bad guys. This could have been Schwarzenegger’s Copland or Logan, a meditative drama about an ageing tough guy in an increasingly unhinged world. Instead it’s more like his Death Wish 5.

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘With that movie, a lot of the pressure did fall on me. In fact, the script had been written for me… It’s a great, great role. The sheriff knows if he succeeds, it will mean everything to his town. His reputation is on the line. Is he really over the hill or can he do it?’

Four wheat fields out of 10

Next time: Collateral Damage

My 75 favourite films of the 2010s

To commemorate the end of the decade 2010-2019 (any word yet on what we’re calling it?!), here is a list of my favourite movies from the last 10 years.

It’s a very personal selection, based on gut instinct and emotional reactions. There are undoubtedly plenty of fine films that haven’t made the cut, but these are the 75 that have given me – subjectively speaking – the most amount of pleasure and have impressed me the most. (Why 75? That’s just how many I jotted down on a shortlist.)

I’ve listed them alphabetically, but I’ve also picked out a top 10. Have I missed off your favourite?

TOP 10 CHOICE: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011, Steven Spielberg)

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

The finest animated film there’s ever been. A complete artificial world is created in CGI, and repeated viewings are a treat because you continually spot new things in the background of each shot. But, crucially, there’s real heart behind this movie too. You soon forget about the technology and instead get swept up in the story and charmed by the sheer talent behind it. The plot is simple but smart, with clearly defined characters. There’s wit, whimsy, danger, plenty of visual gags and madcap action – in other words, it’s very Steven Spielberg.

TOP 10 CHOICE: The Aeronauts (2019, Tom Harper)

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A late entry, as I only saw this film a few weeks ago – but it was a magical experience. Watching it on my own on a cold Tuesday evening in an Everyman cinema in Crystal Palace, I was so enraptured that I felt like a child. The screen seemed enormous, I had a perfect view – level, central, not too close, not too far away – and I was totally caught up in the spectacle and the drama and the joy of a great movie. It’s a fictionalised account of a real-life scientific balloon accent in the 1860s, so this a story about reaching for the heavens in more ways than one. It’s stirring and sentimental and touching and full of wonder, while there’s a very good cast, tremendous incidental music, and a beautiful combination of cinematography and visual effects.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013, Declan Lowney)

Attack the Block (2011, Joe Cornish)

Avengers: Endgame (2019, Anthony & Joe Russo)

Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Anthony & Joe Russo)

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018, Drew Goddard)

Baby Driver (2017, Edgar Wright)

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Blade Runner 2049 (2017, Denis Villeneuve)

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Producing a sequel to a classic 35 years after the fact was something of a risk. Ridley Scott, the director of the first Blade Runner, had himself recently made two follow-ups to his other sci-fi masterpiece, Alien (1979), and both fell a very long way short of that movie’s seductive terror. Thankfully, Blade Runner 2049 is *at least* the equal of the 1982 antecedent. Made with an understanding of the original’s power but also with a distinct voice by director Denis Villeneuve, it’s a big film, a difficult film at times, but an engrossing and hugely rewarding experience.

Bone Tomahawk (2015, S Craig Zahler)

Bridge of Spies (2015, Steven Spielberg)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Drew Goddard)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Joe Johnston)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony & Joe Russo)

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The decade’s finest superhero movie – and this has been a decade with a lot of superhero movies. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo make sure each element of the film is as sharp as it can be: it’s often funny, it’s often exciting, the story has a bit of substance, tension is built effectively, the incidental music is terrific, and the action scenes are sensational. There’s intrigue, espionage and mistrust. There’s wit, pathos and drama. There’s action, fun and Christopher Nolan-style theatricality.

Creed (2015, Ryan Coogler)

Crimson Peak (2015, Guillermo del Toro)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, Matt Reeves)

Deadpool (2016, Tim Miller)

Deadpool 2 (2018, David Leitch)

The Death of Stalin (2018, Armando Iannucci)

Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino)

Drive (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn)

Dunkirk (2017, Christopher Nolan)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Easy A (2010, Will Gluck)

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A loving homage to the kind of teen comedies made by John Hughes in the 1980s, this drily funny and very smart film stars a terrific Emma Stone as a schoolgirl who becomes notorious after a rumour circulates about her sexual appetite. Made with both a real affection for those great old 80s movies and a modern freshness, Easy A also has two of the greatest ‘movie parents’ you could ever hope for: Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci’s open-minded and carefree Rosemary and Dill. (No, honestly, those are their names.)

Evil Dead (2013, Fede Álvarez)

Ex Machina (2015, Alex Garland)

Fast & Furious 5 (2011, Justin Jin)

The Final Girls (2015, Todd Strauss-Schulson)

Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuarón)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn)

Halloween (2018. David Gordon Green)

Happy Death Day (2017, Christopher Landon)

The Hateful Eight (2015, Quentin Tarantino)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013, Peter Jackson)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Peter Jackson)

The Hunger Games (2012, Gary Ross)

Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan)

Interstellar (2014, Christopher Nolan)

Iron Man 3 (2013, Shane Black)

Joker (2019, Todd Philips)

La La Land (2016, Damien Chazelle)

The Lego Movie (2014, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

Logan (2017, James Mangold)

The Lone Ranger (2013, Gore Verbinski)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, George Miller)

The Martian (2015, Ridley Scott)

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011, Brad Bird)

Mr Holmes (2015, Bill Condon)

The Nice Guys (2016, Shane Black)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019, Quentin Tarantino)

The Post (2017, Steven Spielberg)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Robin Hood (2010, Ridley Scott)

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Arguably (and I’m going to argue it) the most underrated film of the last 10 years, this kind of passed by without many people getting all that excited. The most newsworthy aspect of its release was lead actor Russell Crowe throwing a tantrum in a publicity interview because it was suggested that his ‘Nottinghamshire’ accent was perhaps not 100-per-cent authentic. (In truth, it’s not even *one*-per-cent authentic.) But that’s just a blemish. Essentially Robin Hood: The Origin Story, this movie ticks the usual boxes – the Crusades, King John, Marian, the sidekicks – but also weaves Robin’s story into a tapestry that involves palace intrigue, civil rights and a coming war. Beautiful to look at, well cast, exciting, funny, and with a fascinating backstory informing everything, this deserves to be much more liked.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, Gareth Edwards)

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010, Edgar Wright)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, Guy Ritchie)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes)

Skyfall is biggest earning film in UK

The best James Bond film of the decade (regrettably there have only been two) is tremendous entertainment, full of vim and zip and energy. It’s also an engaging character story that weaves Bond’s past with that of his boss, M. “Where are we going?” asks M at one point. “Back in time,” replies Bond… After the clean slate of Casino Royale and the po-faced Quantum of Solace, this movie gives us a new Moneypenny, a new Q, the return of an Aston Martin DB5, and even a belting title song sung by a large-lunged diva. It’s stylish and confident and slick and a lot of fun.

TOP 10 CHOICE: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, Ron Howard)

Solo

This was a huge ask. Huge. To take such a famous and beloved character as Han Solo and *recast* him could have gone catastrophically wrong. Thankfully, both lead actor Alden Ehrenreich and the film as a whole are wonderfully vibrant and entertaining. Being a prequel, simply filling out the spaces between established facts could of course become boring very quickly. Solo, however, has more than enough panache and humour to sidestep the issue. It’s full of vivid characters, exiting sequences, romance and adventure.

Spectre (2015, Sam Mendes)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017, Jon Watts)

Stan & Ollie (2019, Jon S Baird)

Star Trek Beyond (2016, Justin Lin)

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, JJ Abrams)

TOP 10 CHOICE: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, JJ Abrams)

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This movie looks like Star Wars, it sounds like Star Wars, and it feels like Star Wars. The new generation of characters – courageous Rey, headstrong Finn, dashing Poe, adorable BB-8, villainous Kylo – are charismatic, fun, interesting and worthy successors to Luke, Leia, Han and co. Speaking of those icons, they’re not just meaningless cameos. They’re integral to the story, and are found in instantly interesting situations. The Force Awakens might be a love letter to the first three movies, but it’s still a compelling drama. On a technical level, the film is even more impressive. For a start, it’s just so wonderfully *there*. It feels physical, palpable, with heft and weight and a sense of reality. After the cartoony artifice of the prequels, this makes a geek’s heart sing. It’s my favourite film of the whole decade.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, Rian Johnson)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019, JJ Abrams)

Super 8 (2011, JJ Abrams)

T2 Trainspotting (2017, Danny Boyle)

The Theory of Everything (2014, James Marsh)

True Grit (2010, Joel and Ethan Coen)

21 Jump Street (2012, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

Unstoppable (2010, Tony Scott)

TOP 10 CHOICE: The World’s End (2013, Edgar Wright)

The World's End

This top-10 choice can be seen as standing in for all of director Edgar Wright’s classy and endlessly enjoyable work this decade; I could easily have chosen Scott Pilgrim or Baby Driver. The World’s End has the usual Wrightian tropes – great cast, huge smarts, laugh-out-loud comedy, a thrilling awareness of popular culture, first-rank cinematography and editing – but it edges the others because of two factors. It’s the finale of a thematic trilogy begun in 2004’s Shaun of the Dead and continued in 2007’s Hot Fuzz, and it caps off the series so superbly. Also, its exploration of nostalgia, for better and worse, really socks home.

X-Men: First Class (2011, Matthew Vaughn)

In summary…

It turns out that 2015 is my favourite year of the decade with 12 films on this list. 2011 and 2017 have nine entries each; 2013 is on eight; 2012 and 2014 are on seven; 2010, 2018 and 2019 on six; and poor 2016 is the weakest showing with just five.

Two directors share the accolade of most films: JJ Abrams and Christopher Nolan, each with four. Anthony & Joe Russo, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright have three each; while the following directors appear on the list twice: Shane Black, Drew Goddard, Justin Lin, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott and Sam Mendes.

In terms of multiple films from the same series, we have seven Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. The next best-represented franchise is Star Wars with five; then there are four X-Men films and two each from Star Trek, James Bond and the Hobbit series.

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013, John Moore)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

John McClane heads to Moscow when his son is arrested and thrown into prison…

Source material: This is the first Die Hard film that isn’t based on pre-existing material. Initially, the movie was going to be called Die Hard 24/7 and there were rumours it was to be a crossover with TV show 24. John McClane would have teamed up with Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. Surely that would have been more entertaining than what we ended up with…

John McClane: He’s still a cop in New York and still separated from ex-wife Holly. Hearing that his son is in trouble, John flies to Moscow, where everyone is either a criminal or a moron and the authorities show no interest in terrorists running amok. He makes idiotic quips as he blithely ignores huge destruction and untold deaths, and for the first time the character seems uncaring and arrogant. Bruce Willis gives the most dour, lifeless and bored performance of his career. Look into the actor’s eyes and you can see him daydreaming about the fee.

Regulars:
* Jack Gennero (Jai Courtney) is John McClane’s 30-ish son, who was known as John Jnr when we saw him as a small boy in the original Die Hard. Like his mother in that film and his sister in Die Hard 4.0, the character doesn’t want to use John’s surname; father and son also haven’t spoken for a few years, which explains why John is unaware that Jack is now a CIA operative working in Russia. But when news reaches New York that Jack has been imprisoned, John flies over to see what’s what… For a while, actor Jai Courtney seemed to be specialising in turgid franchise films: he’s also in Terminator Genisys and Suicide Squad. And he’s terrible here, turning a character we should care about into a petulant brat. Why the CIA would ever trust this whiny, quick-to-tantrum man-child with daddy issues is difficult to fathom.
* John’s daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), returns from the previous film for a cameo.

Villain: There’s a cack-handed plot about a Russian billionaire called Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who has a secret file that could incriminate corrupt politician Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), so Chagarin’s henchman Aik (Radivoje Bukvić) breaks Komarov out of prison in order to get the file. If you manage to pay attention until the third act, you discover that the file never existed and Komarov is the real bad guy. Or something. Also involved in the story is Komarov’s daughter, Irina (Yulia Snigir), who’s there simply to provide a shot for the trailer when she unzips her motorcycle leathers to reveal her underwear.

Music: The score by Marco Beltrami is actually not that bad. It’s busy and powerful and steals the interest during many of the film’s 376 action scenes.

Review: A poster for this film contained the strapline ‘Yippie ki-yay, Mother Russia’. Not one single element in the movie itself even approaches that level of smartness or self-awareness. Watching A Good Day to Die Hard is a truly dreadful, depressing experience. It seems to want to be a Bourne film: urgent, visceral action; clipped, terse dialogue scenes; and driving incidental music. But it lacks the intelligence, panache and interesting characters that made those early Bourne adventures so engaging, and instead comes off more like a straight-to-DVD Steven Seagal flick. There *is* a plot – we know this because there’s one scene after 55 minutes where Jack explains it to John. There’s also a plot twist – late on, one character kills another and we’re meant to be impressed by the script’s Usual Suspects-esque sleight of hand. However, the film is directed by John Moore (who’d previously made the appalling remake of The Omen). He’s not interested in wit or character development or depth or subtext or suspense. He prefers computer-game carnage carried off without any style or story logic or consequence. “It’s going to be loud,” smirks one of the bland villains just before the first of several thousand explosions – it’s also going to be sensationally dull. This is a crass, classless, joyless, artless sequel and the worst film ever made that comes from an otherwise decent series.

One… oh, I don’t know… thing that blows up out of 10

Downton Abbey: The London Season

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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 Jon East. Originally broadcast: 25 December 2013, ITV.

The bulk of the family are staying in London for Rose’s coming-out ball, but there’s trouble when she’s caught up in a royal scandal. Meanwhile, Edith is struggling after giving away her daughter, Cora’s mother and brother come to visit, and Tom rekindles his flirtation with local teacher Sarah…

When is it set? About a year has passed since the last episode, so we’re in 1923. Mary visits the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, meaning we’re in June, July or August. 

Where is it set? Downton Abbey. Violet’s house. Isobel’s house. The local village and its pub. A seaside town (filmed in West Wittering, West Sussex). There’s also plenty of action in London, where we visit the Embassy night club; the Royal Academy; Rosamund’s house; Buckingham Palace; Hyde Park; and Grantham House, a large townhouse in London owned by the Crawleys.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Since the last episode Edith has had her baby in secret and returned to her pre-pregnancy size. She gave birth to a girl, then gave her away to a couple called the Schroders in Switzerland. However, the guilt is now unbearable, so she arranges for local famers the Drewes to take the girl instead. She tells Mr Drewe that the child’s mother was a friend who’s died, but he clearly sees through her lie…
* Rose has a new pal called Madeline Allsopp (Poppy Drayton), who is smitten when she meets Cora’s brother. She’s hurt, though, when he thinks she’s only after his money.
* Madeline’s father, Lord Aysgarth (James Fox), attempts unsuccessfully to bag Cora’s rich mother. He frequents the same night club as his daughter and is also a friend of…
* The Prince of Wales (Oliver Dimsdale) is a socialite as well as being heir to the throne.
* Freda Dudley Ward (Janet Montgomery) is the Prince’s mistress. Having befriended Rose, she shows her a private and incriminating letter from the Prince, which is then stolen. Rose arranges for it be to retrieved, so a grateful Prince shows up at a party and dances with her.
* Cora’s mother, Mrs Levinson, appears again and this time brings her son. Harold (Paul Giamatti) hasn’t been to the UK since Cora’s wedding, so Mary and Edith have never met their uncle before. At a party, Madeline takes a shine to him and then later at a nightclub he’s embarrassed into dancing with her. After he accidentally offends her, he arranges a conciliatory picnic near the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. To preserve decorum, Cora and her mother come along too. The relationship doesn’t bloom into romance but rather a sweet understanding.
* Ethan Slade (Michael Benz) is Harold’s upbeat, smiley, American valet. He fancies Daisy and tries to get her a job with Mr Levinson, but she turns him down…
* …so Ivy jumps in, grabs the job instead and leaves for America.
* Terence Sampson, the card sharp who once fleeced Robert, shows up again when he gets invited to a Crawley party. He steals Freda’s love letter from the Prince of Wales, hoping to sell it to the newspapers.

Best bits:
* It’s suggested that Mary will have to share a bedroom with her sister while staying at Grantham House. “I’d rather sleep on the roof than share with Edith,” she says.
* Paul Giamatti is terrific as Harold. His nervy friendship with Madeline is very sweet indeed and there’s also a funny moment when he tries talking to the Prince of Wales like a normal person. When the Prince flounces off, Harold just laughs.
* “Are you excited?” Ethan asks Daisy. “I’m never excited,” she deadpans.
* Frustrated with English stiff-upper-lippedness, Edith says she envies “all those Latins screaming and shouting and hurling themselves into graves.”
* The sequence of Rose being presented to the king and queen is a run of excellent location work on the Mall, beautiful costumes and production design, and the kind of pre-war grandeur that great period dramas can achieve. (There’s also a fun in-joke: the show’s historical advisor, Alastair Bruce, cameos as the equerry reading out names at the ceremony.)
* Robert says he feels guilty for leaving Isobel behind while they all went off to the Palace. “Why?” asks his mother. “She brought a book with her.”
* When Robert learns that Sampson has stolen a sensitive letter that could embarrass the monarchy, he sets into motion a plan to steal it back. The episode then becomes a caper movie with numerous characters colluding in distracting Sampson with a card game while the letter is retrieved from his flat. (When it becomes clear that someone will have to lie to him, Mary says, “I’ll do it. I don’t mind lying.”) However, the letter can’t be found – Sampson must have taken it with him to the card game. So Mr Bates pickpockets it from his coat.
* The servants’ day by the seaside is lovely. The episode ends with Mrs Hughes and Mr Carson standing in the sea and holding hands. Aww.

Worst bits:
* “Why wasn’t Grantham House sold when Downton was in [financial] trouble?” asks Tom Branson, aware of bloggers who like being snide about plot holes.
* Poor Tom also has another dreary storyline. His sort-of romance with the rude Sarah Bunting – who does nothing but turn her nose up at things – is a slog to sit through.
* Mrs Hughes is gathering unwanted clothes for a local charity and Anna donates an old coat of Mr Bates’s. Mrs H finds a railway ticket in the pocket, which proves that Bates was in London (not York, as he claimed) when Mr Green was killed. Downton Abbey doesn’t do murder mysteries very well at all. The pacing is all wrong, huge details are thrown away, and key events aren’t dramatised. Also, as in this case, the plotting swings on silly coincidences. If you’d bought a train ticket that was crucial for your alibi for a murder, would you leave it in an old coat pocket? At least it leads to some entertaining scenes: Mrs Hughes knowingly questions Mr Bates, who says he hasn’t been in London since the war, then Mary and Bates share some meaningful looks when they discuss the capital.

Real history:
* Mary calls Rose a flapper. Rose denies it. The flappers were socially liberal women in the 1920s who went in for daringly short skirts, bob-cut hair styles, and a love of jazz and parties.
* This episode dramatises a number of real-life people. Edward, Prince of Wales (1894-1972) later became King Edward VIII, but was on the throne for less than a year in 1936. Freda Dudley Ward (1894-1983) was a socialite and Edward’s mistress from 1918 until 1934, when he dumped her for Wallis Simpson. And as part of her ‘coming out’ – an aristocratic ritual for young women – Rose is presented to Edward’s parents, King George V (1865-1936) and Queen Mary (1867-1953).
* Charles Blake tells Mary that he’s not as much as a Robespierre as she assumes. Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) was one of the key leaders of the French Revolution.
* When Cora suggests a servants outing as a thank you for their hard work, Mr Carson wants to take everyone to either the Science Museum in South Kensington “even though it’s not finished” or the Crystal Palace on “its new site at Sydenham Hill.” He’s right about the Science Museum: although first opened in 1857, during the time period of this episode it was moving into new premises and opening section-by-section. But his knowledge of the Crystal Palace – an enormous glass building first constructed for the Great Exhibition in 1851 – is more shaky. Yes, it originally stood in Hyde Park. Yes, it was then moved to a new site in south-east London. But that move happened in 1854 – *69 years* before this episode. Carson later also suggests the Royal Institution, the Natural History Museum or Westminster Abbey as places they can visit, none of which is received with any enthusiasm. So they go for a day at the seaside instead.
* Isobel says Violet sounds like the sister of Marie Antoinette. “The Queen of Naples was a stalwart figure,” says Violet, taking it as a compliment. They’re referring to Maria Carolina of Austria, Queen of Naples and Sicily (1752-1814).
* Robert makes a reference to the womanising habits of the late king Edward VII (1841-1910). He hopes the current Prince of Wales doesn’t “revive the ways of his grandpapa, winking at every beauty in an opera box.”
* When Jimmy makes a sarcastic comment about his lowly position, Carson says, “Thank you, Wat Tyler.” Tyler (died 1381) led a Peasants’ Revolt against a proposed poll tax, but was killed two days later during negotiations with King Richard II.
* Edith gets word that the missing Michael Gregson got into a fight with a gang on his first night in Munich. “They wear brown shirts and go around preaching the most horrible things,” she says. The Sturmabteilung was the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party.
* Violet sarcastically says that the family’s itinerary – an open-air picnic followed by an after-dinner poker game – makes her feel like she’s fallen through a looking glass into Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, an 1862/63 painting by Édouard Manet (1832-1883).

Upstairs, Downton: In this episode of Downton Abbey we meet George V. His father, Edward VII, appeared in a famous episode of the original Upstairs Downstairs (Guest of Honour, 1972), while his son Prince George, Duke of Kent (1902-1942) was a semi-regular character in the show’s 2010 revival. Also, this episode’s trip to the seaside for the servants recalls a similar sequence in the 1974 Updown episode The Sudden Storm.

Maggie Smithism of the week: During a tiff with Isobel, Violet asks, “Can’t you even offer help without sounding like a trumpeter on the peak of the moral high ground?”

Mary’s men: While she’s in London, Mary gets a visit from Charles Blake. He takes her to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, but is rather miffed that they bump into his rival/friend Tony Gillingham. Both men then attend a party at Mary’s house and continue to woo her. Later, when the Crawleys arrange a card game to distract Sampson, Violet asks why “Mary’s men” are coming. Mary: “Don’t call them ‘Mary’s men’!” On the night itself, Charles Blake accompanies Mary as they search Sampson’s flat; he’s happy to have been asked to help. But she’s still undecided between him and Tony. Her main issue with Charles is that he’s an outsider; not a part of aristocracy. When she tells Tony this, honourable Tony has to admit that Charles is secretly heir to a baronetcy and a large fortune. Mary goes to find Charles at the ball and they dance…

Doggie! In London, Robert says he wishes Tom would travel down from Yorkshire… because he’s going to bring Isis with him and Robert misses her. We later see the dog with Tom while he shows Sarah the inside of Downton Abbey, then getting into a car with Tom as they head for London. Once they arrive, Robert is happy to see the pooch.

Review: This feature-length Christmas special is mostly set in London with the roaring twenties in full swing. Light on its feet and packed full of both frothy escapism and character substance, this is probably Downton Abbey’s finest episode.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 8

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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 Edward Hall. Originally broadcast: 10 November 2013, ITV.

As plans are made for a local bazaar, Isobel urges Tom to go into politics, Anna gets a shock, and Rose continues her taboo relationship with Jack Ross. Also, Edith wants to go abroad to have her baby in secret…

When is it set? Summer 1922. We begin within a day of the previous episode and events take place over a long-ish period. Robert only left for a trip to America in the preceding episode and returns during the church bazaar that closes the season, yet people act like he’s been gone for ages.

Where is it set? The Drewes’ farm. Violet’s house. Downton Abbey and its grounds. Thirsk. The local village. The Lotus Club, Rosamund’s house and a swanky restaurant in London. Mr Mason’s farm.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) returns to the show. We first saw him in at the start of series three when he was embarrassed at a dinner by his boorish son. Now Violet is matchmaking him with a lonely Isobel.

Best bits:
* Anna’s torment is so moving. This week, she has to contend with her attacker, the vile Mr Green, visiting the house again. She tells Mary that it was he who raped her but swears her to secrecy because if Mr Bates finds out he’ll resort to murder. Mary then uses her influence to get Green sacked.
* While in Thirsk, Tom Branson spots Rose having tea with Jack Ross. He tells Mary, who warns Rose off him. Rose, though, then announces that she and Jack are engaged. So Mary travels to London to plead with Jack directly. He sadly accepts that an interracial marriage would cause too many problems…
* Mr Molesley makes an effort at being friendly with Miss Baxter. “I do know what it’s like to feel fragile,” he tells her touchingly.
* Edith comes up with a plan: have her baby in secret and donate it to a local farming family, the Drewes. But Aunt Rosamund suggests they go abroad and give the child to a foreign family. Edith’s plan has much more story potential, so which one will they go with?
* Violet sees through Edith and Rosamund’s plan, calls them to tea and confronts them. The way she’s put the clues together is worthy of Columbo.
* In a lovely piece of subtle direction, Lord Merton asks Isobel about her son while they walk past the churchyard where he’s buried.
* Tony Gillingham shows up at the church bazaar with the shock news that Mr Green is dead. He apparently stumbled into the traffic on Piccadilly… (Wonder if former Downton footman Alfred witnessed it? He now works at the Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly.)

Worst bits:
* Edith accompanies Mary and Tom to inspect some pigs solely so she can be in place to hear Mr Drewe the farmer say that he owes the Crawley family a favour.
* The woman Tom Branson met last episode, schoolteacher Sarah Bunting, shows up again. She’s being introduced as both a love interest for Tom and – because she’s a lefty – a way of making him feel guilty about joining the aristocracy. Sadly the character is quite unlikable, so neither plot really works. All she does is make snide comments.

Real history:
* Violet is recuperating after her illness. She says she feels like Dr Manette, a character from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1859) who was imprisoned in the Bastille.
* Violet and Isobel discuss the Teapot Dome Scandal currently going on in America. Violet spells it out for viewers: “Bribery and corruption. Taking money to allow private companies to drill for oil on government land.” Cora’s brother, Harold, owns one of the companies.
* Robert says that, now he’s returned from America, it’s a relief to be able to drink in public without a policeman pouncing. Prohibition wouldn’t be lifted until 1933.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet says her daughter, Rosamund, has no interest in learning French. “If she wishes to be understood by a foreigner, she shouts.”

Mary’s men: She’s more favourable towards Charles Blake now that he’s proved his worth. And she’s impressed when he takes hold of baby George and calms him. He later tells her he won’t let her go without a fight… However, her other suitor, Tony Gillingham, comes to visit and tells Mary he’s planning on dumping his fiancée. She tells him not to on her account: she’s not free.

Doggie! Isis is wandering about at the church bazaar.

Review: There’s an awful lot going on in this longer-than-usual season finale. One of the most interest things is Mr Green’s death. On the day he falls under a bus on Piccadilly, both Anna and Mary are in London and Mr Bates says he was in York, though we don’t see him and he doesn’t tell anyone what he was up to. A murder-mystery is being kick-started, though of course it’s typical Downton Abbey that we don’t see the murder itself.

Next episode…

 

Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 7

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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 Edward Hall. Originally broadcast: 3 November 2013, ITV.

A Western Union telegram arrives, calling Robert to America to help his brother-in-law. Also, Mr Bates fears leaving Anna alone, Charles Blake and Mary grow closer, Rose sneaks off to see Jack Ross, and Edith considers an abortion.

When is it set? No earlier than late April 1922. The weather is warm.

Where is it set? The house and its grounds. Violet’s house. The village, including the local post office and the Grantham Arms pub. London, including Rosamund’s house, a stretch of a river and a backstreet abortion clinic. A town hall in Rippon.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* At a political talk, Tom Branson meets a woman (Daisy Lewis) who takes a shine to him. She’s not named in the episode but listed as Sarah Bunting in the credits.
* The talk is given by John Ward MP (Stephen Critchlow).

Best bits:
* Mrs Hughes tries to arrange for Mr Bates to stay in England while Robert goes abroad – she doesn’t want him away from Anna while she’s still delicate. So Mrs H enlists Mary’s help by telling her about the rape. Later, Anna is happy that Mary knows the truth but can’t talk about the attack.
* Edith continues to suffer in silence. She hasn’t heard from Michael Gregson for weeks, though has discovered that he walked out of a hotel in Munich and never came back. She also now knows she’s pregnant with his child but can’t bring herself to tell anyone. She eventually breaks down and confides in her aunt, Rosamund, and adds that she’s planning to have an abortion. Rosamund insists on accompanying her, but in the clinic Edith changes her mind. Her plight is very affecting. It’s a really good performance by Laura Carmichael.
* Mary hears that Charles Blake finds her aloof. “I’m not aloof, am I?” she asks Anna. Anna: “Do you want me to answer truthfully or like a lady’s maid?”
* Rose visits Rosamund in London, but soon sneaks off to meet her secret boyfriend: the black American singer Jack Ross. They have a ride in a rowing boat.
* Mary and Charles Blake go to inspect some of Downton’s pigs and are shocked to discover that the water trough has been knocked over. The pigs are dehydrated and in danger. Charles snaps into action and tends to them with Mary helping. Both get their evening clothes, faces and hands covered in mud. Mary also slips and falls in the mud. When Charles goes to help her up, she says, “I’m fine.” “Suit yourself,” he says, moving away. Once the pigs have been given water, the pair sit down and chat. Charles playfully chucks more mud at her so she smears a handful on his face and they laugh. The sequence is a very fun way to bring the bickering characters closer. It also gets a closing gag: Mary tells Charles that he’s “saved their bacon, literally.”
* Mary and Charles take so long dealing with the pigs that it’s nearly dawn. So Mary takes him to the kitchen and cooks them some eggs. Being a lowly kitchen maid, Ivy is the first servant up each morning and walks in on them. “I’m ever so sorry, m’lady,” she says sheepishly. Mary replies, “Please don’t apologise…” then realises she doesn’t know the girl’s name.
* Rapist Mr Green waltzes into the servants hall, as his master Lord Gillingham is visiting Downton. What a twat. Mrs Hughes later corners him: “I know who you are and I know what you’ve done. And while you’re here, if you value your life, I should stop playing the joker and keep to the shadows.”

Worst bits:
* Violet is feeling under the weather, asks for a glass of water, and puts on a brave face when saying goodbye to Robert because she doesn’t want him to worry about her. Later, Isobel visits her and finds her sweating in bed. Dr Clarkson is fetched and he says pneumonia is a risk. Is the Dowager about to drop dead?! (Nah. She’s okay.)
* Alfred, who left last episode to start a new job in London, pops back for a visit. Mrs Patmore is not happy because his presence stirs up the emotions of kitchen maids Daisy and Ivy. “I grudge him the tears and the heartache that’ll flavour my puddings for weeks to come,” she says, naturalistically.

Real history:
* Cora’s brother, Harold, is currently involved in the US Senate’s investigation into the Teapot Dome Scandal. Leases to drill for oil on government land had been given out in exchange for bribes.
* Isobel tells Tom Branson that the MP John Ward is coming to speak in Rippon. Ward (1866-1934) was a Liberal and a trade unionist. Tom replies that he’s not a fan of the current coalition government, which had been in power since 1918. He adds that Ward is campaigning because David Lloyd-George (1863-1945), the Prime Minister, thinks an election is coming. (It was: in November 1922.) At the talk, Ward discusses the split between Lloyd-George and former Prime Minister HH Asquith (1852-1928) and what it will mean for the Liberal Party.
* Edith tells her mother that Michael Gregson was in Munich to see the castles of King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886).
* Edith mentions The Second Mrs Tanqueray, a play by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero that was first performed in 1893.
* Rosamund points out that abortion was illegal in the UK in 1922. It was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967.
* Charles mentions Country Life magazine (founded 1897).
* Charles Blake and Tony Gillingham took part in the Battle of Jutland (31 May and 1 June 1916), the first big naval engagement of the First World War. Charles mentions they served on board the Iron Duke with Admiral Sir John Jellicoe (1859-1935).

Upstairs, Downton: A member of the Bellamy family headed off on a transatlantic journey in the Upstairs, Downstairs episode Miss Forrest (1973).

Maggie Smithism of the week: Deliriously ill and being tended to by Isobel, Violet says, “I want another nurse. I insist! This one talks too much. She’s like a drunken vicar.”

Mary’s men: She continues to bicker with government surveyor Charles Blake. He’s not backwards in coming forward in telling Mary some home truths about the management of the estate, which irritates her. His pal Evelyn is also sniffing about, but Mary is clearly not interested. Later, with most of the household away, Mary and Charles are forced to spend some time together. She takes him to see the farm’s new batch of pigs (see Best Bits above) and the frost thaws between the two. Then there’s a complication: Tony Gillingham, who recently asked Mary to marry him, comes to visit.

Doggie! After Robert says goodbye to his wife, daughters, ward and mother before leaving for America, he turns to Tom Branson: “Look after all my lady folk. Including Isis.” Then he adds under his breath, “Especially Isis.” 

Review: A very entertaining episode.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 6

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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…

Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 5

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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: 20 October 2013, ITV.

Anna is still refusing to tell her husband why she’s being so distant, Alfred trains for a cookery test at the Ritz Hotel, and Edith makes a secret trip to the doctors…

When is it set? We’ve seriously slowed down now. Early seasons of Downton Abbey took place over a few years each; now, every episode is set just days after the last. So we’re still in mid 1922. It’s been long enough since episode three of this season for Anna to know that her rape hasn’t resulted in a pregnancy.

Where is it set? Outside the Bateses’ cottage. Downton Abbey. Isobel’s house. The churchyard. Violet’s house. The office of Dr Goldman in London. The Ritz Hotel.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) is Cora’s new lady’s maid, hired to replace the short-term Edna Braithwaite (who herself was Miss O’Brien’s replacement). She makes an effort with Cora – bringing her orange juice for breakfast, which reminds Cora of her American youth – and uses a thrillingly modern electric sewing machine. Thomas thinks he can get her to be his mole like O’Brien was, but Miss Baxter has other ideas.
* John Pegg (Joncie Elmore) is a local lad whose family are struggling, so Isobel gets him a job working as a gardener for Violet. There’s a bump in the road when the Dowager suspects he’s stolen a knife, but it turns out she simply misplaced it. (John and his mother actually appeared in the version of the preceding episode that was shown in the US. Their scenes were missing from the UK broadcast.)
* Mr Drewe (Andrew Scarborough) is a local farmer at Yew Tree Farm. His father has died owing back rent to Downton, so Robert and the others want to evict the family. But Mr Drewe wants to stay and argues his case. He wins the day – thanks to Robert secretly subsidising him.
* Alfred has a job interview at the Ritz. The sous chef who conducts it is called Arsène Avigno (Yves Aubert).

Best bits:
* Edith is optimistic when the post arrives, but she’s disappointed that there’s no letter from Michael Gregson. Poor Edith.
* Unseen by anyone, Mary’s eyes well up as she writes to Tony Gillingham to congratulate him on getting engaged.
* Edith says she thought Tony was keen on Mary. Mary replies caustically: “Not for the first time you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.”
* The charming scene of Tom Branson playing with daughter Sybie.
* Edith visits London, telling people she needs to go to Michael’s office. But then we see her head for a doctor’s office…
* When Bates says he’ll leave because Anna clearly doesn’t love him any more, Mrs Hughes has no choice but to tell him about the rape… Of course, he doesn’t believe the detail that the man was a stranger and assumes it was Mr Green. He then tells Anna he knows what happened and pretends that the matter is at an end. But he later tells Mrs Hughes that nothing is over and nothing is done with…

Worst bits:
* How the Downton estate is run – which tenants to evict, which land to farm – has become a boringly recurring topic of conversation. At least it stops people debating who’ll inherit the house when Robert dies.
* Also dragging now is Tom’s feeling that he’s out of place at Downton. This week he moots moving to America.
* Alfred applying for a new job as a cook at the Ritz? Where’s the fast-forward button?
* Mrs Patmore is sniffy and dismissive about Miss Baxter’s new-fangled sewing machine. Then – guess what? – snags her apron and needs it fixing pronto.

Real history:
* Robert makes a passing reference to George III (1738-1820), who was on the throne from 1760 until his death (with his son as regent for the final decade due to George’s dementia). Violet does the same with the poet Lord Bryon (1788-1824).
* Robert tells Mr Drewe, “It’s no good painting me as Simon Legree,” when the latter is upset at being evicted. Legree is a slave owner in the 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harrier Beecher Stowe (1811-1896). His name became a synonym for cruelty.
* Alfred wants to work at The Ritz Hotel. On Piccadilly in London, it opened in 1906. If he gets the job he will be working under the famous chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) while his interview is with Arsène Avignon, a sous chef who really did work at the Ritz. 

Upstairs, Downton: “Mrs Patmore,” asks Cora at one point, “is there any aspect of the present day you can accept without resistance?” It’s because Mrs P is unhappy about an electric sewing machine and a refrigerator now being part of her life. It’s reminiscent of Upstairs, Downstairs cook Mrs Bridges, who also had a distrust of modern gizmos.

Maggie Smithism of the week: When Isobel says that Violet cares about the unemployed as much as she does, Violet replies, “Nobody cares about *anything* as much as you do…”

Mary’s men: She reads in the newspaper that her friend Tony Gillingham, who’s been flirting with her over recent episodes, has got engaged and it upsets her. Later, her pal Evelyn Napier turns up on official business: he works for the government and is assessing rural estates’ chances of survival. (He adds that Downton is not under threat.) He says he has a colleague called Charles Blake, who will be staying at Downton soon.

Doggie! Isis bounds into the library at one point.

Review: An episode with a lot going on. Too much, probably. The show’s format has hit peak soap-opera-ness now: scenes are short and terse, and some plots feel short-changed.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 4

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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: 6 October 2013, ITV.

Anna is traumatised after her brutal attack, though is refusing to tell her husband about it. Elsewhere, Tom Branson feels out of place, Mary faces an uncertain future, Alfred wants to be a chef, and Michael Gregson prepares to leave for Munich…

When is it set? The episode begins the day after the previous episode ended: a Monday in spring 1922. We then progress over a few days.

Where is it set? The house. The local churchyard. Lady Rosamund’s house, the Lotus Club and Michael Gregson’s flat in London.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* When a group of characters go to The Lotus, a London night club, there’s an American singer performing there called Jack Ross (Gary Carr). Lady Rose dances with him, which shocks her family… because he’s black.
* After sleeping with Tom Branson, Edna gets a big stalkery. She asks if he’ll marry her if she’s pregnant. But it’s just a rouse to wheedle some money from him, which Mrs Hughes rumbles. Edna loses her job and leaves.
* Michael Gregson leaves for Germany. He intends to write a novel while he waits for citizenship and the ability to divorce his sectioned wife.
* Thomas Barrow has someone in mind to replace Edna. Someone older, he says.

Best bits:
* Anna’s turmoil is so well played by actress Joanne Froggatt. Not only has Anna been through an awful experience, but she feels she can’t talk about it. Her attacker, the vile Mr Green, is also still working at the house.
* Likewise, Penelope Wilton continues to never be anything less than excellent as Isobel, who’s still mourning her son and feels uneasy about Mary getting on with her life.
* Edith spends the night at Michael Gregson’s – it’s their last chance for some rumpy-pumpy before he emigrates – then has to do the walk of shame in the morning. She’s seen by a maid as she creeps up the stairs with her shoes in her hands. Later that morning, Rosamund takes Edith to task. “Please don’t say you were talking and lost track of time,” she says.

Worst bits:
* Various servants are moody at breakfast. “What’s the matter with everyone this merry morn?” asks Thomas. How did the actor keep a straight face during that line?
* Tom Branson and Edna discuss their night of passion – which he now regrets – and are overheard by… that’s right, Thomas Barrow. He’s always nearby when there’s plot-driving eavesdropping to do.
* More stuff about the younger servants fancying each other. Snooze!

Real history:
* The character of Jack Ross is loosely based on Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (1900-1969), a cabaret star of the 1920s and 30s who was, for a time, the highest paid entertainer in Britain. He had affairs with society women including Edwina Mountbatten (1901-1960), the wife of the current Queen’s second cousin.
* To make sure she won’t get pregnant, Edna reads Married Love by Marie Stopes, a hugely influential 1918 book that openly discussed birth control.
* Edith mentions the story of Lady Warwick ringing the stable bell at 6am so everyone had time to get back to the right beds before the maids and valets showed up. Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick (1861-1938) was the long-time mistress of Edward VII. The 1892 song Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built For Two) was written about her.

Upstairs, Downton: We see an establishing shot of Rosamund’s house in London. It looks remarkably similar to the Bellamys’ gaffe on Eaton Place in Upstairs, Downstairs.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet admits that there are times when Isobel’s virtue demands admiration. Robert says he’s surprised to hear her say that. “Not as surprised as I am,” says Violet.

Mary’s men: When he leaves after last episode’s house party, Tony Gillingham shares a nice goodbye with Mary. She’s still dressing in widow black, but his attentions have brightened her mood. The next day, Mary visits London and is surprised when her aunt arranges for Tony to see her. They dance with each other on a night out, but she tells him she’s not ready for another relationship. The *next* day, though, he follows her back to Downton – hope he gets a good deal on train tickets – and asks Mary to marry him. “It’s no good, Tony,” she says. “I’m not free of [Matthew] and I don’t want to be without him. Not yet.”

Review: This episode has a fine line to tread. By introducing a black character, it must deal with racism. The young, relatively enlightened Rose shows no prejudice, but Mary, Rosamund and Edith all disapprove of her dancing with Jack Ross. Surely that rings true with what would have happened in 1922. However, the episode was made and shown in 2013 – so the nastiness is downplayed. Rosamund makes a pointed reference to Jack being a ‘black band leader’ but openly racist language and attitudes are avoided, which is probably a fudge.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 3

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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: 6 October 2013, ITV.

Various guests come to Downton for a house party, including a card sharp, a famous singer, and potential suitors for Rose and Mary. But events take a very dark turn…

When is it set? Spring or summer 1922.

Where is it set? The house and its estate. Isobel’s house. The village.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Mr Green (Nigel Harman) is valet to the visiting Lord Gillingham (so due to the conventions of the time is called Mr Gillingham by the other servants). He flirts with Anna, which rubs Mr Bates up the wrong way, then later rapes her while everyone else is watching a concert.
* Anthony Foyle aka Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) comes to visit the house. He knew the Crawley sisters when they were all young. He has an unseen girlfriend, Mabel Lane Fox, but takes a romantic interest in Mary.
* Other guests include the Duchess of Yeovil (Joanna David), Sir John Bullock (Andrew Alexander) and Terence Samson (Patrick Kennedy). Sir John is a potential boyfriend for Lady Rose. Samson is a card sharp who tries to fleece the other men, so Michael Gregson teaches him a lesson.
* Australian singer Dame Nellie Melba (Kiri Te Kanawa) performs at the house. There’s a fuss, though, when snobbish Mr Carson thinks she should eat in her room rather than with the other guests. Robert agrees, but Cora is furious when she finds out. This is a rare instance of Downton Abbey dramatising a real-life figure (see ‘Real history’ below).

Best bits:
* Violet’s being very kind this week. She schools Tom on etiquette, then seeks out an isolated Isobel and insists that she come to the house party.
* The servants discuss card games. “You can’t lose a fortune playing snap,” says Jimmy. “I could,” says Molesley.
* Poor Molesley is seconded as a lowly footman and even has to wear gloves while serving food.
* Carson walks into the kitchen to see chaos. “What’s going on?” he demands. A hassled Daisy says, “Alfred’s making the sauces for the dinner and Mrs Patmore’s having a heart attack!” Carson replies, “I’m not surprised.” (He’s misunderstood: Alfred’s doing the cooking *because* Mrs P is having a heart attack. Well, actually it turns out to be only a panic attack.)
* After Robert is conned by a card sharp, Michael Gregson uses his superior skill at poker to win the money back – and Robert’s respect.

Worst bits:
* Mr Green brutally attacks Anna while everyone else listens to Dame Nellie’s performance. (I place this here in ‘Worst bits’ not because it’s bad storytelling or bad writing or because it shouldn’t have happened. There’s nothing wrong with dramatic things taking place in a drama. But it’s a harrowing thing to see.)
* The Edna/Tom storyline fails to fly. She sneaks into his bedroom late at night but it’s difficult to care.

Real history:
* Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931) was a famous Australian operatic soprano. By 1922 she’d been singing all over the world for three decades, so Downton Abbey rather underplays her standing. Experts say she would never have been treated as anything less than a star, even by a snobbish butler. She was also 80 years old (Kiri Te Kanawa was 69) and would not have drunk alcohol before a performance, as she does in this episode.
* Robert is a member of White’s, a gentlemen’s club in St James’s. It was founded in 1693, making it the oldest such club in London.
* Rose says she’s a fan of American singer and actor Al Jolson (1886-1950). She’s got all his records including April Showers, a song Jolson debuted in the Broadway show Bombo in October 1921.
* Violet quotes poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894): “Better by far that you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.” Isobel points out that Rossetti was talking about her own death, not her child’s.

Upstairs, Downton: Mr Carson uses the phrase “north of the park” as a dismissive way of saying an aristo is down on her luck. It was a snobbish idea based on the area of houses north of Hyde Park in London; society people generally lived to the south, in Belgravia. In a 1971 episode of Upstairs, Downstairs, Lady Majorie was aghast at the idea of moving there when the family’s finances had to be tightened.

Maggie Smithism of the week: After she complains about Tom’s dull small talk, Violet is told that not everyone can be Oscar Wilde. “That’s a relief,” she says.

Mary’s men: Mary shares a connection with Tony Gillingham. He’s interested in her; she’s reticent, but they share a dance. Also, despite having a girlfriend, he says he’d like to take Mary out. It don’t take a genius to see where this storyline is going.

Doggie! Isis is spotted sitting in the library. When Robert leaves rather than chit-chat with Michael Gregson, the dog follows.

Review: The conclusion of this episode caused a controversy, with some viewers objecting to a rape occurring on a Sunday night on ITV. This, to me, seems to be missing the point. On a storytelling level it works so well because it’s incongruous. Any rape is shocking, but to have something so savage in the cosy world of Downton Abbey is incredibly effective and affecting drama.

Next episode…