Downton Abbey: series 2 episode 2

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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 Ashley Pearce. Originally broadcast: 25 September 2011, ITV.

Footman William is called up, while Lord Grantham is jealous of the men who can go to war. Also, Mrs Patmore gets an upsetting letter, O’Brien engineers a job for Thomas at the hospital, Edith wants to work as a driver on a local farm, and Mary’s new suitor comes to visit…

When is it set? A caption at the start says April 1917. The episode takes place over a couple of weeks.

Where is it set? The house. The Western Front. The cottage hospital. The Drakes’ farm. The Dowager House. Downton train station.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* There’s a new valet, Henry Lang (Cal Macninch), who’s recently been invalided out of the army and is suffering from shell-shock. (Robert, however, is clearly missing Mr Bates.)
* Mr and Mrs Drake, last seen in episode two of the first series, return to the show. They run a local farm but all their farmhands have been called up. Edith helps them out as a kind of proto-landgirl.
* Sir Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen) appears for the first time. He’s a self-made newspaper baron who likes to read his own publications. He also has some kind of history with Matthew’s fiancée, Lavinia, who doesn’t like him.
* Thomas and Sybil are caring for a blind patient called Lieutenant Edward Courtenay (Lachlan Nieboer). However, desperately unhappy at having to leave the hospital, Courtenay then kills himself.

Best bits:
* Poor Mr Molesley, a man suffering from eternal bad luck. He clearly wishes he’d been considered for the post of valet when Bates left a few months previously. “I never got the chance,” he replies pointedly when O’Brien says he didn’t apply for the job. Not only that, but he’s also making a romantic play for Anna, which obviously will go nowhere… It’s a really endearing performance from Kevin Doyle.
* Anna explains why food is not served to ladies first at the dining table: “That’s how it’s done on the continent. And we don’t like foreign ways here.”
* An under-pressure Carson keels over while serving dinner. All the family immediately leap up to help him… except the Dowager, who simply sits and watches. Sweetly, Mary later goes to visit Carson while he’s recuperating.

Worst bits:
* Because there are so many characters to be serviced in each 50-minute episode, some scenes have to be incredibly brief. Matthew in the trenches, telling a colleague that he’s going back to England for a few weeks as aide-de-camp to General Sir Herbert Strutt, is rushed through in 23 seconds. It’s the episode’s only scene at the Front.

Real history:
* Dr Clarkson says that all his hospital beds are needed for the injured and dying from Arras – ie, the Battle of Arras, a British offensive against the German lines that took place between 9 April and 16 May 1917.

Upstairs, Downton: Lang, the servant with shell-shock, is reminiscent of Upstairs, Downstairs footman Edward Barnes, who returns from the First World War suffering from the same condition.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet is aghast at Edith’s plan to drive a tractor. “You are a lady, not Toad of Toad Hall.”

Mary’s men: She invites Sir Richard Carlisle to stay for the weekend, and seems pleased to see him. But she then visibly quivers with happiness when Matthew arrives too. At the end of Sir Richard’s stay he asks Mary to marry him. She promises to think about it, but is still pining after Matthew.

Review: The war means we can see characters really changing – especially the younger ones. Sybil, Edith, Matthew, William and Thomas are all evolving into different people because of their experiences. Even the house is set to change: much to Violet’s chagrin, plans are afoot to turn it into a convalescence home. Another good episode.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 2 episode 1

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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 Ashley Pearce. Originally broadcast: 18 September 2011, ITV.

In the midst of the First World War, Matthew is away at the Front but returns to Downton on leave… with a new fiancée. Also, Sybil decides to train to be a nurse, William wants to join up, and Mr Bates proposes to Anna… But then his estranged wife arrives to blackmail him.

When is it set? The Battle of the Somme (1 July-18 November 1916) is underway. So around two years have passed since the end of series one. Mr Carson says it’s getting dark earlier each evening, so presumably it’s the autumn.

Where is it set? The British trenches at the Somme. Downton Abbey. The village. Isobel’s house. A hospital in York. We also see, for the first time, Downton’s local railway station. The filming location for the latter was Horsted Keynes, a preserved station in Sussex that closed in 1963. It’s also been used in episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Jeeves and Wooster, and Agatha Christie’s Marple, as well as films such as Wind in the Willows (1997), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) and The Woman in Black (2012).

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Ethel (Amy Nuttall) is the new housemaid. She’s been hired to replace Gwen, who left at the end of series one. Having been a head housemaid in her previous job – “You were the senior maid out of two!” chides Mrs Hughes – she resents being told what to do and is quite grumpy. So the other servants take against her.
* Lavinia Swire (Zoe Boyle) is Matthew’s new fiancée, who he brings to Downton to meet everyone. “Well,” says the Dowager when she first sees her, “I suppose looks aren’t everything.”
* Vera Bates (Maria Doyle Kennedy) shows up at Downton unannounced – not long after her estranged husband, Mr Bates, has proposed to Anna. She used to work for Robert’s cousin, and while there heard the gossip about Mary and Mr Pamuk. She uses this information to blackmail her husband into quitting his job and returning to London with her.
* William’s father is mentioned for the first time; we learn than Mr Bates’s mother has recently died; and newspaper owner Sir Richard Carlisle is also discussed.

Best bits:
* A distraught Sybil, stuck at Downton while her friends go off to war, has a line that quietly sums up her character’s inner turmoil: “Sometimes it feels like every man I’ve danced with is dead.”
* When offered a white feather by some protesters, Branson simply smirks and says, “I am in uniform,” meaning his chauffeur’s outfit.
* Just to wind her up, Mrs O’Brien cons Ethel into bursting into the drawing room and embarrassing herself. She also tricks her into checking the electric plug sockets for vapours.
* Knowing the only way to get sent home from the war is via an injury, Thomas sticks his hand up above the trench and a German shoots at it.

Worst bits:
* After four years of flirting and actual declarations of love, Mr Bates asks Anna to marry him. (He’ll soon be a free man, he thinks, because his wife will grant him a divorce.) It’s all very sweet, but the dialogue draws attention to the fact that Anna hasn’t started calling her beloved by his first name yet!

Real history:
* The opening sequence sees Matthew at the Battle of the Somme.
* Robert has been recommended for a colonelcy with the North Riding Volunteers by General Douglas Haig (1861-1928), commander of the British Expeditionary Forces from late 1915 until the end of the war. When Cora says Robert can’t go back into active service, he says, “Churchill went back to the Front after the Galliopi business. If he can do it why shouldn’t I?” Winston Churchill (1874-1965) had been First Lord of the Admiralty until losing his job after the Gallipoli Campaign, which was a disaster for the British and their allies. He then became the commander of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers before returning to the Government.
* During a fundraising concert at Downton, gatecrashing women hand out white feathers to the men, calling them cowards – a practice common in the era. Robert reacts angrily and kicks them out.
* Ethel reads an issue of Photoplay, an American film magazine founded in 1911, specifically an article about movie star Mabel Normand (1892-1930).
* Violet says “great aunt Roberta… loaded the guns at Lucknow” – ie, the siege of the city of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Upstairs, Downton: The fourth – and best – series of Upstairs, Downstairs was set during the First World War. A number of its stories are being echoed here: the heir going off to the Front (and refusing to talk about it when he comes home for a visit), a young female family member mourning the deaths of her friends (and then choosing to become a nurse), an older man frustrated that he can’t serve abroad, a footman who thinks he should join up…

Maggie Smithism of the week: The Dowager is happy to hear she’ll be present when Mary and Matthew see each other for the first time in ages. “That’s a relief. I hate Greek drama. You know, when everything happens off-stage.”

Mary’s men: When Lady Mary returns from some time in London, her sister Edith takes great delight in telling her that Matthew has a new fiancée. Mary affects not to be bothered and says she’s met her own new man: a media baron called Richard Carlisle. (Once out of sight of her family, however, she bursts into tears.) She later puts a brave face on when Matthew introduces her to Lavinia.

Doggie! Robert’s Labrador is seen in the kitchen at one point – Mrs Patmore gives it some leftover pancakes, moments after telling Edith that there were none left.

Review: A big pre-titles action scene kicks off series two: we’re deep in the mire of the Somme, surrounded by death and hardship and Saving Private Ryan-style camerawork. It’s very different from the domesticity of the first series and is a great attention-grabbing jolt. In fact, this episode is all about change and new directions. A couple of years have passed since we last saw the characters and many of them are in new situations. Matthew and Thomas are at war, of course, while Edith is learning to drive, Sybil wants to be a nurse, and Anna and Bates are planning marriage.

Next episode…