Penny Dreadful: season one (2014)


An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: An early scene in episode one tells us it’s 22 September 1891. The events mostly take place in London. We also see a flashbacks to some of the characters’ youths.

Faithful to the novel? This first season of glossy television drama Penny Dreadful takes a couple of characters from Stoker’s book and mixes them with several other 19th-century creations as well as some new elements. The idea of a mash-up of Victorian fictions is nothing new, of course: from the Universal horror movies of the 1940s to Kim Newman’s novel series Anno Dracula and the comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it’s a well-mined idea. Penny Dreadful’s biggest steal from Dracula is the character Mina Murray, who as the season begins has gone missing. We’re told she was married to a solicitor called Jonathan Harker, but then became embroiled with a mysterious, supernatural creature and became his slave. Her father, the explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), doesn’t appear in the novel but is a lead character here. He’s searching for his daughter with the help of an original character called Vanessa Ives (Eva Green). She’s an enigmatic woman who’s haunted by evil spirits. In episode four, another of Stoker’s creations shows up – but oddly Professor Van Helsing (David Warner) is a colleague of a non-Dracula character. Vanessa also makes a passing reference to Henry Irving, Bram Stoker’s real-life employer and mentor who was an influence on Dracula’s eponymous villain. Away from Stoker, Penny Dreadful’s dramatis personae is a mixture of people borrowed from famous literature (Dr Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray) and characters invented for the show.

Best performance: Eva Green plays Vanessa like a swan – she’s an elegant, controlled beauty but there’s enormous power and violence under the surface. The character is a torrid mix of guilt and doubt yet hides it so well, and Green’s performance ranges from serene poise to literally foaming at the mouth. In episode two, for example, there’s an extraordinary séance sequence that sees her possessed by malevolent, foul-mouthed spirits. It’s a bravura piece of acting. Incidentally, Green is just one of many Penny Dreadful alumni who have connections to the James Bond films. She played Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, while elsewhere there’s also creator/writer John Logan (who co-wrote Skyfall and Spectre), executive producer Sam Mendes (who directed Skyfall and Spectre), and actors Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill), Rory Kinear (Quantum of Solace onwards), Joseph Millson (Casino Royale) and Helen McClory (Skyfall).

Finest episode: Closer Than Sisters, the dark, twisted, intensely peculiar fifth episode, is a thing of wonder. It’s an hour-long flashback, telling Vanessa’s back story, filling in some of her mystery and explaining her connection to the Murrays. Vanessa suffers family upheaval, demonic possession and extreme medical ‘treatment’.

Review: The world presented in Penny Dreadful is a fascinating place, if not that original. It’s ‘Gothicana’: a never-existed London of Cockney boozers, opium dens, Pall Mall gentlemen’s clubs, secret crime gangs, mentions of Jack the Ripper, prostitutes waiting in fogbound streets, rat-infested docks, Tower Bridge under construction, and Grand Guignol theatre shows. It’s a shame the drama that takes place there isn’t more gripping. A big problem is a distinct lack of urgency. The various stories meander along, and we drift from subplot to subplot. There are sparks of energy when the characters start to crossover and collide – there’s a terrific sequence at a theatre in episode four which has Ethan, Bronagh, Vanessa, Dorian, Caliban and Sebene all in attendance – but all too often there’s a slow, earnest pace. There is some genuine horror and a few shocking plot twists, but sadly the show is a bit humourless and pretentious.

Six exorcisms out of 10


Downton Abbey: A Moorland Holiday


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 Minkie Spiro. Originally broadcast: 25 December 2014, ITV.

The family holiday at Brancaster Castle, a stately home hired by Rose’s parents-in-law for the grouse season. Meanwhile, Violet tracks down the missing wife of her friend Prince Kuragin, Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes make plans for their retirement, and Anna is languishing in prison. 

When is it set? We begin in September 1924 and then jump to Christmas (which is a white one). That means some of this episode is set precisely 90 years to the day before its broadcast.

Where is it set? A local prison. Downton Abbey. Downton train station. The English countryside. Brancaster Castle and its estate (in reality: Alnwick Castle in Northumberland). Violet’s house. A house Mr Carson wants to buy. Isobel’s house. York.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Stowell (Alun Armstrong) is Lord Sinderby’s butler who we meet when our characters go to stay at Brancaster. He’s a bitter, rude man who takes against Tom Branson and lords it over Thomas Barrow. When Mary sees what an oaf he is, she asks Thomas to take him down a peg or two. He plots to embarrass Stowell in front of everyone, then tricks him into revealing some sensitive information about Lord Sinderby. This causes Stowell big problems and puts him in his place.
* The long-missing Princess Irina Kuragin (Jane Lapotaire) has been finally found. Violet arranges for her to come to Yorkshire to be reunited with her husband. Sadly she’s rather rude and ungrateful.
* Atticus has been offered a job in New York, so he and Rose plan to leave the country.
* Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) is a friend of a friend of Atticus’s who comes along to the grouse shoot. He’s a car fanatic and strikes up a connection with Mary.
* Henry and Atticus’s mutual friend is called Charlie Rogers (Sebastian Dunn).
* Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton) has been the agent of the Brancaster Castle estate for 18 months and is a genial, good-natured bloke. The old Lord Hexham, a previous owner of Brancaster, was his father’s second cousin. But Bertie is a working man. He meets Edith at the shoot and they become friendly.
* Diana Clark (Alice Patten) is a woman who shows up unannounced at Brancaster with a small child. Lord Sinderby is shaken to his core to see her… because the boy is his secret love child. Rose immediately twigs what’s going on and pretends that Diana is a friend of hers, saving her father-in-law from embarrassment and making sure his wife doesn’t find out about the indiscretion. Lord S is now much more predisposed towards Rose.
* Andy, the footman hired for a week in the preceding episode, is given a full-time job. He replaces Mr Bates, who during the episode does a runner out of the country…

Best bits:
* Immaculately dressed Mary visits Anna in a grim, dank prison.
* Mr Bates says he would cut his own arm off if it helped Anna. “Oh, I don’t think that’d be sensible,” quips Thomas Barrow. “We can’t have you wobbly at both ends…”
* Mary and Edith say goodbye to the children before leaving for Brancaster Castle. “Come to Mummy,” says Mary to her son, George. “Come to… me,” says Edith to her secret-daughter-who’s-posing-as-a-ward Marigold.
* Rose wants both sides of her family to use their Christian names. Her Jewish father-in-law points out that his name is not Christian.
* Mary dresses in an absolutely gorgeous frock and jewellery that accentuates her Louise Brooks bob.
* With the family away, Mrs Patmore plans a cosy downstairs dinner for the senior servants still at Downton. Carson is put-out to learn that young Daisy will be joining them. “If that thought’s too democratically overpowering,” says Mrs P, “you can share what I’ve made for the housemaids.”
* Robert kindly, gently lets Edith know that’s realised Marigold is her daughter. Now, everyone within the family except Mary is in on the secret.
* Poor Isobel is having doubts about marrying Lord Merton because his sons have been so resentful towards her. A snooty letter from the dickwad eldest son doesn’t help matters.
* Tom, Mary and Edith share a very moving moment when they hold hands and remember the late Sybil.
* Mr Carson asks Mrs Hughes to marry him. Aww. “I thought you’d never ask,” she says.

Worst bits:
* Poor Anna has been locked up on remand because, two years after a man’s death, a witness has come forward and identified her as being on the same street at the time. Later in the episode, we hear that the witness is now having doubts. No shit.
* “Well, Bates was found innocent,” says Cora over tea, pointing out that the same kind of plot is being done twice. “No doubt Anna will be too.”
* Oh, the murder-mystery plot gets even clunkier. We learn that when Anna was a child, her step-father abused her – so she threatened him with a knife and cut him in self-defense. And the incident is now being used by the police as ‘evidence’ that she killed Mr Green. This backstory hasn’t even been hinted at in any of the previous 42 episodes.
* Then… frustrated that his wife is locked up in prison, Mr Bates tells the police *he* killed Mr Green and then flees to Ireland. His sacrifice means that Anna is released on bail, but no one at Downton believes Bates did it. So Molesley and Miss Baxter take it upon themselves to prove his innocence. They visit 60 or 70 pubs in York and find a landlord who will testify that Mr Bates was there on the day Mr Green was killed. So Mr B returns. This entire storyline feels so arbitrary.
* Branson finally moves to Boston. He’s been planning this for about 700 episodes now.
* “I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that I have a sister,” says Mrs Hughes to Mr Carson, one of her closest friends and colleagues who she’s known for decades.

Real history:
* At Christmas, the household sing the traditional Christmas carols God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen and O Come, All Ye Faithful.
* Mary then sings Silent Night with Edith accompanying her on the piano. It was written by Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818 using lyrics by Joseph Mohr.

Upstairs, Downton: Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes plan to buy and run an B&B once their time at Downton is over. In Upstairs, Downstairs, Mr Hudson and Mrs Bridges make similar plans.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Robert says he’s happy his mother has come to see him off at the train station. “Why must you always talk of me as if I were a salmon who laid my eggs in the gravel and then swam back to the sea?” she replies.

Mary’s men: With the long-running Mary/Charles/Tony love triangle now put to bed, we’re into a new phase of Mary’s love life… A last-minute guest at the Brancaster shoot is a man called Henry Talbot. He’s ‘chumed’ with Mary on the shoot and asks if her husband is one of the other guns. “No,” she says, “but my late husband was quite good at it. In the end.” Their frosty dialogue is played with an underlying attraction. She seems quite disappointed when he leaves.

Review: Probably Downton Abbey’s least enjoyable Christmas special. There are plenty of nice scenes and subplots, but it doesn’t have much cohesion to it. There’s also a hackneyed storyline about a bitter butler who gets his comeuppance, a dull comedy subplot about some broth, and a limp climax to Prince Kuragin’s arc. The time shifts are slightly strange too. The Brancaster holiday makes up the episode’s first two-thirds, then we skim through a few months and it’s suddenly Christmas back at Downton. But the biggest issue, sadly, is the sense that the show is now circling back and redoing the same type of stories.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 8


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: 9 November 2014, ITV.

Rose is preparing to marry Atticus in London, but their respective parents are causing problems… Also, Edith’s secret daughter is now living at Downton, Robert helps Mrs Patmore, and Tom decides to move to America. 

When is it set? 1924, before the grouse season. The local village’s war memorial is unveiled on the 25th of the month, soon after Rose’s wedding.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey and the local village. Violet’s house. Grantham House in London. Scotland Yard. The Hornby Hotel. Rules restaurant. St James’s Park. The Sinderbys’ London residence. Caxton Hall Registry Office. An illegal gambling den.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Andy (Michael P Fox) is a footman hired temporarily while the family are in London. Thomas takes a shine to him, but Denker spies an opportunity to rip him off. She coerces Andy into going to a gambling den near Shaftesbury Avenue and he loses a fortune. Later, Thomas smells a rat and insists on coming along when the pair go again…
* Basil Shute (Darren Machin) runs the gambling den. Thomas soon twigs what’s going on: Denker receives free drinks if she brings dupes with cash to the club. So Thomas wins back the money that Andy lost, then deliberately drops Denker in the shit with Basil.
* A woman (Sophie Cosson) bursts into Atticus’s hotel room, dips her dress off her shoulder, then walks out. He’s bemused by the incident, but the next day Rose is sent some photos of it… She’s devastated and confronts Atticus, but Tom Branson suggests that her haughty father-in-law arranged the sting in order to scuttle the wedding. Lord Flintshire denies he was involved.
* Rose marries Atticus, becoming Lady Rose Aldridge.
* One of the guests at the wedding reception, Lady Manville (Sarah Crowden), compliments Robert and Cora for putting on a brave face as their ward marries a Jew. “I wonder if you remember that my father was Jewish?” says Cora.

Best bits:
* Rose shows off some outfits to Cora, Mary, Isobel and Violet. The costume design on this series really is excellent.
* The bickering between Violet’s servants – butler Spratt and maid Denker – is likeable nonsense played by two actors with comic talent.
* Robert says there’s something about Marigold (who’s his granddaughter, even though he doesn’t know it). “A sense of déjà vu. I can’t quite put my finger on it…” Later, the truth dawns on him – she reminds him of Michael Gresgon – and he lets Cora know he’s worked it out. “Just tell me if I’m wrong,” he says. She says he’s not.
* Lady Flintshire meets her future son-in-law, Atticus. “What a peculiar name,” she says before walking off.
* While in London, Anna is asked to visit Scotland Yard. When she arrives she’s shocked to discover it’s so she can take part in a police line-up.
* Mary tells Tom that she doesn’t want him to leave the country… because she’ll then be left alone with her sister, Edith. “When you read in the paper I’m on trial for murder, it’ll be your fault.”
* Having had her eyes opened to art and history and education, Daisy declares she’s going to move to London. Mrs Patmore is clearly devastated at the idea of losing her surrogate daughter. (Daisy later changes her mind.)
* Lord Flintshire works out that the sting operation on Atticus was arranged by Rose’s mother – so he confronts her. She’s bitter because the couple have lost all their money and fears that marrying a Jew will further damage Rose’s future.
* Carson solemnly tells Violet that Denker is unwell… then we cut to the servants’ hall and see that she’s blind drunk!
* The police arrive at Grantham House and arrest Anna for murder!

Worst bits:
* Tom’s had a letter from his cousin in Boston, Massachusetts, who sells cars but wants to move into farming equipment and has asked Tom to be his business partner. He’ll stay at Downton until Christmas but then leave. The drawn-out subplot of Tom’s potential emigration to America has become very tedious.
* The policeman Vyner returns. He’s now discovered that the murdered Mr Green was not that nice a man after all. He’d attacked several women, some of whom have now come forward. Mr Green, a lowly servant, died two years ago. Is it really that believable that the Met would still be investigating his death in a road accident?
* Likewise, the police say a second witness has now come forward and says that whoever was arguing with Mr Green moments before he fell under a bus was shorter than Green. That witness must have a very good memory. He somehow identifies Anna as the killer.

Real history:
* When asked a racist question by Lady Flintshire – “Do you have any English blood?” – the Jewish Lord Sinderby tells her that his wife’s family arrived in England during the reign of Richard III (1452-1485).
* Mary takes Rose, Tom and Edith to Rules. As Edith points out, it’s the restaurant where she and Michael Gregson first had dinner together (during series three).
* Mr Molesley takes Miss Baxter and Daisy to the Wallace Collection, an art gallery in central London that opened in 1900.
* Having been a diplomat there, Lord Flintshire isn’t sure how much longer ‘British India’ has to go. Isobel mentions “that terrible Amritsar business.” On 13 April 1919, in Punjab, protesters and pilgrims were fired upon by British Indian Army troops commanded by Colonel Reginald Dyer (1864-1927). Hundreds were killed; maybe as many as a thousand. Flintshire says it was an unfortunate incident order by a foolish man. The aloof Lord Sinderby can’t agree: he reckons Dyer was just doing his duty.
* A drunk Denker sings It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, a song written by Jack Judge. He came up with it on 30 January 1912 for a five-shilling bet and it was performed at a music hall the following night.
* Violet says that she attended the wedding of the Earl and Countess of Rosebery, which was held on 20 March 1878.
* At the unveiling of the war memorial in Downton village, Carson recites the Ode of Remembrance (“We will remember them…”), which is taken from For the Fallen, a 1914 poem by Laurence Binyon.

Maggie Smithism of the week: “My dear, love is a far more dangerous motive than dislike.”

Mary’s men: Her former suitor Tony Gillingham shows up at the wedding reception and brings Mabel Lane Fox with him. They’re getting married in December.

Doggie! Isis has died between episodes. Sniff! Robert employs a local mason to carve her gravestone. (This gives him the idea to mark Mrs Patmore’s nephew’s sacrifice. He can’t be included on the war memorial because he was shot for cowardice, so Robert pays for a separate plaque.)

Review: The penultimate season comes to an end enjoyably enough.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 7


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: 2 November 2014, ITV.

Edith has fled to London, so her mother chases after her. Meanwhile, Rose agrees to marry Atticus, while Isobel announces she’s to marry Lord Merton – but in each case there’s resistance from the prospective in-laws. 

When is it set? We begin the day after the preceding episode ended, so we’re in mid 1924.

Where is it set? Downton train station. Downton Abbey and the estate. The Bateses’ cottage. The offices of Edith’s publishing company. A London teashop. Violet’s house.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Although she herself is barely seen, it’s decided that young Marigold will now live at Downton Abbey as Edith’s ward. Only Edith, Cora, Violet and Rosamund know that the girl is Edith’s daughter.

Best bits:
* Cora’s indignation when she finally learns that she has a third grandchild. She’s furious that Violet and Rosamund kept the secret from her and says she’ll never trust her mother-in-law again.
* Blimey, Mary looks amazing when dolled up with her 1920s flapper frock and bob-cut hairdo.
* Arrogant Lord Sinderby is asking Cora whether she minds having a different religion from her father – implying, incorrectly, that she’s embarrassed by her Jewish roots. She points out that, unlike his family, they didn’t anglicize their surname.
* Violet is upset when Isobel announces her engagement. Mary assumes it’s jealousy, but it’s because Violet will miss having her pal around.
* Charles Blake invites Mary to the cinema and actor Julian Ovenden pronounces the word in the old-fashioned way: ‘kinema’.
* A fun bit of farce: Cora has convinced Edith to return to Downton with Marigold, but they don’t want any of the family to know about it. But when they pull into the train station, who should be waiting on the platform but Mary. There’s then some business to make sure she doesn’t see the child. (For the coincidence to make sense, the trains to and from London must use the same platform.)
* Mr Molesley kills two birds with one stone when he engineers a visit to the farm of Daisy’s father-in-law: Mr Mason boosts a depressed Daisy’s confidence, while Mr Molesley takes Miss Baxter along to cheer her up.

Worst bits:
* Mrs Drewe arrives at Downton to tell Cora all about Edith’s secret daughter… and tells her in a scene that we don’t see. Mrs Drewe isn’t even in the episode. Downton Abbey enjoys its off-screen storytelling a bit too much.
* Mrs Hughes tells Mary about the railway ticket that could prove Mr Bates’s innocence… in the hallway, which allows Miss Baxter to eavesdrop.
* “Have you decided at least whether you’re leaving?” Rosamund asks Tom Branson, who has been occasionally mooting moving to America for about 27 years now.
* Lord Merton’s twatty son *somehow* gets a return invitation to a Downton dinner and yet again acts like a moron.

Real history:
* Mr Molesley mentions William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847-48 novel Vanity Fair.
* Daisy has been reading the newspaper. “Mr MacDonald seems to limp from crisis to crisis,” she says. “They were going to do so much when they came in, the first Labour government. And now I doubt if they’ll last a year.” Her prediction is right: Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald left Downing Street on 4 November.
* Mary goes to see a film starring American actor John Barrymore (1882-1942).

Upstairs, Downton: The scene at a cinema recalls a similar moment in the Upstairs Downstairs episode News From the Front (1974).

Maggie Smithism of the week: When Mary is cruel about her sister, Violet says, “My dear, a lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears.”

Mary’s men: Her suitors Charles and Tony are still staying at Downton after last episode; Mary’s love rival Mabel Lane Fox is there too. Charles and Mabel are plotting to push Tony away from Mary. He says he can’t let Mary go but won’t say why. (It’s because they slept together.) So Charles tells Mary that she needs to release him more clearly. A few days later, Charles learns that he’s being posted to a trade delegation to Poland and will be gone for several months, so he asks Mary to come to London: he has an idea. They go to the cinema, then stage a snog as Tony and Mabel walk past. Tony finally gets the message and gives up hopes of a life with Mary.

Doggie! Isis lies docile next to Robert’s chair or in front of the fire, and Robert is getting increasingly concerned for her health. Cora wonders whether the pooch might be pregnant. But sadly no: Robert takes Isis to the vet and learns she’s got cancer. She’s not expected to live long… Robert and Cora let Isis sleep in their bed that night.

Review: Death, murder, anguish, heartache, war, rejection, loneliness… Downton’s done them all. Yet the imminent death of a dog is the most touching storyline yet.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 6


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: 26 October 2014, ITV.

Edith discovers that Michael Gregson is dead. Also, Thomas Barrow needs help, Robert is still annoyed with his wife, and Mr Bates gets the wrong end of the stick…

When is it set? Robert has the hump with Cora for flirting with another man so not much time has passed since the last episode. It’s summer 1924.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey. Violet’s house. Prince Kuragin’s bedsit and a hairdressers in York. Dr Clarkson’s office. A cottage that Mrs Patmore is considering buying with an inheritance. The grounds of Caningford Grange, the estate of Lord Sinderby. A hotel in London.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Violet has a new lady’s maid called Denker (Sue Johnston). She’s not getting along with butler Spratt, though. The two disagree over household routines.
* It’s finally confirmed that Michael Gregson – who we last saw in an episode set two years before this one – is dead. He was murdered by Nazis during the Munich Putsch and only now have his remains been discovered and identified. Edith has inherited his publishing company.
* The parents of Rose’s new friend Atticus Aldridge appear for the first time. Lord Sinderby (James Faulkner) seems cold and distant, but Lady Siderby (Penny Downie) is nicer.

Best bits:
* Having received a telegram saying that the editor of Michael’s magazine is on his way to Downton, Edith spends most of the day in utter dread: she knows it must be the confirmation of Michael’s death.
* Mary says she’s genuinely sad to hear about Michael. “Though what he saw in Edith…” she can’t resist adding.
* Mr Bates finds a contraceptive – a device Anna is actually hiding for Mary – and jumps to the wrong conclusion. He assumes Anna doesn’t want a child with him because she thinks he murdered Mr Green.
* The incongruity of the Dowager Lady Grantham siting in a dingy bedsit and holding a glass like it’s radioactive.
* Having learnt that Michael died a long time ago, a distraught Edith tries to visit her daughter. But the girl’s guardian – who doesn’t know that Edith is the mother – refuses to let her in. Actress Laura Carmichael does pained so well. You really feel for her. Later in the episode, Edith is distraught as her family get on with their lives: planning a picnic, trying out a new hair style… So she decides to leave Downton without saying where she’s going. And she takes daughter Marigold with her…
* Cora asks an angry Robert to return to their bedroom. (He’s been sleeping in his dressing room.) But he’s stubborn and refuses. “Very well,” she says. “If you can honestly say you have never let a flirtation get out of hand since we married, if you have never given a woman the wrong impression, then by all means stay away. Otherwise, I expect you back in my room tonight.”
* Thomas Barrow has been looking ill for several episodes and now reveals why: he’s been using a barbaric medicine designed to ‘cure’ him of being gay. He asks for help from Miss Baxter, who of course he’s often treated very badly. But she’s a decent person so puts that aside and takes him to the doctor. Dr Clarkson tells Thomas that the treatment is just saline, but he’s feeling rotten because the needle was infected. Thomas also reveals that he’s tried electrotherapy, all to try to change him; to make him more like other men. “Well, I’ll not be coy and pretend I don’t understand,” says Dr Clarkson. “Nor do I blame you. But there is no drug, no electric shock, that will achieve what you want.”
* Mary has her hair restyled as a bob-cut a la Louise Brooks. Wowzers.
* Mr Bates tells Anna what happened the day Mr Green died. He went to York, then bought a return train ticket for London… But he didn’t get on the train. He knew that if he saw Green he’d kill him. He also explains why he kept the train ticket. It was proof that he *didn’t* go to London (ie, if he’d travelled it would have been torn in half).
* Violet sighs when she learns that Rose’s new boyfriend is Jewish. “There’s always something, isn’t there?”

Worst bits:
* Mary learns that two friends are to take part in a nearby point-to-point race and says she might join them. Anna then has to ask the plot-hole-covering questions. How can they take part when they don’t ‘follow the hunt’? Mary says they must have wangled it somehow. Are ladies allowed to race with the gentlemen? They changed it just before the war.

Real history:
* “And was it this Herr Hitler?” asks Cora when the news about Michael’s death reaches Downton. “Apparently,” says Robert. “At least his gang of thugs. During the so-called Bierkeller Putsch in Munich.” The putsch – a failed coup led by Adolf Hitler – took place on 8-9 November 1923. Cora says that Hitler has been locked up for five years, but Robert has heard that he won’t serve anything like that. (He was in prison for nine months.)
* Marie Stopes’s family-planning book Married Love (1918) features again.
* Daisy is still studying, even though her tutor Miss Bunting has left. She’s now onto the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1714).
* Upon seeing Mary’s daring new hair, an impressed Isobel says, “Pola Negri comes to Yorkshire!” Negri (1897-1987) was a movie actor of the silent era and the first European star to transfer to Hollywood.

Upstairs, Downton: The point-to-point scenes are very reminiscent of the Upstairs Downstairs episode The Bolter (1973), in which James and Hazel went on a hunting weekend.

Maggie Smithism of the week: When Robert says a grieving Edith needs time to think, Violet says, “Oh, all this endless thinking. It’s very overrated. I blame the war. Before 1914, nobody thought about anything at all.”

Mary’s men: Both Charles and Tony are at the point-to-point. Mary’s love rival Mabel Lane Fox also shows up – she and Charles are trying to convince Tony to be with Mabel, so that Mary is then free for Charles… 

Doggie! While the family discuss some planned renovations, Cora spots that Isis is lying on the floor looking very listless. She wonders if she’s ill; Mary suggests she’s pregnant. The pooch doesn’t improve.

Review: Poor Michael Gregson. He was a fun presence in the show for a few episodes, then the mystery of what happened to him has dragged on for so long. 

Next episode…


Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 5


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 Minko Spiro. Originally broadcast: 19 October 2014, ITV.

Isobel considers whether to accept Lord Merton’s marriage proposal, Rose meets a new man, and Simon Bricker comes to visit… while Robert’s away in Sheffield.

When is it set? Summer 1924.

Where is it set? The house. Dr Clarkson’s office. Violet’s house and back garden. York (including the crypt at St Mary Magdalene’s church). The Drewes’ farm. London (including Simpson’s restaurant).

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Mr Vyner (Louis Hilyer) is an inspector from Scotland Yard who comes to Downton to ask Anna and Mary about the day Mr Green was killed.
* Rose meets a young man called Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber) when he helps her with her umbrella during a rainy day in York. He then joins her in visiting some Russian refugees – in part because his family has Russian roots. However, a pompous refugee takes against Atticus because he’s Jewish.
* After Tom says he sees no future in their relationship, Sarah Bunting quits her job so she can move to Preston.

Best bits:
* Mrs Patmore says, “I’ve got some good news for a change. An old aunt’s died… No, that’s not the good news.” (Mrs P has inherited a few hundred quid, which Mr Carson suggests she invest in a local building firm.)
* Poor Edith lashes out at dinner – her forced separation from secret daughter Marigold is clearly upsetting her. She’s then devastated when the Drewes moots moving away and taking Marigold with them. Soon after, Edith’s grandmother works out that something is amiss and confronts Edith. Learning the truth, she tells her to send the child to a foreign school. But we later see Edith make a secretive phone call to someone in London…
* Rosamund tells her mother, “I’m afraid you’ve read somewhere that rudeness in old age is amusing.”
* Almost every exterior scene takes place in heavy rain, which adds a bit of texture to the episode. It also means we get the sound of rain dubbed onto interior scenes just before we cut to some location filming.
* Simon Bricker visits Downton (again) to take a photo of a painting for a book he’s writing. Well, that’s his excuse: he’s clearly sniffing around Cora, and happens to stay at the house while Robert is away. Later, Simon sneaks into Cora’s bedroom in the hope of some action! Aghast, she asks him to leave… Meanwhile, downstairs, Robert is returning home unexpectedly. When he walks in on Cora and Bricker together, Simon at least admits that’s he’s not there by Cora’s invitation. But then he taunts Robert – so Robert punches him and they brawl.
* Hearing the commotion from her mother’s bedroom, Edith knocks on the door to ask if everything’s okay. Cora answers and calmly says that she and Robert were playing a game and knocked over a lamp! 

Worst bits:
* Sarah Bunting is surprised that Tom’s family don’t like her and she can’t understand why Tom keeps defending them. Really?!
* “You never told me what the inspector wanted yesterday,” says Mr Bates to wife Anna. Hang on, a married couple are both suspects in a murder investigation and a copper from Scotland Yard comes to interview one of them… and they wait 24 hours before discussing it?

Real history:
* Rose reads in the paper about a nudist colony called the Moonella Group, which opened in 1924 at Wickford in Essex.
* Violet says that Ellen Terry has nothing on Isobel when it comes to stringing out a moment. Terry (1847-1928) was the leading Shakespearean actress of the late 19th century.
* Mr Carson mentions American portrait painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) and British writer Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).
* Rosamund says ‘Atticus Aldridge’ sounds like “the hero of a novel by Mrs Humphrey Ward”. Mary Augusta Ward (1851-1920) was a social campaigner as well as a novelist.
* Atticus’s family were forced out of Odessa in Russia during the pogroms of 1859 and 1871.
* Charles takes Mary to dinner at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, a high-class restaurant in London that began in 1828 as a smoking room.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet uses some forced bonhemmie when Isobel twists her ankle slightly: “Lord Merton will have you on the table before you can say knife.”

Mary’s men: She heads to London to meet Charles Blake for dinner and he surprises her by also inviting her love rival Mabel Lane Fox. Charles wants Mary’s help in convincing her to give Tony Gillingham another chance.

Review: It’s a shame Richard E Grant’s stint on the show comes to an end with this episode. He’s been good value.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 4


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 Minkie Spiro. Originally broadcast: 12 October 2014, ITV.

Thomas Barrow takes drastic measures, Robert weighs up whether to allow development of his land, Lord Merton asks Isobel to marry him, and Simon Bricker comes to visit again.

When is it set? Spring 1924.

Where is it set? The house and the estate. York. The village, including the school and the churchyard. Violet’s house. Isobel’s house. Lots of places in London: Rosamund’s house, the venue of a dress show, Lord Gillingham’s flat in Albany, Piccadilly Circus, and Kensington Gardens.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Having been mentioned a couple of times, Mable Lane Fox (Catherine Steadman) makes an appearance. She used to be engaged to Tony Gillingham… before he chucked her in order to pursue Mary. Obviously there’s some tension when the two women meet.
* Rose’s father, Lord ‘Shrimpy’ Flintshire, returns to England to tell her that he and her mother are to divorce. He knows this will cause a scandal but he’s too unhappy to continue.

Best bits:
* Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes keep giving Mr Molesley extra chores because he’s made such a big deal about being considered the first footman.
* We learn that, 50 years earlier, Russian Prince Kuragin asked Violet to run away with him – but then her husband gave her a Fabergé frame with pictures of their children in it. It made her realise she loved him so stayed.
* Lord Merton’s proposal is sweet. He tells Isobel that he’s not asking her out of loneliness or selfishness; he’s genuinely fallen in love. He asks her to think about it rather than give an answer straightaway.
* Thomas Barrow’s been looking sallow and acting oddly, then Miss Baxter overhears him crying out in pain in a bathroom. She forces her way in and sees medical equipment. Later, she discovers that he sent away for a barbaric package designed to ‘cure’ men of being gay.
* While in London, Mary attends a fashion show – and Downton goes full-blown 1920s. It’s an Art Deco lover’s dream.
* Anna’s also in London (because Mary is) and takes the opportunity to visit Piccadilly Circus – ie, where Mr Green was killed. Is she returning to scene of the crime?! The sequence involves an impressive green-screen recreation of 1924 London.

Worst bits:
* Robert’s dogmatic resistance to selling part of the Downton estate contradicts his position when Matthew died – so we get a line of dialogue to explain why he’s changed his tune.
* Bolshy schoolteacher Sarah Bunting is invited to dinner yet again. Before the meal, Tom Branson specifically asks her not to antagonise Robert, but she can’t resist in repeatedly trying to embarrass him (while, you know, eating his food and sitting at his table). So he loses his rag and demands she leave. The worst thing about the storyline is that her progressive politics are spot-on and Robert’s reactionary lifestyle is grossly unfair – and yet he’s the one you side with.

Real history:
* The Russian Revolution of 1917 is why the Tsarist refugees cannot return home. The current Soviet regime has no desire to help them.
* Violet refers to the House of Fabergé, a prestigious jewellery firm formed in Russia in 1842.
* As part of her schooling, Daisy is studying the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which saw King James II of England (James VII of Scotland) overthrown in favour of William III, Prince of Orange.
* Edith has news from Munich. A trial of some thugs is going on – the thugs who got into a fight with Michael Gregson. “I’ve read about this,” says her father. “They wear brown shirts and go around bullying people. Their leader tried to start a revolution last year.” The brownshirted Sturmabteilung were the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party; their leader was, of course, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). Robert reckons they haven’t heard the last of them: “We pushed Germany too hard with our demands after the war,” he says as if he were a GCSE textbook.
* Mable Lane Fox makes an excuse to leave a conversation with Mary: she’s off to meet her friend Ralph Kerr, who she says gets tetchy if he’s left waiting. Kerr (1891-1941) was an officer in the Royal Navy. He saw action in both world wars.
* Cora mentions the Reign of Terror, a period of unrest in France in the 1790s. The then Lord Grantham was in France when it began but escaped with his art collection.
* Mrs Hughes finds a copy of The London Magazine (founded 1732) lying around.
* Robert and Miss Bunting’s row is referred to as the Battle of Little Big Horn by Mrs Hughes. Fought on 24-26 June 1876, the Battle of Little Big Horn was a major clash between Native American tribes and the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army during the Great Sioux War.
* Anna mentions Kier Hardie (1856-1915), the founder – and first leader – of the Labour Party.

Maggie Smithism of the week: “Hope is a tease, designed to prevent us accepting reality.” (“Oh, you only say that to sound clever,” says Isobel. “I know,” replies Violet. “You should try it.”)

Mary’s men: She heads for London – ostensibly to attend a fashion show – and bumps into Charles Blake. He asks Mary to dinner, where she reveals that she’s decided against a life with Tony. The next day she meets Tony by the Robin Hood statue in Kensington Gardens to tell him. He’s furious that she slept with him and is now dropping him, and refuses to accept that things are over.

Doggie! When Robert, Mary and Tom Branson inspect some Downton land, Isis comes too and has a fun sniff around the fields. She also gets a walk around the village.

Review: An entertaining balance of subplots: there’s plenty happening, as usual. 

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 3


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: 5 October 2014, ITV.

Violet finds out about Mary and Tony’s illicit week together in a hotel, Mrs Patmore gets an upsetting letter, and the investigation into Mr Green’s murder continues. Meanwhile, Edith continues to visit her secret daughter.

When is it set? We begin a week after the preceding episode ended, so in the opening scenes it’s circa Wednesday 30 April 1924.

Where is it set? The Grand Hotel in Liverpool. Downton Abbey. Violet’s house. The local churchyard. London, including Rosamund’s house and the National Gallery.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Rose invites some aristocratic Russian refugees to Downton. One of them is Prince Kuragin (Rade Sherbedgia), a man who flirted with Violet in St Petersburg in 1874. She’s rather shocked to see him again after so long.

Best bits:
* The name of Mrs Patmore’s late nephew is not going to be included on his local war memorial – because he was shot for cowardice – so she wants to get him mentioned on Downton’s. Carson, though not wholly unsympathetic, objects to commemorating a ‘coward’, which obviously upsets Mrs P.
* Spratt’s not-very-subtle hints to Violet that he has some gossip. “You’re testing me, Spratt,” she warns her butler. “Either impart this piece of information, if you can empower yourself to do so, or go.” He then tells her that he saw Mary and Lord Gillingham coming out of a hotel in Liverpool. (They’d been having a dirty weekend.)
* Cora’s gone to London for a few days, so Robert decides on a whim to join her. However, not knowing her husband’s on his way, Cora has dinner with her friend Simon Bricker. A jealous Robert is fuming when Cora finally comes home, but she points out that she’s not done anything wrong. Robert then cruelly says that he can’t believe Simon is only interested in Cora’s conversation.
* Because her butler knows Mary was in Liverpool, Violet has to come up with a cover story to avoid any whiff of scandal. She says that Mary was at a conference of landowners. Spratt turns to Mary and says, “I hope you found it interesting, m’lady.” Mary: “I learned a great deal that I never knew before.” (The gag would work better still if she were a virgin, of course.)
* A nice chunk of backstory is revealed about Cora. She came to London at a young age to find a husband, pushed into it by her mother. The family “weren’t really in the first rank” in Cincinnati or New York, where she lived as a child: Cora’s father was Jewish and their fortune new. “But I was pretty,” she jokes. “At least I can say that, now I’m an old lady.” She was overwhelmed by London society, but got a lot of names on her dance cards.
* Poor Edith is told to stay away from Marigold because Mrs Drewe is sick of her visiting the farm constantly.

Worst bits:
* Leaving the Grand Hotel in Liverpool – which, remember, is about 100 miles from Downton village – Tony and Mary are spotted by her grandmother’s butler, who just happens to be waiting for a bus outside. The very next scene, back in Yorkshire, is Isobel asking Violet where Spratt is. She says he’s in Liverpool for his niece’s wedding.
* Mr Green died 20-odd months ago, and only now has a woman come forward to claim she heard him say, “Why have you come?” to someone just before he fell under a bus.
* Also, Sgt Willis shows up to say the police now know that Green once told a friend that Mr Bates hated him – so again, an unseen, off-screen character has waited nearly two years before telling the police something important about a murder.
* Via some clunky plotting, Sarah Bunting attends the same party as a group of Tsarist Russians… and offends them. Of course she does.

Real history:
* Thomas has a copy of The London Magazine, a publication founded in 1732.
* The woman who’s come forward about Mr Green’s death says she was on her way to meet a friend by the statue of Eros in Piccadilly. Officially known as the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, it was erected in 1892-93.
* Rose takes some Russian refuges to Haworth to see how the Brontes lived – ie, sisters Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818-1848) and Anne (1820-1849), all writers and poets.
* In the same discussion, Russian writers Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852), Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) and Anton Chekov (1860-1904) are all mentioned. Robert also says his parents attended the 1874 wedding of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia (1853-1920) and Queen Victoria’s son Prince Alfred (1844-1900).
* Simon Bricker takes Cora to the National Gallery (opened 1824) on Trafalgar Square in London and shows her the 1470-75 painting The Nativity by Piero della Francesca (1415-1492). The scenes were shot in the real museum. The Nativity hangs there still, though the gallery staff had to move it to a room that could pass for 1924.
* Robert books a table at Claridges, a high-class hotel in Mayfair that opened in 1812.
* Tom Branson mentions novelist Elinor Glyn (1864-1943). Her biggest contribution to culture was popularising the term ‘it’ to describe a person’s charisma or sex appeal.

Upstairs, Downton: The National Gallery also featured in an early episode of Upstairs, Downstairs called The Mistress and the Maids (1971).

Maggie Smithism of the week: When Isobel points out that servants are human beings too, the Dowager says, “Yes, but preferably only on their days off.”

Mary’s men: She’s just spent a week secretly staying in a hotel with Tony Gillingham. He’s all for getting engaged and announcing it, but she’s not so sure. Mary thinks he’s a nice guy, and her grandmother urges her to set a date for the wedding, but he just doesn’t enflame her passions in the way she’d hoped.

Doggie! Isis wags her tail as she walks along with Robert and Mary outside the house.

Review: There’s a lovely gag in this episode. Violet has been teasing Isobel about her admirer Lord Merton, and also castigating Mary for sleeping with someone before she’s married…. Then we meet an Violet’s ex-boyfriend, a rugged Russian prince. It seems she’s not quite so holier than thou…

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 2


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…

Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 1


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: 21 September 2014, ITV.

Edith’s secret daughter is now living with a local couple who are pretending the child is theirs. Tom’s friend Sarah causes a scene, Lord Merton woos Isobel, and Miss Baxter must confess her sordid past. Also, a local committee want to erect a memorial to the war dead and choose Mr Carson as their leader, much to Robert’s disappointment.

When is it set? An opening caption says ‘1924’. A comment from Jimmy tells us it’s after 14 February. Spring doesn’t seem to have sprung yet.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey. The Drewes’ farm. The local village including the churchyard and the school. Violet’s house. Tom Branson’s office on the estate.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* We met Tim Drewe – the farmer who agreed to adopt Edith’s secret daughter – in series four. Now we meet his wife, Margie (Emma Lowndes), who doesn’t know that the child is Edith’s. She’s been told that Marigold is an orphan, and initially thinks Edith’s visits to the farm are because she’s keen on Tim.
* Marigold herself appears for the first time.
* Mrs Wigan (Helen Sheals) is the spokesperson of the local committee that plan to erect a war memorial.
* Lady Anstruther (Anna Chancellor) used to be Jimmy’s employer and is still obsessed with him – specifically his body. She arranges to visit Downton and then stages a car breakdown so she has to stay the night. She teases Jimmy then passes him a suggestive note during dinner. Later, Robert finds the two of them in bed together and Lady S has to make a hasty exit during the night. Incidentally, actress Anna Chancellor’s great-great-grandfather was HH Asquith, who was British Prime Minister between 1908 and 1916. He was still leader of the Liberal Party at the time of this episode.
* Rose has a dippy friend called Kitty Colthurst (Louise Calf).

Best bits:
* Robert’s young granddaughter Sybie calls him Donk because they played a game involving a donkey, and he doesn’t like it.
* Isobel discusses her suitor Lord Merton with Violet, who says that he wants what all men want. Isobel flushes: “Don’t be ridiculous!” Violet points out that she meant companionship.
* The committee members come to Downton and embarrass Robert by asking his butler to lead the appeal.
* Mr Molesley uses a hair dye! “How do you think I look?” he nervously asks Miss Baxter. “How old?” She guesses 52. He’s actually 51. Later, Robert eyes him suspiciously: “Molesley, you look very Latin all of a sudden. Do you have Italian blood? Or Spanish? Or Irish?”
* Poor Miss Baxter has to confess a crime because nasty Thomas Barrow plans to out her. Even though she knows it might lose her her job, she tells Cora that she once stole some jewellery from an employer. She went to prison for three years.
* Daisy gets an interesting subplot. She’s frustrated with life so wants to improve her lot by learning about mathematics.
* Mary says that Edith looks miserable at a party. “I thought only imbeciles were happy all the time,” she replies.
* Later that night, Edith is crying in bed because she’s found a book that belonged to her missing lover, Michael Gregson. She throws the book in the fireplace, but it tumbles out and starts a fire. Thankfully, Thomas Barrow spots the smoke before anyone is hurt – but Edith’s room is gutted.

Worst bits:
* It’s Robert and Cora’s 34th wedding anniversary. In one of those awkward-sounding lines of dialogue that period dramas seem to enjoy, Daisy says, “Thirty-four years? If I were to marry this year, what would life be like in 1958?”
* Oh, good. Snooty schoolteacher Sarah Bunting is back. It’s an attempt at a ‘normal’ character – a respectable, independent woman who doesn’t come from the aristocracy – but she just comes off as rude and unlikable. Thinking Tom would like to see more of her, Rose invites Sarah to a party at Downton. It doesn’t go well. Robert takes against her, then Sarah can’t resist insulting him.
* Thomas Barrow is bullying Miss Baxter. He clearly holds something over her and- oh, never mind.
* Jimmy is suffering under the unwanted attentions of his former employer Lady Anstruther – and at first the storyline is all happening off-screen with Jimmy recounting letters and phone calls to Thomas Barrow. Later, even Cora refers to a strange phone call she’s had from Lady A. It’s like watching a movie where one of the lead actors has died during filming and all their scenes have had to be rewritten. But then she shows up, 38 minutes into the episode.
* There’s a reference to Tom Branson’s ‘American plans’ – ie, his intention to move to the States. This forgotten subplot was first mooted in an episode set two years prior to this one.

Real history:
* The first ever Labour government is the cause of consternation to Robert. An election on 6 December 1923 had led to a hung parliament. The Tories actually won the most seats, but on 22 January 1924 the Labour and Liberal parties came to an agreement and Labour leader Ramsey MacDonald became Prime Minister.
* Robert references Fu Manchu, a villainous character in many novels by Sax Rohmer starting with The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu (1913).
* Violet teases her friend Lady Shackleton when she weighs up Lord Merton’s prospects: “You sound like Mrs Bennet” – ie, a character from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice (1813).
* Mary refers to a friend who spoke about a sexual encounter so graphically that Mary nearly fainted. The friend, Nancy Cunard (1896-1965), was an aristocrat but also a fierce anti-fascism and anti-racism campaigner.
* A nervous Jimmy says that maybe Lady Anstruther just wants to talk to him. “Maybe I’m the missing Tsarevich,” jokes Thomas Barrow. He’s referring to Alexei Nikolaevich (1904-1918), the heir to the Russian monarch who was murdered along with the rest of his family by the Bolsheviks. For decades rumours spread that he’d survived, but his remains were discovered in 2007.

Maggie Smithism of the week: “There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends, that’s the real test.”

Mary’s men: Robert is pleased when Tony Gillingham comes to stay. That’s because it’s Robert and Cora’s wedding anniversary, and he hopes it will inspire Tony to ask Mary to marry him. Mary is cautious, though. She likes Tony but confides in Anna that she worries about committing to someone before they’ve really spent a lot of time together. Or… you know… been intimate. After everyone’s gone to bed, Tony sneaks into Mary’s bedroom and says she’s in love with him. “Well, thank goodness that’s settled,” she quips. But he knows her issue, so asks her to come on a dirty weekend with him!

Doggie! Isis sits by the fire as the family enjoy tea, then bounds around after a walk with Robert. Later, when the fire spreads, Robert issues orders to everyone: “Mary, you take [the children]. Tony, go with her. Tom, come with me. You know where the sand buckets are kept… We must get [Edith] outside. Quickly, Tom! Tom, get the hose! Rose, go up and wake Mrs Hughes and the maids. She’ll do the rest. We must alert the estate firemen. Who knows where to find Drewe’s number? And save the dog!”  

Review: The Lady Anstruther storyline is rather silly, the Sarah one rather frustrating. But then we end on a large action sequence as a fire rips through a bedroom.

Next episode…