Downton Abbey: series 6 episode 7

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by David Evans. Originally broadcast: 1 November 2015, ITV.

The Dowager Countess decides to leave for the south of France, Thomas Barrow feels pressured to find a new job, and tragedy strikes when the family attend a motor-racing meeting…

When is it set? 1925. Daisy’s imminent exam is on the 20th, while Isobel is invited to the wedding of Lord Merton’s son on Saturday 29 August.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey. Violet’s house. Lord Merton’s house. Edith’s magazine office in London. Rosamund’s house. Brooklands racing circuit. The Carsons’ house. Mrs Patmore’s new B&B.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Charlie Rogers, Henry’s racing-driver mate, is killed in an accident during a race.

Best bits:
* Daisy says, “Oh, my God!” when she’s told her exam has been set for the 20th of the month. Mrs Hughes tells her not to take the Lord’s name in vain. “I hope it’s not in vain,” says Daisy. “I need all the help I can get.”
* Violet visits Miss Cruikshank, the fiancée of Lord Merton’s son, in order to root out what she’s up to. Miss C makes the mistake of trying to shit a shitter… Turns out, the only reason she wants Isobel to marry Lord Merton is because she, Miss Cruikshank, doesn’t want to look after him in his dotage.
* The sequence at Brooklands racetrack is very impressive. There’s a meticulously art-directed location, lots of extras and lots of period cars. Henry Talbot and his friend Charlie are competing in a race. “Come on, Talbot!” Robert shouts during the race. When his sister points out that Talbot is a type of car, he says he can’t shout out, “Come on, Henry!” because they might all be called Henry for all he knows. Everyone seems to be having a great time, but then there’s a crash and Charlie is killed.
* Having taken an exam after impressing the local schoolteacher, Mr Molesley is offered a teaching job. The way actor Kevin Doyle plays the reaction is very touching.
* Sick of her husband’s constant complaints about her cooking and housework, Mrs Hughes feigns a hand injury so he has to do it all. (The effort of making dinner is so bad he falls asleep while eating.)

Real history:
* While in London, Edith goes past the site of Devonshire House. Something new is going up in its place. On Piccadilly, the grand London residence of the Dukes of Devonshire was built in the middle of the 18th century but demolished in 1924. (There’s now an office building on the site.)
* Robert mentions the Egyptian queen Tiaa, who lived during the Eighteen Dynasty (1549 BC to 1292 BC). She was the wife of Amenhotep II and the mother of Tuthmose IV.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet is going to see Miss Cruikshank, who Isobel says is a “quite a tough nut”. Violet: “And I’m quite a tough nutcracker.”

Mary’s men: When Mary asks maid Anna what she thinks of Henry Talbot, Anna says she’s not sure if he’s a good match for her. Mary seems to agree. A few days later, Mary and Henry kiss when she attends a race he’s driving in, but her stomach is in knots because the fast cars are reminding her of late husband Matthew, who died in a crash. Then during the race there’s an accident elsewhere on the track – fearing the worst, Mary runs to the cars. Her relief when she sees that Henry is alive confirms that life with him would be too painful. She calls off their relationship, but it’s clear she loves him.

Doggie! Before she leaves for the a visit to the continent, Violet arranges a present for her son: Robert is given a puppy, who he names Tiaa.

Review: One of the major characters, Violet, who must be well into her 80s, leaves for a trip to France without saying goodbye – will this be the last we ever see of her?

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Downton Abbey: series 6 episode 6

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Michael Engler. Originally broadcast: 25 October 2015, ITV.

In order to raise some money for the local hospital, an open day is held at Downton Abbey. Also, Daisy sits her exams, Mr Molesley is offered a new future, and Robert recuperates after his burst ulcer.

When is it set? It’s been a few weeks since the previous episode. Downton opens its doors to the public (for a sixpence each) on Saturday 6 June 1925; the episode begins a few days beforehand.

Where is it set? The village. The house. Violet’s house. Mr Mason’s farm. The Carsons’ cottage. The Bateses’ cottage. Lady Rosamund’s house and the Criterion restaurant in London.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Lord Merton brings his daughter-in-law-to-be, Miss Cruikshank (Phoebe Sparrow), to see Isobel. Knowing that his son is the main reason Isobel won’t marry him, Merton hopes Miss C can ease the troubles.

Best bits:
* Mr Carson is irritating his new wife by suggesting they get some help in their home and telling her to ask Mrs Patmore for cooking advice. She bites her tongue but is clearly angry with his arrogance.
* Mary says she’s having dinner at the Criterion with her friend Evelyn. Edith interrupts: “I used to go to the Criterion with Michael.” Mary: “Do you have to put a dampener on every restaurant in the capital?”
* Thomas Barrow is secretly teaching Andy to read, but Mrs Patmore overhears them planning to meet in a bedroom and gets the wrong idea. Later, Mr Carson sees Andy coming out of Thomas’s room and confronts Thomas, who’s hurt by everyone doubting his intentions.
* Mary wears yet another stunning 1920s frock and headdress while at the Criterion.
* Edith introduces her ‘ward’, Marigold, to new beau Bertie, and it’s clear she desperately wants to tell him that she’s her daughter.
* The open-house sequence is fun, especially in the way the family have to act as tour guides despite their shaky knowledge. Visitors ask questions they can’t answer and point out features they’ve never spotted before. A young lad by even wanders into Robert’s bedroom and starts chatting to him.

Worst bits:
* We’re glibly told the result of the trial Miss Baxter was going to testify at. The man has been given 10 years, but then writes to Miss Baxter asking her to visit him. Yet another mostly off-screen plotline.
* The climax of the hospital subplot sees Downton’s institution taken over by York and Cora appointed the new president of the board. Yawn.

Real history:
* Robert says the house has in its collection “a decent Reynolds, a couple of Romneys and a Winterhalter.” He’s referring to painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), George Romney (1734-1802) and Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873).
* Isobel says that even “Elizabeth Bennet wanted to see what Pemberley was like inside”. Bennet is a character in Jane Austen’s 
1813 novel Pride and Prejudice.
* Carson mentions the poet Lord Byron (1788-1824). Robert replies that he knew his wine and women.
* We’re told that Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860), the architect who built the Houses of Parliament, also designed Downton Abbey.

Maggie Smithism of the week: “Why should anyone pay,” asks Violet, “to see a perfectly ordinary house?” She’s talking about the palatial Downton Abbey.

Mary’s men: She heads to London to see her old pal Evelyn, who arranges for Henry Talbot to be at a big group dinner. Mary and Henry leave together and she tells him why she’s cautious of him: he’s a racing driver, and her first husband died in a car crash. It then rains – instantly, like in a film – so they take shelter… and kiss. He says he’s falling in love with her.

Review: The end is in sight – the ‘open day at Downton’ storyline foreshadows the kind of future some of these stately homes had in store.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 6 episode 5

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Michael Engler. Originally broadcast: 18 October 2015, ITV.

The Minster of Health, Neville Chamberlain, comes to visit. But while Violet tries to get him onside, tragedy strikes… Also, the Carsons’ marriage hits a hurdle, Mary and Edith’s love lives move on, and Daisy gets the hump when Mr Mason and Mrs Patmore grow closer.

When is it set? 1925.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey and its estate. Yew Tree Farm. Violet’s house. The village. A courthouse in York. Catterick race track and a nearby pub. A park and Edith’s office and flat in London.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Mr and Mrs Drewe have left Yew Tree Farm; in their place comes Daisy’s father-in-law, Mr Mason.
* Miss Edmonds (Antonia Bernath) applies for the job of editor at Edith’s magazine. In the interview, Edith points out that they were born in the same year (1892).
* Neville Chamberlain (Rupert Frazer), the Minister for Health, comes to dinner.

Best bits:
* The opening scene sees Mary and Tom walking up a rise that allows the director to show off the amazing countryside around Highclere Castle.
* Downton Abbey has a rare foray into dramatizing a real-life person: the Minster for Health, Neville Chamberlain, is on inspection tour of the north of England so the Dowager invites him to Downton. She wants to bend his ear about the local hospital.
* The Bateses ask Andy why he’s always giving Thomas the brush-off when Thomas tries being friendly. He says he’d rather not say when there’s a lady present, and Mr Bates and Anna share knowing smile. (He’s basically scared of giving gay Thomas the wrong idea.) Later, when Andy wants to learn about pig-rearing, Mr Mason gives him some books… but it soon becomes clear that Andy can’t read. And who realises and helps him? Thomas. Aww.
* Mrs Hughes tells Mrs Patmore that Mr Carson was unhappy with a meal she’d prepared. “I think the correct response is to say, ‘Men!’ and sigh,” replies Mrs P.
* Miss Baxter turns up at court to testify against the man who once coerced her into stealing some jewels, but then learns he’s changed his plea to guilty. She’s been spared having to appear on the witness stand, but she’d built herself up to face the man and it feels a bit anticlimactic. “Shall I go back in and ask him to plead not guilty after all?” jokes Mr Molesley and they laugh.
* Edith and Bertie’s romance begins to blossom: he even kisses her. “God, what a relief,” he says when she reacts well. “I thought I might be pushing my luck.” The storyline has two likeable actors, and the fact Bertie doesn’t know Edith has a secret daughter informs everything.
* The motor-racing scenes are fun: 1920s cars roaring round the track.
* Robert has been feeling painful twinges for several episodes. He says it’s just indigestion. But during a lively discussion over dinner, he’s clearly suffering terribly. He stands shakily… then violently projects blood from his mouth! Downton Abbey becomes a horror movie for a few minutes! (His ulcer has burst.)
* Mary overhears a cryptic conversation about secrets and Marigold…

Worst bits:
* At last the Andy/Thomas subplot develops. For about 27 episodes now, there’s a moment where Thomas Barrow tries to be friendly to footman Andy and Andy brushes him off. It was getting so tedious.
* “Do other butlers have to contend with the police arriving every 10 minutes?” asks Mr Carson, aware of how repetitive the show has become.
* Oh, Christ – the hospital subplot. There’s also a rather silly sub-subplot where Violet’s maid, Denker, gives Dr Clarkson a piece of her mind so Violet temporarily sacks her.
* Tom Branson – a defender of the Bolsheviks and violent Irish nationalists – is now hobnobbing with a Tory minister.

Real history:
* Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) comes to Downton. When Violet, Isobel and others argue in front of him, he says he didn’t expect to witness a battle royal. “Don’t you enjoy a good fight?” asks Violet. “I’m not sure I do, really,” he replies. It’s an in-joke: 15 years after this time, when Prime Minster, Chamberlain tried appeasing Adolf Hitler. Although they don’t feature here, Neville Chamberlain’s wife, Anne (1883-1967), and her brother, Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936), are mentioned.
* Tom Barrow jokes that he, Mary and Edith are part of the bright young things – a fashionable set of upper-class socialites in the 1920s. “I don’t know about bright,” says Mary.

Upstairs, Downton: Both incarnations of Upstairs, Downstairs did episodes based on the ‘famous person comes to dinner’ idea: King Edward VII in the 1972 episode Guest of Honour, and John F Kennedy in the 2012 episode The Love That Pays The Price. Even more aptly, Neville Chamberlain was also dramatized in the 2012 series, in the episode A Faraway Country About Which We Know Nothing

Maggie Smithism of the week: When her maid says Dr Clarkson can no longer claim Violet’s friendship, Violet replies, “If I withdrew my friendship from everyone who has spoken ill of me, my address book would be empty.”

Mary’s men: Henry Talbot invites Mary to see him testing a new car round the track at Catterick. She’s interested in him and thinks he’s attractive, but she “won’t marry down” and he’s not as well off as she is. When she visits him at Catterick, he takes her to a pub – which is a rare thing for Mary.

Review: With only a handful of episodes to go, a less cosy show would have killed off Robert. Here, however, he’s basically fine despite spraying blood all over the dinner table.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 6 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 Philip John. Originally broadcast: 11 October 2015, ITV.

With Carson on honeymoon, Thomas Barrow is acting butler. Also, Mary has her head turned, Miss Baxter has a dilemma, Tom Branson is back in the fold, and an old face returns to Downton…  

When is it set? We begin the day after the previous episode ended. So it’s somewhere in the middle of 1925.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey, its estate and the agent’s office. Violet’s house. Rosamund’s house in London. The Royal Automobile Club. The farm that used to be the Drewes’ and is now run by Mr Mason.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Violet’s minty friend Lady Shakleton visits again, and this time brings her nephew – who turns out to be Henry Talbot, the man Mary met last summer at a shooting party. He’s in Yorkshire to look at a car he hopes to race at Brooklands.
* John Harding (Philip Battley) is the treasurer of Hillcroft, a college for women of which Rosamund is a trustee, and he comes to Downton for lunch. He also brings his wife with him… who turns out to be former Downton maid Gwen (Rose Leslie).

Best bits:
* Sgt Willis shows up again – but for once it’s not about Mr Green’s death. This time, he’s come to question Miss Baxter. A man called Peter Coyle is on bail for theft, which does not surprise Miss B. She knows him of old – he’s the man who once coerced her into stealing some jewels. Will she testify against him?
* Anna is pregnant but keeping it secret, even from her husband. It seems to be going well, but then she feels twinges of pain. Mary leaps into action, insisting that they go to see the specialist in London immediately. He performs a small, routine operation and all is fine. When she gets home, Anna lets her husband know she’s expecting a baby.
* Bringing Gwen back for a guest appearance is a fine idea. We haven’t seen her since the first series, when she left to be a secretary, so it’s been more than a decade from her point of view. She’s gone up in the world and married respectably. Anna and Tom Branson both recognise her and say hello, but Gwen is embarrassed when Lady Mary only finds her familiar. Then a bitter Thomas Barrow deliberately embarrasses Gwen in front of everyone by outing her – thankfully the family react with kindness. There’s also a few back references to the episodes in which Lady Sybil helped Gwen apply for jobs.
* Mary says that all she was taught as a girl was “French, prejudice and dance steps.”
* Going downstairs to welcome the Carsons back from their honeymoon, Violet says she’s not been in the Downton kitchens for 20 years. “Have you got your passport?” asks Isobel.
* Mary is uncharacteristically positive about Edith’s plan to hire a female editor for her magazine. “That was nice of you,” says Rosamund when Edith’s out of earshot. “A monkey will type out the Bible if you leave it long enough,” deadpans Mary.

Worst bits:
* While he’s been in America, Bolshevik firebrand Tom has had a conversion – he’s now a fan of American-style capitalism where someone can raise themselves from nothing to a fortune.
* The hospital subplot continues to go round in circles.

Real history:
* Molesely thinks Baxter should testify in the trial but she’s not sure she will. So he quotes philosopher Edmund Burke (1730-1797) – “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”
* Henry has driven at Brooklands, a motor-racing circuit near Weybridge in Surrey, quite often. It held races from 1909 until 1939.
* Mrs Patmore sarcastically refers to a stroppy Daisy as Karl Marx (1818-1883), the father of socialism. She’s got the hump because her father-in-law might miss out on a new home.
* “You’re a braver man than I, Gunga Din,” says Robert, quoting Rudyard Kipling’s 1890 poem.
* The Royal Automobile Club’s building seen in this episode, at 89-91 Pall Mall in London, was built in 1911.
* While the servants arrange some decorations to welcome the Carsons, Mr Bates thinks they’re putting too much effort into it. “We’re not striving for a setting by Diaghilev,” he says. Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev (1872-1929) as a Russian ballet impresario.
* In a mangled piece of logic, Violet cites Magna Carta – a wildly influential piece of legislation signed by King John of England in 1215 – as a reason why the nobility should run the country.
* Now that Mrs Hughes has married Mr Carson, there’s confusion over her name. Rosamund says it’s like Jane Eyre, the eponymous character of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel, being asked to be called Mrs Rochester. (Later, Carson and Hughes please the family – if not historical accuracy – by asking that she still be called Mrs Hughes.)

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet asks Lady Shackleton about Henry’s place in the world. “He’s nowhere near the earldom,” replies Lady S. “About 40 strong men would have to drop dead.” Violet: “Well, nothing is impossible.”

Mary’s men: After several episodes in hibernation, Mary’s love life is awoken when Henry Talbot breezes into Downton. A few days later they have dinner together in London and flirt. She says that she hopes he’s building up to making a pass. “Will you accept?” “No, but I shall enjoy the process enormously.”

Review: Gwen provides a fun subplot and Mary’s clearly starting a new romance. But the Miss Baxter storyline fails to fly. 

Next episode…

 

Downton Abbey: series 6 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 Philip John. Originally broadcast: 4 October 2015, ITV.

Mrs Hughes and Mr Carson prepare to get married, but she’s not happy with doing things his way. Elsewhere, Anna thinks she’s pregnant, Thomas tries to find a new job, and Edith gains an admirer…  

When is it set? 1925.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey. Violet’s house. Dryden Park, a stately home near York. London (including the Covent Garden offices of Edith’s magazine and Rules restaurant). The local hospital. The local church. The local school.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Knowing that he’ll lose his job sooner or later due to downsizing, Thomas Barrow goes for an interview at Dyden Park, a large and imposing yet delipidated house near York. There he meets Sir Michael Reresby (Ronald Pickup), who admits he’s let things slide since his wife died. Thomas is disappointed that the house is on its uppers and there’s no staff, so he decides against the gig.
* Mr Skinner, the editor of Edith’s magazine, quits in a huff. His secretary, Audrey (Victoria Emslie), helps Edith finish the issue.
* Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes get married. Aww. So we get another appearance from the local vicar, Reverend Travers (Michael Cochrane).
* Tom Branson shows up unexpectedly at the wedding reception, with daughter Sybie. He’s decided to come home from Boston – for good.

Best bits:
* Mrs Hughes shows her wedding outfit – a dour, brown dress – to Mrs Patmore. “Well, you’re not wasting money, that’s for sure,” says Mrs P. On the day before the wedding, Mrs Patmore, Anna and Lady Mary arrange a new frock as a surprise – and for Mrs Hughes to borrow a coat from Cora. Unfortunately, no one tells Cora, who’s angry when she walks in on Mrs Hughes trying the coat on… (Don’t worry: later, Cora calms down and apologises.)
* Mary doesn’t know why Edith doesn’t just sack her editor “unless she enjoys racing up to London in a swirling cloud of crisis and drama.”
* Anna tells Mary that she might be pregnant. “Lord knows the problem isn’t Bates!” says Mary, pleasantly surprised that it’s happened so soon after she took Anna to see a Harley Street specialist.
* Edith’s two intertwined subplots are entertaining. While in London, she bumps into the affable Bertie Pelham, a man she met at a hunting party the previous year. He invites her for a drink and she suggests Rules… but then she can’t make it due to a crisis at work. During a row with her editor, she suggests he quit – which he does. So Edith has to complete the current issue: “We have to get the proofs to the printers by 4am,” she says, gathering up sheets of paper. She then remembers Bertie and heads off to find him at Rules to say she can’t have drinks. He surprises her by offering to come back to the office and help. We then get a montage of people looking at proofs and arranging spreads and typing copy and looking at the clock: classic stuff.
* At the Carsons’ wedding reception, Mary apologises because she’d lobbied for it to be held at the house rather than in the school hall. “Please forgive me,” she says to the newly-weds. “M’lady,” says the former Mrs Hughes, “Mr Carson would forgive you if you attacked him with a brick.”

Worst bits:
* The hospital subplot rumbles on. Violet and Dr Clarkson are on one side of the argument; Cora and Isobel are on the other. It’s difficult to care.
* Edith, who can be no older than about 30, says she’s staring middle-age in the face.
* After all that build-up – literally years of him saying he was going to move to America – Tom Branson was away for a grand total of two episodes.

Real history:
* When Violet asks whether it’s proper for Edith to stay alone in a London flat, Edith points out that Adrienne Bolland flew over the Andes alone four years previously. French pilot Bolland (1895-1975) was the first woman to do so.
* Spratt the butler collects stamps and is pleased to have acquired the “first commemorative stamp ever” – one to mark the British Empire Exhibition of 1924. (It was actually only the first commemorative stamp issued in the UK.)
* Daisy’s studies have now reached the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) and the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748).

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet says her butler Mr Spratt “has a great many relations who seem to get married and buried with numbing regularity, usually on very inconvenient days.” (Spratt gets a subplot this week: his nephew is in the area, having escaped from prison!)

Review: The wedding stuff is sweet enough, but Edith is the star of this episode.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: series 6 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 Minkie Spiro. Originally broadcast: 27 September 2015, ITV.

Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes disagree over their wedding plans, the takeover of the local hospital grows closer, Thomas Barrow fears for his job, and young Marigold goes missing… 

When is it set? 1925. The summer is approaching, though the weather needs coats and gloves.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey and its grounds. Violet’s house. The local school. The village. The London offices of Edith’s magazine. Rosamund’s house. The hospital. Harley Street. The town of Malton. Rothwell Manor.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Mr Finch (Martin Walsh) comes to see Downton’s agent and is bemused to have to deal with Mary, who has decided to take the job on. He needs to discuss the entries in the fat stock show at Malton.
* Mr Molesley visits the local schoolmaster, Mr Dawes (Patrick Brennan), to ask a favour. He gets hold of some old exam papers so Daisy can practice.
* Mr Skinner (Paul Putner) is the editor of the magazine Edith owns. But the two are not getting along, so Edith travels to London to confront him. He patronises her, telling her she doesn’t know how to produce a magazine, which angers her.
* As his job is at risk, Thomas applies to be assistant butler at Rothwell Manor, a nearby stately home. His interview is with butler Mr Moore (Trevor Cooper), who tells him the job is part butler, part chauffeur and part valet. “Did the right girl not come along?” he asks when Thomas says he’s not married.
* Knowing that having the Drewes nearby can only lead to trouble, Robert suggests to Mr Drewe that he and his wife move away. Mr D initially says no, but then his wife snatches Marigold and runs off. They’re soon found but the couple clearly can’t stay near Downton.
* Mary takes Anna to see a GP called Dr Ryder (Richard Teverson).

Best bits:
* Robert offers to decorate the servants’ hall for Carson and Hughes’s wedding. Carson is touched, but Mrs Hughes is not sure if she wants her wedding to be where she works. “Tell him thank you but no,” she tells Mr Carson. However, before he can, Mary – who’s embarrassed by her dad’s small gesture – offers to stage the whole wedding at Downton and Mr C feels he can’t turn it down…
* Poor Anna, after everything she’s been through, now fears that she can’t have children. She’s been pregnant two or three times, she tells Mary, but each has led to miscarriage. Mary offers to take her to London to see the specialist who attended to her when she couldn’t conceive. Anna initially says the fee is too much for Mary to spend on her. “You’ve earned it fair and square,” replies Mary. “Keeping my secrets. Hiding that fearful Dutch thingamajig. Carrying poor Mr Pamuk down the gallery at the dead of night.” The two women laugh. Anna: “We have had our moments, haven’t we, m’lady?” Later, Anna is seen by a doctor who tells her she suffers from cervical incompetence – her womb is too weak to carry a child – but this can be allayed by a small operation.
* Several subplots get screentime as various characters attend the fatstock show in Malton: footman Andy makes it clear he’s not interested in being too close to Thomas, Mary swans around as the agent (and is dressed in a very fetching country suit), the hospital feud is discussed, Carson and Hughes row about their wedding plans, and little Marigold goes missing sending Edith into a panic.

Worst bits:
* Tom left for American several months ago, yet only now is Mary starting work as the agent. What have they been doing in the interim?
* The boring subplot about the local hospital drags on.
* It’s still a jolt when Anna calls her husband ‘Mr Bates’, even when they’re alone.

Real history:
* Mr Drewe says his family have farmed their land since before the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815).

Mary’s men: After a lot of activity for several seasons, Mary’s love life is in stasis now.

Review: An enjoyable episode. And, as ever, it looks amazing. Downton Abbey is incredibly polished television, with a real sheen to the imagery – both in terms of the physical sets, costumes and locations, and the photography. Lens are chosen with real craft to make the spaces feel huge and detailed and textured.

Next episode…

 

Downton Abbey: series 6 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 Minkie Spiro. Originally broadcast: 20 September 2015, ITV.

Violet is apoplectic when a nearby hospital wants to take over running Downton’s cottage hospital. Meanwhile, a woman tries to blackmail Mary, Edith has problems running her magazine, and Robert considers downsizing the staff.  

When is it set? An opening caption tells us it’s 1925. It’s the hunt season. Robert refers to the “spring/summer ahead.”

Where is it set? Downton Abbey, its estate and the local village. Violet’s house. Dr Clarkson’s office. Michael Gregson’s old flat in London. Mallerton, a nearby country house that’s selling off its contents.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* A young Liverpudlian woman (Nichola Burley) shows up at the house on the day of the hunt and acts coyly when Carson asks why she’s there. She then watches Mary ride along and the two swap looks. Eventually Mary asks who she is and she introduces herself as Rita Bevan. She worked as a chambermaid at the hotel where Mary and Lord Gillingham had a week of secret nookie, and wants a £1,000 for her silence. Mary basically tells her to get lost, so the following morning Rita blags her way into Mary’s bedroom to threaten her; then the next day she tries her luck with Robert. He knew nothing about the dirty weekend, of course, and pays her to bugger off. But he only gives her £50 and gets her to sign a confession, which he’ll hand to the police if she comes back.
* Both Tom Branson and Lady Rose have, separately, moved to America since the previous episode. We’re told that Tom’s in Boston and Rose is in New York with her husband, Atticus.
* A local aristocrat, Sir John Darnley (Adrian Lukis), has fallen on hard times so is selling his large estate and auctioning off his possessions. Robert, Edith, Mary and Cora attend the auction and (for some reason) take Daisy with them – but Daisy can’t resist shouting at the estate’s new owner, who is threatening to evict her father-in-law.

Best bits:
* Having accepted Mr Carson’s marriage proposal, Mrs Hughes – a lifelong spinster, despite her title – is nervous about being intimate with him. Aww, bless. “Perhaps you can keep the lights off,” says Mrs Patmore, trying to help.
* A distraught Anna admits to her husband that she thought she was pregnant but now knows she isn’t; and this isn’t the first time. It’s another very moving performance from the amazing Joanne Froggatt.
* Violet’s bewilderment when Mary announces that she’s going to work as Downton’s agent.
* Mrs Patmore tries talking to Mr Carson about his wife’s fears. It’s comically awkward at first, then becomes very sweet.
* Violet’s maid, Denker, learns that her job is safe but that Downton’s staff is to be reduced. Being a shit-stirrer she gleefully swans over to Downton to tell the servants. When Violet finds out about the indiscretion, she allows Denker to believe that her job is at risk too. “Sometimes it’s good to rule by fear,” she confides in Isobel.

Worst bits:
* The argument over the local hospital – Violet and Dr Clarkson wanting it to remain independent, Isobel and Cora advocating an arrangement with a larger institution – is the start of a very dull storyline.
* Rita has waited 12 months before attempting to blackmail Mary.
* Mr Green’s murder investigation drones on into a *fourth* calendar year. The Metropolitan Police are putting a huge amount of time and effort into the maybe-accidental death of a footman. Now, a woman has confessed to killing him but the police think she might be making it up. So while free, Anna and Mr Bates are still on tenterhooks… Then Sgt Willis shows up a few days later to tell them that the confession has been proved genuine. Downton Abbey’s worst long-running storyline is finally over.
* Violet says that Robert seems troubled. “Maybe I am,” he admits. “To be honest, I’m starting to ask myself how much longer we can go on with it all… The household, the servants.” He knows there are only nine episodes left, doesn’t he?!

Real history:
* Rita plans to sell her story to the News of the World, a newspaper published between 1843 and 2011.
* Edith says that she once met the writers Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), and Lytton Strachley (1880-1932).
* Mary compares her father to Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), the Italian diplomat who revolutionised political science by codifying amoral behaviour.
* She also refers to The Fall of The House of Usher, an 1839 short story by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).
* Spratt mentions The Lady, a women’s weekly magazine since 1885.
* After Daisy has caused a scene at the auction, Carson wants her punished. “I’m sure she regrets it,” says Cora. Carson: “I daresay Guy Fawkes regretted trying to blow up parliament, m’lady, but he still had to pay the price.” Fawkes (1570-1606) was the most famous of the conspirators behind the 1605 Gunpowder Plot.
* Mrs Hughes quotes Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), the ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1650s, who instructed painter Sir Peter Lely to paint him ‘warts and all’.

Upstairs, Downton: Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes’s relationship is very reminiscent of Mr Hudson and Mrs Bridges in Upstairs, Downstairs – two middle-aged servants who have been friends for decades but romance blossoms.

Maggie Smithism of the week: “Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?”

Doggie! The first shot of the episode is of loads of hounds bustling to get free from a pen: Downton is getting ready for a hunt.

Review: The final season begins – and change is afoot. Not only is Robert thinking about reducing the staff at Downton but blackmailer Rita tells Mary that her kind is finished and the working classes are on the way up. Daisy’s father-in-law is also going to be homeless because his farm is being sold by its aristocratic owners.

Next episode…

Downton Abbey: A Moorland Holiday

Downton-xmas1

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

WeddingofRoseandAtticusS5E8

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

Downton-Abbey-Season-5-Episode-7-1

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 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…