Alfred: ‘It’s about a wronged women who survives in a wilderness through her own wits and courage’
Miss Obrien: ‘Blimey they’ve stolen my story …’
Mrs Hughes smiles quietly at her.
Thomas: ‘As for a defense what can I say? I was very drawn to him and I got the impression that he felt the same way … I was wrong Mr Carson: It seems an odd mistake to make Thomas.’
Thomas: ‘When you’re like me, Mr Carson, you have to read the signs as best you can and because no one dares speak out …
Mr Carson: I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world
Thomas: ‘… No …’
Dear friends and readers,
This blog is not on the two hour mix that was shown on PBS Sunday night; I rather watched 3:7 as shown on BBC this past fall so I could experience the theme, patterns and tones, the climax and ending intended. Later this week I’ll watch 3:8 and write about that in its own right. I enjoyed 3:7 as I have a number of this season’s parts because there was something valuable unexpectedly brought forward climactically that undermined accepted ugly norms (as when the cruel trick played on Tom Bransom in 3:1 was exposed) and overdone rituals (weddings). Fellowes really exposed childbirth’s dangers and then paid attention to a character type often overlooked: paradoxically the mother figure who you would think in a women-centered soap opera form would get a lot of respect (they don’t).
After the drama of Sybil’s death and the Duchess (Cora)’s grief Fellowes wrote a quiet part, no high drama climactic scene; instead threaded through were continual identifications with characters, a couple of whom we have been led to feel alienated from whose full basis remained deliberately withheld or unstated. The movie whose title we are not told (I suspect Fellowes had a particular one in mind), with Lilian Gish (Orphans of the Storm) is the allusion that gives us the part’s perspective.
So, to begin with the 1st thread: cheer replacing plangency when Mr Bates returns, his lifted spirits to see Anna given the family car to pick him up:
Then the kind welcome by the other servants, the reassurance of Lord Grantham who tells him to take “a rest,” “stay in bed,” “read books” (you see what I mean about unexpected). But Mr Bates is worried how he will support himself now; and Anna a little anxiously takes him for a walk to anticipate a plain brick attached cottage on the estate (someone else has to move out) for them.
Next the continued risk of being thrown out in the streets (=the wilderness) that Ethel endures. The Duchess thinks to argue Mrs Crawley out of keeping Ethel as a servant on the basis of narrow minded (evil I called them in my header) scorn which might just reflect badly on the Granthams, but when the Dowager sees that is not going anywhere with Mrs Crawley switches tactics to assert how unhappy Ethel is in her present place (and picks up Mrs Hughes’s support), about which Mrs Crawley shows she is not fooled:
Mrs Crawley: ‘Oh nonsense she couldn’t give tuppence about Ethel or anyone like her.
Duchess: ‘You’ve been reading those communist newspapers again …
No she’s not, nor is Bransom a “Marxist” as Lord Grantham asserts when he hears Bransom’s plans for equity for the tenants.
Ethel is unhappy even if she’s learning to cook well — we are allowed to hear this spiteful slur by the Duchess upon Ethel defending her new skill:
Ethel: Nowadays one must have a skill …
Duchess: but you seem to have so many …
Ethel suffers in the streets:
But it’s more than the nasty cuts she receives; when Mrs Crawley comes home from Downton, she finds Ethel sitting brooding. She needs more than minimal safety. We need to break these chains of shame that imprison and ostracize and isolate us. That’s what Ethel is put through: shame, imprisonment, isolation, risk of the streets too.
The strongest moment is the sudden revelation of the fear, anxiety, and need the homosexual Mr Barrow (he cannot get people to call him that) feels when he’s tried to reach someone and found himself rejected in a kind of hard-faced anger and flees in the night back to his own bed.
I can’t prove this but have a feeling we are intended to think Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers) protested too much. He has a way of asserting he wants to go out with Daisy (Sophie McShears), but doing nothing about it; of saying he wants to dance with her, when it’s Alfred who turns out to be actually willing. He was eager to tell Mr Carson he was someone his aging mistress went after; when we first see him in this season, he’s washing a half-naked body and presented as intensely boyishly attractive. And the parallels between himself and Thomas are suggestive: neither it seems has parents, siblings, any family. Thomas reacts to this information by suggesting they share a loneliness, but their shared family-less state is the quiet point.
Upstairs shows displacements — they are more protected from the storm. The estate agent, Jarvis (Terence Harvey) is pushed out (we do not say sacked of middle class positions). Carrying on the feminization of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), with Mary (Michelle Dockery) even laying on top, being the aggressor when we see them in bed (not infrequently in this and the last couple of parts), we see he blames himself for Mary not yet being pregnant. For a man who is the heir and has supplied tons of money to Lord Grantham he takes an oddly subaltern position. Mary will not promise to support him against her father. It does give him some complexity (as well as his five o’clock shadow). Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) carries on with some quiet needling of her obtuse Lord and Master (Hugh Bonneville) with a worn smile.
The ending was gratifying — and believable. Tom’s brother is brought in to show how much Tom has begun to identify with the haves and powerful. It could be that a young man is married into a family from a low station and his real talents recognized becomes a central help. It’s an old story in fact. And that he managed to baptize his daughter Catholic another. Sometimes the Duchess’s interventions work — it’s her idea that they take Tom on this way; he’ll go back to being Bransom as steward too.
For me the weak moments was the one easy success. It’s just not probable that an editor of a newspaper would eagerly wine and dine (as far as journalism is concerned), a nobody like Edith (Laura Carmichael); her piety towards her father (all the three daughters are Daddy’s girls) does not suggest exactly fiery columns to come. I grant Edith-Laura is now dressed as prettily as Lady Mary-Michelle has been throughout the seasons:
I counted 3 tasteful alluring hats: a wide black straw hat, a cloche with a beaded gold band, the above number, and 1 scene of her looking at her image in the mirror in a most gratified way.
Apart from anything else, the easy success didn’t fit the mood of the piece which was (as I say) otherwise ambiguous. I’ll capture it in a visual image — as film should convey itself through aural and visual image: Ivy (Cara Theobold) and Alfred (Matt Milne) walking home in the dark:
My header is a line not from Downton Abbey as it’s too generous-minded and brave to come out of Fellowes’s conservative wary mindset. It’s a statement the hero of another popular mini-series (the Poldarks) makes to a young woman who is about to deprive herself of companionship. Fellowes is however perceptive, he is writing in this form, and the man who wrote Gosford Park could be found in 3:7, for the kind of content I’ve discerned her is typical soap opera or on-going multi-plot narrative forms. To quote Robert Allen on this: The journey forward is not only deferred, but also halting rather than continuous. There are continual gaps in the narratives, and alterations in horizons. The consequences of an action are more important than the action itself (especially as it ripples out to affect others), and small particular things matter. It’s an elusive form of art and fitting that a movie we hear of gives us our clue.