Downton Abbey: series 5 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: 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

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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: 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

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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: 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…

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…