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syd-field

A screenplay is a story told with pictures … a screenplay is about a person, or persons, in a place, or places, doing his, or her thing … it is a story told in dialogue and description, and placed in the context of a dramatic structure … each shot [what the camera sees] represents an individual mosaic within the tapestry of the sequence … Syd Field

Scripts … indicate how material could be transferred from the source fiction into an eventual film … [they] plan shooting of the film … John Ellis

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve not written on this blog in a while: I’ve been reading several books at once (and hope to blog on them soon); I also returned to my book on the Jane Austen film canon, and decided to write the opening section on the how screenplays function in film-making and how they may be read as serious literature in a new subgenre, so I’ve been reading well-known practical books on how to write a screenplay plus a number of screenplays, some adapting a book, some wholly literally original. These scripts may be backed up, filled out by companion books which show how to create the illusion of the world of the adapted source; these scenarios can include building up of the context (background stories) for major and minor characters. I’ve also been reading studies of companion books and published screenplays with scenarios when they are published as single or multiple books accompanying a movie or movies.

study
A good study

There is indeed an underlying paradigm in the case of all sorts of screenplays whose literal content might seem very different, and above is Syd Field’s well-known way of diagramming it.

The first ten pages or ten minutes shows the viewer the main character and central dramatic premise, the contours of the place and dramatic situation; the next twenty pages or minutes (thirty altogether) takes the viewer to the key crux or happening that must be coped with. In a mini-series one finds that the first 30 minutes or 30 pages functions as both introduction and set up. The middle central section, in a 90 to 120 minute movie shows the character in context confronting obstacle after obstacle: the main character wants or needs something (it can be quite complicated or subtle — or not) and he or she is kept from achieving this. The character has a point of view or attitude and to thicken his or her presence a context (family background, history). We watch the character behave visually and act and speak too. The last part — however long — is resolution. Often at the end of the first act there is a “plot point:” plot points move the action forward; when it comes at the end of the first block or act and the second it’s an incident that spins the action and characters into the next act, often in another direction. This is repeated as we move into resolution. (Field says it always spins the action around in a new direction when it comes at the end of the first act and the second.) A pinch-point half-way through each act is an incident which ratchets up the main or minor characters’ difficulties. Say the theft of Louise’s $6000 which she is depending upon to enable herself and Thelma to live and escape to Mexico (someone attempted to rape Thelma and Louise shot and killed him so they must flee as no court will believe Thelma that it was an assault).

This sounds formulaic and childish but if you begin to read screenplays and watch movies you will find this paradigm repeatedly even in the most apparently sophisticated movie designs. Field and others mention the sequence: I know I have been studying films by identifying sequences of scenes that are informed by an idea; they are often identifiable as they are given an emblem and numbered on the DVD as places to begin watching other than the opening of the film. A scene by the way occur when the camera focuses on a specific place at a specific time of day; there is a scene change when we move to another place or time (and the camera moves or changes its lighting). The scene moves the characters from A to B (or the story forward) in the masculinist paradigm.

There are variations on this paradigm, depending on what the mythic story is or if you have a “character-driven” or ensemble script. But alas, or tellingly (showing something centrally signficant about movies which are so influential), not only are most of the time these plot-outlines expressed in the most masculinistic ways; that is, from the point of view of how a man sees his life as linear and with opportunities, climaxes,

how-and-why-vogler-journey

not (as women do in their autobiographies) as a cyclical and repetitive experience; alas, I have not found a single diagrammed paradigm that is woman-centered. I asked myself if this masulinist paradigm underlies woman’s movies, that they use this as what sells. I found it underlay Koulli’s Thelma and Louise. I must try some more films where the screenplay is by woman, from a woman’s book, and preferably directed by a woman. If the masculinist paradigm is what the viewer is used to, that can explain why a woman’s movie might be called “boring” if it departs from this paradigm. I admit I have only begun to look at them through the lens of these paradigms so I may be wrong; there may be more woman-centered (cyclical repetitive — going “nowhere” as someone might say) than I think. I must check this out further by watching many more movies with attention paid to the screenplay paradigms.

How to recognize a plot point? from this masculinist activity point of view the plot point is a function of the main character: it’s the spins and turns and twists occurring to the main character. Field and others also have a peculiar way of discussing the main character’s action: he asks what is this character’s need and what are the obstacles in his way? conflict is obstacles getting in the way. Well, who is the main character in Gosford Park? Is it Mary? or Helen Mirren? what is her need? to kill or to protect her son who is coming there to kill Sir William McCordle? No because we are supposed to be watching the needy character confronting obstacles. This is a peculiar way to insistently phrase what turns out to be different permutations of stories.

For my study what I hope to examine literally is how the script relates (gives rise) to the verbal materials transferred from a book to become the auditory-visual elements of a film, which are gone over lovingly with many claims to historical accuracy or verisimilitude in the scenario companion books. Since my subject is the Jane Austen film canon I want then to see how these transferred materials and very different screenplays and intermediary source books (say Death Comes to Pemberley out of Pride and Prejudice) relate to one another (say with Lost in Austen or Bridget Jones’s Diary, to stay with Pride and Prejudice sequels and appropriations).

For me what is great fun and enlightening is to place this material alongside screenplays and scenarios from other costume dramas in the form of romantic comedies or dramatic romances in mini-series or singleton form. Musicals too. Downton Abbey (with no eponymous source outside the screenplay) and Gosford Park are not my only candidates; I’ve been studying Callie Khouri’s Thelma and Louise, Marilyn Hoder-Salmon’s The Awakening, and hope to add not just more women’s screenplays (Laura Jones’s Portrait of a Lady), but men’s too, the scripts directed into a film by Ang Lee (e.g., Eat Drink Man Woman), William Goldman’s Princess Bride, Christopher Hampton’s Atonement, Simon Gray’s A Month in the Country &c&c.

Thus far I have found only one literary-critical study which rises to general principles about published screenplays (a published screenplay is a sub-genre: Julian Fellowes has been doing them for each of his scripts): Miguel Mota’s Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio: The Screenplay as Book, Criticism, 47:2 (2005)215-231; and I have found one on the elements of the scenario (see Downton Abbey: bonding with the heroine): Umberto Eco, ”Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage,” Travels in Hyperreality, trans. William Weaver (NY: HBJ, 1983):197-213.

There are plenty of excellent individual studies on the making of this or that film (a remarkably good one on the development of the different screenplays directed by Hitchcock to make a film Marnie out of Winston Graham’s powerful book). Jaoob Lothe’s Narrative in Fiction and Film; Maire Messenger Davies, “Quality and Creativity in TV: The Work of the Television Storytellers,” Quality TV: contemporary american television and beyond (NY: Tauris, 2011):171-84. And there are really excellently-produced screenplays and companion books for successful and art and some popular films. The intelligent ones reveal the thinking behind the mise-en-scene, the choice of “historical accuracies” and the emphases in the detailed expositions of the screenplays (in boxes you can find citations of analogous films and books).

If my reader can make any suggestions for further studies or where to find screenplays (especially for Juliette Towhidi’s Death Comes to Pemberley, Robin Swicord’s The Jane Austen Book Club, Fielding and Davies’s Bridget Jones’s Diary; Guy Andrews’s Lost in Austen), I’d be very grateful. I have already taken down the script for Lost in Austen (using stenography on sten pads, but as of a year ago I cannot hold my hands and guide my fingers with the requisite exquisite control and quickness to make the symbols legible while taking them down as the actors speak). If no one can help me to one of these scripts, I have to sit and watch the three I’ve not down slowly and type the script as I watch.

SusanHerber
Susan Herbert: My Fair Lady (out of Shaw’s Pygmalion)

Ellen

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Mr Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) in final shots of the season

Shot of older man’s bare feet in water
Mrs Hughes: ‘Come on, I dare ya.’
Mr Carson: ‘If I get my trousers wet … ‘
She: ‘If you get them wet, we’ll dry them …’
He: ‘Suppose I get them wet …’
She: “Suppose a bomb goes off, suppose you get hit by a falling star — you can hold my hand then we’ll go in together …’
He: ‘I think I will hold your hand, it’ll make me feel a bit steady … ‘
She: ‘You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady …’
He: ‘I don’t know how but you manage to make that sound a little risqué …’
Hands held out, and grasping. She laughs good-naturedly …
She: ‘And if it did, we’re getting on Mr Carson, you and I, we can afford to live a little …
Medium-length shots of them going wading in together from the back …

EdithDrew
Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) let know by Tim Drew [Andrew Scarborough] he knews who’s this little girl is and will take full responsibility for the needed lies:

Drew: ‘I tell you what I think? It should be our secret, milady, our secret ours and no one else’s. I’ll … uh… send a letter to myself and tell Margie [his wife] it’s from an old friend of mine that’s died who asked for me to take the child. She won’t question it; then nobody but you and I will know … ‘
Edith: Mr Drew, would you do that for me …’
He: ‘For you and the little girl milady yes …
She: ‘How comforting it is that there are a few good people left in the world’ –

Dear friends and readers,

Of the four codas thus far this was the weakest yet had the most beautiful moments and witty dialogues. I too thought of the marvelous song, “By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea, you and I, you and I oh how happy we’ll be …” and felt the Granthams really ought to get themselves more than one tenant as they have done so well in choosing this nobly hard-working one.

The weaknesses are serious. The central idea of the episode was to make us rejoice in Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James’s) debut in society, her presentation to the king, queen, prince, whose Edmund Burke-like meaning enunciated by none other than our most faithful liberal, Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton):

‘It came to me that these balls and presentations and comings out are not aristocratic folderol, but the traditions by which members of this family mark their progress through life … ‘

Thus that Rose carries on being unbelievable in her child-like behavior, depicted shallowly when she is told something real about life — as when her friend, Madeleine Allsop (Poppy Drayton) hints to Rose that Madeleine’s father, Lord Aysgarth (James Fox) is a debauched roué on the scent for money — and she giggles, astonished someone could be this way, just doesn’t cut it for the needed gravitas.

Except when for a short time Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) showed depth of feeling as a mother, grieved bitterly over her daughter’s death (and rightly) implicated her husband as at major fault, this second key character reveals a Fellowes’s lack of engagement with her. She really shows an astonishing lack of curiosity or insight into Edith’s long disappearance. It’s not believable — Fellowes can’t be bothered because making her understood would involved a deeply conflicted story. Cora has also shown no anger when her self-proclaimed “monarchist” husband lost all her money; this way Fellowes could have her do nothing herself about it: had it not been for that money, the Abbey would have been lost decades ago; mis-invested since by this same husband in railways, it was Matthew’s unexpected inheritance from Lavinia’s father (which we are reminded of in this finale) which has kept the building as shelter for a luxurious leisured way of life for the Crawleys. None of which Cora appears to register.

Fellowes wants us to believe her effective; her realm is making parties (luncheons, charity picnics, balls) so structurally necessary for the mini-series; no wonder everyone over-congratulates her upon these — But without the really able Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) Cora would not succeed at all — and in this episode we are shown that the real strength Cora depends upon is the unacknowledged Daisy (Sophie McShea), the power and great cook enabling Mrs Patmore, who, as she tells her fleeting suitor, Mr Levinson’s valet, Ethan Slade (Michael Benz) is “never excited.”

Robert, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is not much better. He really believes Bates (Brendon Coyle) when Bates says he has (implied) another man ready to forge what’s needed. He somewhat hysterically blames the Crawley family for a near scandal involving the Prince of Wales, and stage-manages an ill-thought out attempt to steal back a love letter from Sampson by gaining access to Sampson’s room and ransacking it. As Bates tells ‘milord,’ if he were to have a precious document, he would not leave it about, but keep it close to him on his person, say his overcoat. We know Bates did just that with his train ticket to London, though why he kept it in the overcoat one minute longer than he needed to is a mystery of the same type as why Lady Grantham does not see immediately that Edith is going to Switzerland where ‘there are good hospitals’ to have a baby. Grantham also never suspects Edith, no matter how guiltily she talks in front of him (“Just remember I would never do anything to hurt you”).

As benignity is the tune that Lady Grantham’s effectiveness plays, so it is Lord Grantham’s tune, but that need not preclude giving them some cunning. Fellowes is again not engaging deeply enough with his character. The initial mistake was not to show that a lord of such a minor would be necessarily be a local politician to some extent, his house kept up as a linchpin of county networking — as are all Trollope’s comparable figures no matter how asocial they might be by nature (a number are) and Fellowes knows his Trollope novels very well. The ironic telling reason for their hollowness is Fellowes wants to justify such people: the “toffs” are not, as Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) tells Blake (Julian Overden), the villains of the world.

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At the gallery

Fellowes’s way of convincing us of this is to make them seem powerless.

And pace Edith’s words to Drew, this coda of a fourth season has a preponderance of good people left in the world: I counted three bad: Mr Green (Nigel Harman), rapist willing to strike again (not to worry, done away with); Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) whose spite, bitter resentment, bad-mouth snitching hardly has an objective correlative in his supposed insecurity; Terence Sampson (Patrick Alexander) who in this episode adds theft and intended blackmail to his card-cheating abilities.

Also number of weak or ill-advised, most notably in this episode, Lord Aysgarth (James Fox) trying to marry Mrs Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) as an exchange of money and title; Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers) a kind of minor devil version of Barrow (“Thank you, Wat Tyler” says Mr Carson to him at one point); the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) played by Oliver Dimsdale as far feebler than he was

Dimsdale
Grinning when he thinks of Rose’s father, “Shrimpy” (stuck in the heat of India, another helpless aristocrat)

Then there’s that bad-advice giver, Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond) who pressures Edith to give up her baby but clearly loves her (has spent months with her on the continent, watching her give birth, breast-feed her baby, wean it) and thinks she has done what’s best for all:

RosamundEdith
Rosamund appealing emotionally to her niece:

‘This is for the best if you’ll only keep silent; there’ll be other loves other children. Don’t cheat yourself of that I beg you … [you think] I don’t know then, trust me because I do …’

What saves the coda — and the series too — is the actual writing, the concision and suggestiveness of all the dialogues (which I quote from liberally here to demonstrate) and that all the rest of the characters are seen in depth, are well-meaning, reach out to one another, are not self-reliantly effective (win out) while in pain themselves.

To be “kind,” Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) informs Barrow Mr Molseley (Kevin Doyle) is to have “the advantage.” The series of scenes where the sensitive and intelligent Molseley protects Miss Baxter from Thomas includes this from Molslely:

I don’t know what Mr Barrow’s got over you and I don’t want to know; but you must’t let him do things that aren’t right, and you can’t let him bully you. That’s easy to say I know but if he draws you into his scehemes, that’s not going to be easy for you either. Sometimes it’s better to take a risk than go down the wrong path, that’s all

He’s already told her to trust to the views others are gaining of her: though viewer knows that Mrs Hughes is onto Miss Baxter’s over alert presence, Miss Baxter has betrayed no one. In their final moments as Molseley replaces Barrow by her side:

MissBaxterMolseley,

her words are:

Miss B: ‘I have to thank you, Mr Molseley.
Mr M: ‘Oh why’s that?”
She: ‘There are things in my past that made me afraid, but I’m not afraid any more. I’m not sure what will happen, but whatever it is, it’s better than being afraid. You’ve made m strong. Mr Molsley. Your strength has made me strong
He: ‘My what?’
She smiles

The parallel is to Edith who now has things in her past but by the end of the season is learning not to be afraid. Allen Leech as Tom Bransom almost retrieves his character. He is one of several characters who declare they are not ball-going, dancing types and declare at first they will not go to Lady Grantham’s ball after Rose’s presentation.

Tom is still exhibiting awkwardness and lack of confidence and self-esteem he has shown throughout this season, not least when he shows it’s the affection these people have shown to him that he has lapped up (of the museum-like library he says: ‘No it’s nice when everyone’s here and the fire’s going …’), especially with the schoolteacher, Miss Bunting (Daisy Lewis) whom he likes, partly because she is as wry and disillusioned as he once professed himself (He to Lord Grantham: ‘We all live in a harsh world, but at least I know I do’): high on the balcony looking at the engraved designs for the family, she asks where Cora’s is and if it’s a dollar sign.

But like Molseley, he gives in and comes to London, even goes to the ball, and at the right moment he turns to a woman near him who he knows is herself in need of support and encourages Edith (the episode began with them walking and talking together). Edith has watched him dance with Lady Violet, the Dowager (Maggie Smith) after the Dowager had finally told him ‘These are your people; this is your family now,’ and he had said, ‘This may be my family, but not quite my people, and asked her to dance.

EdithandTom

Edith to Tom: ‘So did you enjoy it after all …
Tom: I enjoyed it fine, but we need to stand up to them, you and I. We may love them, but if we don’t fight our corner, they’ll roll us out flat
Edith: ‘You’re right, thank you for that …’

Edith then marches off to tell her obtuse mother she needs to take a trip to the continent, and her Aunt Rosamund that Rosamund cannot go for her. She brings her baby home. (One wonders if Tom knows …)

So in this coda the patriarchy is alive and sufficiently well that even less than respected strong males give important support and delight to strong but dependentconventional females. The scenes between Isobel Crawley and Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) who is continually after Isobel to come to the ball, and when last seen is dancing with her are touching. He is bringing her out of her widowhood as surely as Rhett Butler once did Scarlett O’Hara:

IsobelMerton

Daisy refuses the indirect marriage proposal of Mr Levinson’s valet (he disguises it through persuading his boss to hire the English cook whose food has shattered Mr Levinson’s assumptions that all English cooking is inedible, but as she tells Mrs Patmore, ‘I’m that chuffed it’ll take me through to next summer,’ and for once is not jealous of Ivy but glad to see Ivy have her chance by asking if she might replace Daisy and go to America.

MotherDaughterpair

A mother-daughter pair will return for another season …

The most interesting of these alert complex males are Mr Bates and Mr Levinson — Paul Giamatti is magnificent as the uneasy uncomfortable Mr Levinson attracted to Aysgarth’s daughter. Their several gradually less awkward dialogues where she takes as an insult his open frank (meant to be American) cynicism about her and his motives are worth some study showing Fellowes’s subtlety when engaged with his characters and issues their clash of personalities bring out. This is a pair I hope is brought back next season as she has told him she will demand a commitment the kind of girl he has hitherto taken aboard his yacht did not:

LevinsonMadeleine

In an interview after the airing of this London season, Fellowes offered some insight into why Bates rivets us to the end:

So many women have had to conceal things that have happened to them, because if they reveal them, they went down, too. It was very important that it should be completely clear that it is not the victim’s fault at all. This was a chance to make the argument for the innocent rape victim who has done nothing to deserve it. And Anna, as either the most sympathetic character or certainly one of them, the audience could immediately grasp, she had done nothing to deserve to this. There is no sharing of guilt, no blurring of the edges of responsibility. Also, it created this mammoth thing that she and Bates had to get through, and Bates’s response is that he doesn’t love her less. He says himself, if anything he loves her more. What it has of course awakened is the kraken of rage in his belly.

Yes that’s it – and we’ve seen that deep rage against the order of the world, its injustices peep out here and there all along with evidence of sudden outbreaks over the “years” the show covers, from the time he invited Lord Crowborough (Charlie Fox) to search his drawers and room (Season 1, Episode 1), threatened Thomas at the throat (Episode 2) onto the clever doing away of Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy), manipulating her reputation for spite into an apparent act of suicide, and his survival in prison. It’s he whose skill in forgery and pickpocketing saves the Prince of Wales (who of course thanks the wrong set of people as they run the ball). Bates knows part of his survival and thriving depends on his not being thanked — on his taking no credit. When his rage is stilled, he lives with what the world has allowed him:

BatesAnna

And in Downton Abbey terms, it’s not a little. Anna has been our real heroine for four years now, from the time she took a hot meal up to Mr Bates when he was about to be fired because too many of the other servants and the Crawleys could not flex for a disabled man, to when she married and bedded him in one quiet day and night to now when she is determined to protect him more than herself from all that Mr Green could do or cause to happen.

Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is a cold performer in comparison. ‘Let the battle commence’ is the way once she learns that he is an aristocrat like she, she invites one of her men, Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden)] to woo her and win her over another, Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen), a childhood sweetheart. Her ‘destiny’ is to save Downton Abbey for little George. Oh spare me.

Princess (1)
The princess leaves the set

I admit to being unable to see any act of hers as magnanimous (as I gather we are supposed to see her burning Bates’s London ticket that Mrs Hughes gives up to her); Blake’s first view of her is the more accurate: too privileged to understand her vulnerable humanity. Matthew never taught her that lesson either.

Princess (2)

The real question of that scene for me is why did Mrs Hughes give Lady Mary a chance to turn Bates in, as she, Mrs Hughes, has said all along he did the right thing. Fellowes leaves ambiguous whether Bates did murder Green; after all, as Mrs Hughes says to Lady Mary, we have no idea where Bates went when he was in London. I suggest Mrs Hughes’s ambivalent behavior was Fellowes’s way of making his program look law-abiding, respectful of civilized methods. In both Anna and Mr Bates’s story we have one of Downton Abbey’s serious forays — as is Sybil’s death in childbirth — into sexual experiences in life for real.

I have not done justice to the sets or photography of places — which as in the codas of the other seasons had some interest.

VictoriandAlbertMemorial
The picnic by the Victoria and Albert Monument cost them a pretty penny

Nor some of the wry dialogues between Mrs Levinson (Shirley Maclaine) and the Dowager (who can put the other down more), the Dowager’s self-reflexive comments on the hour (she has “spent the evening in a who-dun-it”) or between Mrs Levinson and Lords Aysgarth as she dismisses his hunt for money through her — he seems never to realize that when she dies, it will go to her son. One of the best was that between Violet and Isobel setting off for London:

DuchessandMrsCrawley

Duchess: ‘I know I’m late, but it couldn’t be helped. Cora insisted I come without a maid. I can’t believe she understood the implications
Mrs Crawley: ‘Well and they are? …’
Duchess: ‘How do we get a guard to take my luggage and when we get to London? What happens then?’
Mrs C: ‘Fear not. I’ve never traveled with a maid you can share my knowledge of the jungle.’
Duchess: ‘Can’t you even offer help without sounding like a trumpeter on the peak of the moral high ground?
Mrs C: ‘And must you always sound like the sister of Marie Antoinette?’
Duchess: ‘The queen of Naples was a stalwart figure. I take it as a compliment.’
Mrs C: ‘You take everything as a compliment.’
Duchess: ‘I advise you to do the same it saves many an awkward moment’

What I enjoyed most were the home-scape scenes (so to speak), the characters who were given depth and in numbers of their scenes, the beauty of integrity, which brings me back to the close and Mrs Hughes who for another season played the role of the insightful woman quietly working to achieve a sensible compromise.

Pinninguppostcard1
Mrs Hughes pinning up a postcard picture of the beach alongside Mr Carson’s other materials on the servants’ bulletin board

I have not really explained why I forgive this mini-series so much — next time, when I write of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch.

Ellen

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MrsB
Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt)

MrBates
John Bates (Brendan Coyle)

She: ‘I wish I knew what you were up to yesterday [in York]. You’d never do anything foolish. You’d never risk everything we’ve built together [voices rises ...]
He: ‘Certainly not. You know me. When I I do a thing I like to have a very good reason for doing[voice falls off ...] ‘
She looks at him, he turns, begins to walk down the darkened hall, she stands there strained, then follows …

Foreverfriends
Daisy (Sophia McShea), Alfred (Matt Milne)

Alfred: ‘Forever friends.’
Daisy: ‘Forever friends.’

Dear friends and readers,

Let’s cut to the chase. Do we now have reason to suspect that Mr Bates did indeed murder the 1st Mrs Bates? This fascinating character who begins as a humiliated disabled man, loyal comrade and servant to his lordship, kindly, generous, sterling husband material, has many less than exemplary skills. It was his threat against a fellow-prisoner that helped him escape treachery in prison. He’s also a past master at forging signatures.

So, off-stage (how many recall that Violet, Lady Grantham aka Maggie Smith said she’s not keen on Greek drama convention?) the man who brutally assaulted and raped Anna Bates, Mr Green (Nigel Harman) died, it’s said by slipping or falling into the road, hit by a bus, a crowd all round, people saw it, Piccadilly it was. This is uncomfortably close to the way the 1st Mrs Bates (Maria Doyle Kennedy) bit the dust. Off-stage too, it’s [now] said she took an overdose deliberately, but did she? no witnesses at all, Mr Bates was framed (so we were led to suppose), but there was that split-second shot of her sprawled out on the floor, an odd position for someone not pushed down by someone else.

Did Mr Bates go to London on the day he told Mr Carson he was going to York, after having ascertained in a conversation with the hubristic Green that Green lived with his Lordship, Gillingham (Tom Cullen) just off Piccadilly? Or was it he overheard (as he seems to lurk in corners) Anna conveying somehow or other to the suddenly shocked Lady Mary that it was Green because Lady Mary has told her Gillingham will be back for visit with his man:

REalizing

Latercollectinghim

And what did he there?

He told Mr Carson (Jim Carter) who noticed something about him in the dark room cleaning shoes, that it had been “a long day.”

MrCarterBates

The duelling code immediately recurred to obliquely by Anna upon being raped (Part 3) as her reason why she must not report the rapist, not hostilely but rather in fear Bates will have to pay for it by a life sentence or hanging “this time”, has reached fruition.

So too we see the workings of an aristocratic code of loyalty to one’s crew. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) will have evidence of Bates’s having been in London not York in the so-called Christmas coda to come; but in this episode she is already morally sure and so asked Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) whose judgement Mary now trusts if he knew someone he liked and that person did something troubling (word to this effect), what would you do, to which Blake: “But you don’t believe he was wrong,” Mary: “No,” Blake: “Well I’m guessing but I suspect I would say nothing.”

LadymaryBlake

I cannot condone it and know I ought to declaim against it — it’s a measure of how much this mini-series soap opera has won me over that I am content not to overlook it and deplore its source: revenge killing belong to the same world-view as honor-killing, is as lawless (& therefore dangerous to us all) as rape, or (for that matter) stand your ground laws. It’s unexpected even in the reactionary universe of Fellowes; doubtless he’d justify it by saying in the 1920s there was no recourse for preventing an occurrence of acquaintance rape from the law or courts (there is barely one now), and how were Anna and Bates to know that Gillingham had sacked Green. Green must’ve been having a bad week — not that he didn’t deserve to be sacked.

Far from boring characters as they seemed to be, as Season 4 began, the happily married pair, Mr and Mrs Bates lived through a differing but shared agon: she, raped, cannot bear any man near her at first, shamed, blaming herself, as some lines of Bates’s referring to how she seemed to favor Green at first (he: “You liked him so much … thought he was funny …” She: .. “Did I? I can’t remember”), reinforce her unhealed anguish; and their story turns on issues of hot moment today.

And like other of the threads of this season’s finale, only semi-resolved.

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People have been asking on a list-serv I’m in if this was the finale? well, within the aesthetics of soap opera there is no finale.

At the close of a phase of a min-series, there is usually not just an ending of one story, but the beginning of another and quite different one -— though the two may be linked thematically. Further the first doesn’t really end, but carries on, from a different angle, and the actual central tensions of the part of the story we were intensely engaged in (the coerced match of two fundamentally unlike and in their characters incompatible people) are not resolved or got over, but only deferred into a kind of stasis. Substories are set adrift … time moves inside the series and the characters age, some disappearing altogether … and then returning …

So what we had in this week’s hour was a series of semi-resolutions, persistence of other stories, new developments, continuations. Other bloggers have also noticed that at the end of each season, we’ve had the festivity where all are brought together, often on the great lawn around the Abbey: season 1, the garden party climaxing in WW1; season 2, the first and truest of the Christmas episodes, just one gathering after another, season 3, the cricket game reinforced by the dance and Christmas festivities in the Highlands; and now, season 4, the church bazaar. Such scenes dramatize all the characters’ relationships to one another; they function to reiterate, reinforce, reassure. The fictive system goes on. Perhaps it was a little obvious this time but the satisfaction of seeing favorite put-upon characters suddenly winning, worms turning, characters taught lessons or teaching them is too strong to be denied.

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Tom (Allen Leech) and Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis), at the bazaar as a local school teacher

New couples emerging: Tom and Miss Bunting first met at a political meeting, then he came across her in a field with her car stalled and reverting to his chauffeur past, fixed it and told her of himself and Sybil, of her death. I wish he were not so determined to separate himself from his socialism, to justify the lifestyle of the rich family who have taken him in as all about the work ethic, beasts of burden (like Cora, Countess of Grantham carrying a heavy bouquet of flowers in a heavy pottery). It feels like a betrayal of his character when he abjures his socialism; when he rejects the idea of types he is unsound, forgetting all his vaunted reading. He is swaying back and forth as he tries to find a new identity — no longer Irish revolutionary, now gentleman-steward for the Granthams and their son-in-law. We have to turn to Mrs Crawley to defend Tom as a political thinker (alas on muddled anti-socialist grounds that he shows how smart he is by doubting his former creed).

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On the other hand, I just love how Molsely and Miss Baxter are slowly coming together, each helping the other towards a stronger self-esteem, cheer, success (Molseley hits the jackpot when urged by Miss Baxter), culminating in Molseley getting between Thomas Barrow’s (Rob James-Collier) mean bullying and threats for information from her. Meanwhile her sewing machine on the servants’ hall table has become a fixture, an icon referred to, out of her past which we surmize we will learn more of next year.

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Even Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) is coming in for a new friendship: Lord Merton (Douglas Reith), a Crawley connection, come to visit Violet, turns out to be a widower with unhappy memories of a failed marriage attracted to the widow with good memories.

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Dowager comically (she had not expected this) looking on

Sadness is not left altogether behind in these new pairs.

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As will happen Lord Merton has forgotten and asks Isobel what her son does?

It’s seriously part of Alfred (Matt Milne) and Daisy’s (Sophia McShea) moving goodbye scene.

At last the kitchen quartet generated real feeling — because they were given enough time and scenes. And because Mr Mason (remember him, William, Daisy’s dead young husband’s father) is brought back and his presence lends gravitas. Alfred is coming for a last goodbye now that Ivy (in this episode) has answered his letter containing a marriage proposal with a decided no, and, wanting to spare Daisy and not altogether in sympathy with Ivy’s (Cara Theobold) optimism that life has more in store for her than Alfred can offer, Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) has given her the day off.

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When she asks him, doesn’t he want her to stay past six, he says he’d like her to stay forever but “there won’t be too many people you love in your life and he’s one,” so she must say goodbye, with “nothing jagged, nothing harsh.” And in the event as Alfred begins to hint he’ll have her now, she says she loved him once, but “it’s too late,” and they agree to part “forever friends.” This is not smaltz and it’s given steel as when we last see Daisy even though Mrs Patmore says how proud she is of Daisy, the noble gesture has not made Daisy any the less hurt, raw (especially to Ivy still) and bleak from the experience:

Daisy

Others may disagree but I don’t feel there is the same complex of feeling in the story which sets another character adrift: the love affair of Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) and the very black Jack Ross (Cary Carr): I found myself cringe at his deference and complete lack of resentment or anger: he breaks off the engagement because he loves her so and would not want to “spoil” her life? Lady Mary’s argument against this marriage is one used by racists in the US for decades. It runs like this “I’ve nothing against it of course, but think how others would treat you.” Rose’s behavior is dismissed as daughter-spite and we get some unexamined mother-bad-mouthing all round (when in the Scots Christmas episode Lady Fincher played beautifully by Phoebe Nicholls as a woman unhappily married, frustratingly situated) as excuse. Well acted and wisely acted in an evasive understated way,

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It still won’t do. Fellowes revealed his own inability to endow this black character with full humanity or understand how a young white woman might like a kindly jazz artist.

The weakest because so clichéd matter was that of Lady Mary and her three suitors. It is another measure of the richness of this year’s episodes that by this one we have mostly forgotten the effective grief-striken opening and Dockery’s expressionistic performance. She does well here too, for the scenes of polite male suitors at table, by a car, walking alongside, are often saved by a witty remark by Lady Mary herself (“hasn’t I disappointed enough men?”). The thread was not distasteful, there were some dream-like palatial cathedral restaurant moments

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and the two prominent male actors maintained their dignity, their deference to this princess’s coolness and supposed hard-working strength — though she has but one tenant, Drew (Andrew Scarborough) who agrees to take on the pigs too, be steward if Tom should suddenly decamp (though that seems less and less likely) and act out another cynosure of deference and gratitude.

Drew

The quick-witted old hand at soap opera techniques will notice that Lady Edith, now pregnant (Laura Carmichael) is looking on, and observes how loyal is this family man. A solution to her difficulties? her desire to keep her baby if not in the castle with her, nearby. Edith’s story became more subdued as she was re-marginalized into second sister, took less space in the tapestry, and seen within a triangle of her own and the perspectives of her aunt, Lady Rosemary Painswick (Samantha Bond) and grandmother (it doesn’t take Violet too long to gather the trip to Switzerland to learn French where the hospitals are so good is for Edith to have her baby in secret).

Some of the hour’s best lines come in this thread, wry, sarcastic, irritated, pressingly persuasive (both aunt and grandmother are against the baby coming back with Edith as then the secret will visibly out itself). “Don’t bully me, granny.” “Are you afraid I’ll lose the baby?” And they have the best hats:

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Facing her mother who says her way of coping with French is to speak English much louder

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This thread has one withheld character, Michael Gregson whose return we await — expect. The other of Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) himself, taken to New York to defend Cora’s brother’s part in the teapot dome scandal, has been accounted for from outside the series. Bonneville went to London to act on stage. His return and congratulations to his wife, on her success as mistress of the bazaar carried off persuasively and sweetly:

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The success and whole management of the bazaar which provides the fun background of the hour’s last 20 minutes is however due to Trollope, and especially Barchester Towers from whom some of the games and the whole sense of a community of different orders of people engaged in ritual play were drawn.

I’ve tried to emphasize the art of this hour, the tapestry formations, the four-year felt fictive system (so to speak) because this is the source of its satisfying unfolding. For myself I’ve told on my Sylvia blog what pulls me into this world: “the characters are presented all together in such real feelingful ways”

For official recaps across the four seasons

Next week the coda.

Ellen

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What potions have I drunk of Sirens’ tears
distilled from limbecks foul as hell within (Shakespeare Sonnet 119)

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Renee Fleming as water nymph, Rusalka, sitting dreamily

Dear friends and readers,

When I look at the stills on-line of Fleming looking so beautiful and acting so ably, simply, with a natural feel, whatever the scene, from the HD met opera Dvorak’s Rusalka (written 1901) Izzy and I sat through yesterday afternoon (4 hours long, with 2 intermissions of 20 minutes each), contemplate the wild fantastical outfits, say of John Relyea as Rusalka’s father, the Wood Gnome:

WoodGnome;

am reminded of the wry liveliness of Dolora Zajick as the very ugly witch, Jezibaba:

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and in particular remember the closing scene where Rusalka has become a death-dealing sort of mermaid who comes up only to lure men into oblivion and Fleming was just so haunting looking:

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and while not a great actor, Piotre Beczala sang so ably and was so poignant that the subtitles began to move me as I remembered Jim’s slow death:

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and how I lay near and watched him die, and told Izzy that the scene was worth sitting through the whole opera very much as 6 years ago when we had seen Bellini’s I Capuletti i Montecchi and I thought how absurd the final scene was going to be when the two wake up before they die, and instead the whole value of the opera was in those moments of waking and dying together;

when I think of all this; and also of how the story is ripe with deep archetypes: it’s about the archetypal Lamia combined with a Hans Christian Anderson masochism (she has to give up either voice or walk on knives in return for becoming human or having feet); and how at times the music was a cross between Wagner and Debussy’s Pelleas and Melisande (1902 so written a year later), I wonder why the opera wasn’t better, why it seemed at times tedious, full of languors.

For one thing it could use a new production. The costumes which especially in the second act looked like warmed-over versions of Sir Walter Scott illustrations,

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and the stage, however reminiscent of Pelleas, was just too fussy, too overdone in the way stage productions from the pre-computer age seem to be:

rusalkaCorot.

The Corot-like feel is an artefact of the camera; in the concrete theater it looked kitsche, pastiche. This opera calls out for the simplification and uses of symbols large and archetypal that we have seen in some of the best recent productions at the Met (e.g., Traviata).

For another the action was too reticent. If the prince in the middle act is supposed to have had sex with Rusalka and then dumped her because she bores him with her silence, and then had a regular debauch with the foreign princess, nowadays they would be more than half-naked and really get down with it. Here the gestures are so artificial and the actors reduced to grimaces and the kind of behavior one sees in silent films.

I thought of silent films because, as Izzy says in her blog, the worst thing about the opera is the star whose voice you’ve come to hear falls silent during one third of it. What could Dvorak been thinking of when he made his soprana’s punishment muteness. During her interview with Susan Graham (not getting any younger as either as Zajick told Graham when for lack of anything to say she kept harping on how loong Zajick had been with the Met), Fleming told Graham the hardest part of the opera for her was when she was not allowed to make any sound and yet expected to hold the audience’s attention.

The whole second act also moved too slow until near the end when the Wood Gnome returned and Fleming’s voice magically came back and they sang a strongly emotional duet. The producer (or maybe it was the conductor) who spoke talked of an “upstairs” “downstairs” effect “like in Downton Abbey” (occasioning titters in our movie-house) because there is a gamekeepr (Vladimor Chmelo) and his niece or kitchen boy (Julie Boulianne) who provide comedy, but it’s not very funny. What was charming were the real children: the Met had dressed up young adolescents in costume of frogs, butterflies, bees, sprites and a couple of the children managed to cavort in pointed ways — who they belonged to hard to say as while they appeared with the witch the first time, she was supposed malevolent.

I’m not sure the revival was the success it’s being made out to be. Zachary Woolfe in the NY Times was more candid and truthful: the point of view bland (like their Verdi Falstaff), scenery “drearily picturesque,” with the music carrying strong passion, but no perspective offered. I noticed really strong applause was lacking after the famous “Song to the moon:”

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When Fleming said in the interview singing in a tree was not comfortable, it suggested she has sung the aria perhaps too many times …

Applause came on strong only in the last part of act two and then again the final scene. When the singers came out before the curtain, again applause lukewarm or just cheerful until Fleming came out. Everyone was there to see and hear her. They need a new conception, one which makes what is happening on the stage and its myths more immediate, more relevant, not politically, but emotionally. Someone needs to read Lampedusa’s Lighea

They also need to admit openly they are conveying films to us; that the staging they produce is being seen as film. They are using broad effective stage tactics in the new productions, now they have to use the illusive means of computer enhancement and take more advantage of what the camera can do.

For even a diva who is looking upon this as her signature piece cannot carry a work of art like this for 4 hours.

Ellen

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Our trio of widow/ers: Tom Bransom (Allen Leech), Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery)

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Diagnosis for Edith (Laura Carmichael): pregnancy

Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt): ‘I want to make some new memories, good memories so it’s not as if all our happiness was before’ John Bates (Brendon Coyle): ‘I’m happy when ever I look at you.’ Anna: ‘But you’re not are you? everything is shadowed every moment is shadowed ….

Dear friends and readers,

This part made an attempt to return the viewer and characters to the mixed moods of the first season where ordinary life continually presented the non-trivial as trivial (such as a telegram to Matthew Crawley which requests that he change his life) and the trivial as very non-trivial (a flower show). We had more cheerfulness than we’ve had since the MacClare (lord of Flintshire) and Crawley households danced in Scotland in December. Too much real grief, loss, ravigin has been experienced to return to the quietude of the first season, but except where the experience has had irretrievable results (Edith’s pregnancy) or cannot be forgot (the rape of Anna), we are invited to dwell on what has been gained.

And as in the first season, the high moments that matter do not at all forward the story (a recap) or provide a framing plot-design. Example: the time in the nursery before the children are brought to them, Lady Mary, Tom and Mrs Isobel Crawley spend remembering: Upon being told by Lady Mary that Lord Gillingham’s (Tom Cullen) engagement has occurred, Mrs Crawley hopes that Lady Mary is not unhappy:

Lady Mary: ‘I’m not unhappy, I’m just not quite ready to be happy …’
Isobel: ‘When I got engaged, I was so in love with Reginald, I felt sick, I was sick with love, literally … [chuckle] it seems so odd to think about it now, it really does … ‘
Tom: ‘It was the same with me — as if I’d gone mad or been hypnotized — for days, weeks all I could think about was her … ‘
Lady M: ‘and me I was standing outside in the snow, and I didn’t have a coat, but I wasn’t cold because all I kept thinking was he’s going to propose … he’s going to propose [the music that was played in the last episode of the first season reprised and they all smile]
Isobel: ‘Well, aren’t we the lucky ones?’

Brooding darker moments are supplied by the threading in of Edith’s waiting for news, getting none, producing an explanation that Michael Gregson (Charles Edward) got into a violent encounter with Nazi thugs in Munich, crying after her pregnancy is confirmed and when her father comes into and says, “What is the matter,” how he “loves his children equally,” when, as Edith says, “this is never true.”

Edith

Anna, coming out of the servants’ hall, says to Bates standing under the stairwell: “A penny for your thoughts,” says his are so dark [double the worth] she’d have ‘to pay twice.’

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We witness Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy)’s fear that Thomas will reveal her past as she feels an increasing real friendship for Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), a congeniality and we witness the first signs that from Molseley (Kevin Doyle), of all people (not surprising if you think about his experiences), she begins to gather strength from her very ethical distaste for what Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) is forcing her to betray.

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This is not just tell him all secrets, lest there be something afoot to downsize the staff. And seeing as in this and other parts of this season even though he balks at being asked to do anything which threatens his great (I meant that ironically) status as under butler, Thomas does have nothing to do, one can see why he worries. There is light comedy when he cannot pump Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan central again) who concedes she is a “regular woman of mystery.” But he also wants to know things like what has happened to Anna Bates: he will use whatever information he gets against others as he uses his knowledge of Miss Baxter’s past against her (but the worm will turn as we are beginning to see her dislike and discomfort with this man).

Still a comic and upbeat note begins to predominate, quietly brought on through the continuing thread of Lady Mary’s recovery. As she recovers, she becomes aware that all is not well with Anna and Mr Bates (and tactfully avoids intervention),

Anna

is active on behalf of the estate with Tom, surveying the land, the houses, offering to give him references if he determined to go to the US,

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keeping records and is pro-active to get Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks), yet another childhood or previous sweetheart (they keep turning up — she is pretty, rich still, intelligent) and his fellow colleague studying estates in desuetude, Charles Blake (Julian Overdon) to stay in the house with the Crawleys (not at some inn). And before we can turn around to watch the whole house dancing to a the music of a jazz band, which Lady Rose MacClare hired as a surprise for Robert, Lord Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) birthday, she haa become the traditional heroine once again, beseiged by too many suitors.

The too overt tiredness of such a plot-design is given a certain sting and originality by keeping Lady Mary cold, distant, and (very much against the grain of today’s supposed egalitarian tendencies) feeling herself very much entitled to consideration as an aristocrat dutifully working hard to keep up her estate (and the livelihoods of everyone on it and in the house). Her witty set-tos with Charles Blake provide a needed astringency as he says he is not there to save the upper classes, but find out whether estates have any usefulness (food supply?) first.

Foursome

On the other hand, what might seem the real social light comedy of the hour, when Lady Rose’s invites an African-English man, Jack Ross (Gary Carr), to hide downstairs, with the staff before playing for the whole house over the evening, is made just that queasy by Mr Carson (Jim Carter)’s discomfort – and that of the other lily-white types unaccustomed to anyone not English, let alone of a different racial gene pool.

Lady Rose’s gay cries of “surprise! surprise!” as if that kind of thing is what all trusting people long for, please Robert and everyone is glad to join in on what the occasion lends itself to: dancing. Nonetheless, Fellowes’s script feels and the visuals are racialist here:

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Jack Ross explaining to Carson that he knows nor more of Africa than Carson and that his ancestors came over in the 1790s (a topic they agree not to discuss)

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even if by part’s end Lady Mary comes upon Jack and Ross kissing and courting – much as she once did Tom when a chauffeur and her sister, Sybil.

We are back to the uneasy comedy of the first season. Bates and Anna decide try to put the past behind them by going out to dinner in a restaurant as they have not done since before they were married. They find themselves ostentatiously snubbed by a maitre-d’hote who is about to insist they had no reservation and therefore can have no table, until Lady Grantham (who is doing time as a Lady Bountiful in a luncheon for charity organizing) comes over and asks the waiter, what is his problem? They are seated as graciously as the man can muster,

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but left alone to enjoy themselves in a lovely quiet place over a good dinner, they find they cannot forget or get on. She feels he is blaming her, seeing her as a victim (as we know as the public media wants to insist today there are no victims); he says no, he blames himself for not protecting her. They cannot enjoy themselves, hedged in by searing memory (on her part) and a desire (he says) to murder on his (to protect her? to revenge himself? to punish the man who has done this to their relationship and Anna)

This dwelling on class and sex injuries is (as it has been all season) paralleled by kitchen happenings: after it seems to lovelorn Daisy (Sophia McShera) that Afred (Matt Milne) will stay at Downton where she really is fast becoming the superb cook, a letter arrives to say someone has dropped out of the program, and Alfred is on his way to London to become a famous chef (they all piously hope). He is profuse in his thanks to all in the drawing room for all that has been done for him, embarrassing Lord Grantham, a contrast to Molseley whose proper pride is rewarded by having to crawl to Mr Carson and then Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore before he can lower himself to a job as a footman.

Ivy

Behaving aggressively, indeed aggrieved, because he has a sense that he is entitled to sex (paralleling what Blake thinks of Lady Mary), Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers) tries to coerce Ivy (Cara Theobald) into petting as a return he feels due to him for taking her out. She’s having none of this game, but when Ivy gets home instead of unqualified sympathy from the other women servants, Ivy is told she got her just deserts for having led Alfred on, who left because his heart was broken. This according to Daisy who has the hurt heart.

Mixed moods, ordinary feeling explored, we would be back in season 1 but that so much has occurred of real depth of feeling, with life experiences that matter. Fellowes does not really know what to do with Mr Barrow now that his homosexuality has no outlet and he’s lost his sidekick in sneers and disillusion (Miss Obrien). There is much too much deference for my taste in the way the young farmer Pegg (unlisted) accepts and really seems naively grateful, when Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) admits she was wrong in thinking he was stealing her valuable ornaments. At the hour’s eend, Jack Ross is also too grateful to Lady Mary and Rose. I could wish Tom were learning to open his heart to English workers instead of the English aristocracy — who in reality would not have wanted or paid any attention to him or Mrs Crawley or Pegg or Jack Ross.

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but I like the fairy tale of Downton Abbey because it’s not American, not violent, class is not denied, the makers and actors behave in thoughtful ways with the effect of enlarging our “sympathies.” We are to move away from shallowness, flippancy, rigid reactions. I loved how Mr Carson congratulated Alfred on his intelligence and said of Jimmy who scoffed at Alfred’s anxiety as to how to cope with his coming future in the grand hotel, “intelligent people” are afraid, do worry, it’s only those “wadded with stupidity” who feel no trepidation before what life can and does throw at them.

And on the general mise-en-scene art across the mini-series this year: costume drama is supposed to and when it’s rightly done does tell a lot through costume. You should be able to study aspects of dress and learn about the era and characters as anibundel does once again on “the Hats of Downton Abbey

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Headbands, small cloches and the occasional tiara (even when dancing to a jazz band) for most of the women

Exceptions are made for the older aristocratic women, as Lady Shackleton (her mind in shackles from her status so she cannot respond to Molseley in the way the Dowager wants), giving us a chance to feel (as anibunel remarks) that Harriet Vane (oops! Walter) has come to visit some more (understandably) distant friends of Lord Wimsey:

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If only there was not this prejudice against costume drama as such: we could have overt self-reflexivity as characters move from house to house.

Ellen

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Lady Smallwood (original story Lady Blackwell, player Lindsay Duncan — one of my favorite actresses), politician

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Nameless person calling herself Mary Morstan (original story, Watson’s wife, player Amanda Abbington), double

Dear friends and readers,

This was the best of this season’s films: the players returned to the guarded within anguish stride of the first season, only with a multiplication of women — in the original story blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton knows the sexual past of only one woman, Lady Blackwell, whom he will shame as well as the honor of the man, and the family she is planning to marry into; here she has metamorphosed into a sort of subMargaret Thatcher, woman politician with reeking perfume (Thatcher liked to be sexy with men). In this 2013 story where Milverton has metamorphosed into the amoral ruthless social media magnate who is supposed to make us think of Rupert Murdock but is dressed like Dr Strangelove (all but the gloves, thus evoking Kissinger) and could as easily be Roger Ailes of Fox TV, considering the immediate influence he thinks he has, this villain also is pursuing a second woman: our sweet Mary Morstan turns out to be one of these nameless heroines (so familiar to readers of women’s romance (Rebecca anyone?), only her past appears to be one of violent assassination and such shameful ugly behavior she fears John Watson will be alienated forever if he is already not blindsighted by discovering all she has told him or implied has been lies.

Far more usual of the previous seasons are the twists and turns of extra plot-design with matter from other Sherlock Holmes stories woven in: so we first meet Sherlock apparently under the influence of drugs (opium become heroin? cocaine?) in a filthy temporary open air ruin-space of addicts where Watson has gone to find the son of a grieving black woman who comes to him as a doctor who cares for addicts.

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Black and white version of Sherlock (Cumberbatch) as we first see him (from Tumblr)

Now that Sherlock is blessed (to be pious about this) with a family, he and Mycroft and Watson and Mary too do some turns in the parental home at Christmas.

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The brothers (Matiss as Mycroft) – “Aw shucks, mum!”

Modern motifs combined with older ones include the Sherlock in hospital and Sherlock as out-patient, hovering murderous helicopters over our heads (we are under the bombs), stun guns; lots of overlay of computer print-outs as someone’s inner thoughts. In her study of Holmes stories Emelyne Godfrey showed that weapons, weird, pizzazz ones, or merely cruelly wounding were central to many of the Holmes’s tales; Godfrey also showed that the core meaning of respected masculinity in the tales was not spontaneous wild violence as a means of expressing say disapproval: as when Louise Brealey as the indignant Molly is reduced to half-hysterically slapping Cumberbatch with all her might for “throwing away his gifts”; but rather carefully channeled effective violence aimed at the mindlessness (sorry to say this but it’s true) of the lower class vulgar and/or somehow inferior male. The recent spate of Sherlocks (in the cinema too) move against the grain of Doyle’s work where smart calculated “restraint is a index of modesty, reserve, manliness, professionalism.” But so anxious are these new shows to make women the equal of men, even the silliest behavior if men are thought to do it is enough to give us a woman doing it so she will be deemed admirable.

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Molly worrying over Sherlock in a way that recalls Kitty (Amanda Blake) endlessly fretting over Matt (James Arness) in the 1995 Gunsmoke (‘Oh Matt! be careful.’ ‘I will, hon.’)

A recap.

I shall have to admit that Jim Rovira, one of the commenters of my last blog can make a good case for the thinness and feebleness of the original material in this case. “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” is deservedly usually ignored in studies of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock canon; it is just so cliched, down to the titillation and class snobbery of Sherlock disguising himself as a lower class man courting Milverton’s housemaid (unnamed in the original) to find out where Milverton is hiding the documents he uses to blackmail people and both he and Watson breaking the law (gasp!) in order to steal into Milverton’s lair (called Appleton Towers in both film and original story). Where in those Holmes stories that go deeper, family honor becomes a stalking horse for far more interesting social and psychological conflicts, not so here.

Perhaps they were attracted to the story for the same reason my husband Jim used to say the Sherlock canon has become cult stuff: it is so hollow you can pour anything you want into it. I think that’s unfair as I argued with Jim Rovira: there are some superb stories and lots of people (Emelyne Godfrey among them) have agreed with me the stories dramatize serious and important conflicts and themes then and since (through many film adaptations too). This one did allow for feminization (if I may be permitted the term) of the Sherlock material. Matiss and Moffatt took an opportunity to have yet another supposedly “tough” female about: the unnamed housemaid becomes a secretary/personal assistant who despite her Arab looks (the actress is Yasmine Akram) and name redolent of what Said called “orientalism” (Jasmine) sports a melodious Irish drawl and evening dress even in broad daylight.

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If we count Mrs Hudson — Una Stubbs doing her best to be memorable –

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and Mother Holmes (Cumberbatch’s mother also now employed), trying not to attact attention, the domestication (if I may coin another term) of the series I noted in Parts 1 and 2 is now seen in women women everywhere. One joke is to call Sherlock “Sherl” — feminizing the name to a diminutive of Shirley. The joke is made by Jasmine with the effect of bringing Sherlock “down” to her level; that is a woman — implicit is the idea that whatever are feminine qualities, they are not worthy.

I’ve no doubt Matiss and Moffatt did seize the doubling opportunity they hit upon to transform the apparently conventional female Mary Morstan character into a female action-hero who could also sustain a love interest: she emotes wonderfully well her love for “John,” and how she cannot stand to sit in the chair (per usual with the Sherlock material) and tell her tale as victim since her tale will make her beloved Watson reject her. And anyway we are against victims, are we not? there are no such things in the world any more, are there? they must be complicit, passive aggressive becoming a term of praise almost in this new anti-sympathy reactionary ethic preached up in popular media. She is very pregnant by the end and so happy to be so (photographed so as to emphasize this), but by the end of the tale there is real feeling between them:

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John and Mary’s faces as they talk to one another in their final scene

even if John shows his love for her by throwing away her story without reading it: instead of a packet of letters he hurls a thumbdrive into the fire.

Why did I like it – or think it an improvement on the previous two parts. Not for the multiplication of women as only intermittently did Lindsay Duncan or Amanda Abbingdon have moments of genuine feeling. Nor their or anyone’s violence. Nor for the any post-modern working out of typical Conan Doyle themes as in the previous season where camp art and a strong sceptical disillusionment and depressive mentality made for intelligent entertainment. Rather because despite the overlay of superfluous sudden outbursts of violence, modern gadgetry and neon underlinings, the program managed to recreate a companionable rhythm of story-telling, to re-establish the central effective team friendship of Sherlock and Watson

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ending in a rescue of vulnerable people from a genuinely horrible man in a way relevant to our era.

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The omnipresent spy gathering all our documents, the murderous cold-hearted ambitious capitalist politician with his militarist thugs in tow is a creature we can’t have too many attacks on. What could be worse than a man spying on us all? eager to tell unless we pay him huge sums of money.

That is, I thought the program did what good relatively faithful or commentary (heritage) film adaptations usually do, even if it was an appropriation or modern analogy type. It did take a long time getting there.

Ellen

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Bates emerging from the cottage where he now lives alone: second shot

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Bates walking the walk, last shot, having just said ‘Nothing is over and done with, Mrs Hughes … Be aware nothing is over. Nothing is done with.”

Mrs Hughes: ‘Why must you be so hard on Mr Bates? … Don’t you want to be honest?’
Anna: But I know him. I know what he’d do. I can’t risk his future … ‘

Hamlet: ‘What would he do/Had he the motive and the cue for passion/That I have? …’

Dear friends and readers,

In Part 5 of this season, there is a remarkable departure from just about all the parts we’ve had in four seasons: the multi-plot structure where at least 3 stories and 3 sets of characters (sometimes more) seen throughout Downton Abbey gives way to an almost Hamlet-like structure: the story of the Bates’s (Brendon Coyle and Joanne Froggart) dominates in way we’ve not seen before: I counted 11 separate scenes where he is either on-screen, or the center of a strained discussion, several of them long, cut up (segmented or interwoven with others), with Bates himself opening and closing the hour.

We have the usual parallel themes, here of of suspicion: Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) convinced young Pegg (not credited on IMBD) is a thief and acting on it:

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Lady Grantham asserts it does matter that something was stolen;

pride: Molesley (Bernard Gallagher) painfully holding firm to his sense of himself no matter how self-destructive this is

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Molesley cannot forget this sense of himself, of what’s due him from him;

the farmer’s son, Tim Drew (Andrew Scarborough) holding on to his place in the order of things

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Does not the past mean something?;

stories which spins further away: the new lady’s maid, Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) with her sewing machine has a past she must hide and can be blackmailed on

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No problem sewing Mrs Patmore’s (Lesley Nichol) apron;

or belong to another order of feeling: Alfred’s (Matt Milne’s) competing to become a chef at world-city French restaurant; part of attenuated conventional love stories: Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) again half-courted by someone from her past, Evelyn, Lord Napier(Brendon Patricks) and Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) emerging pregnancy; with Michael Gregson (Charles Edward), the father vanished, she bravely prosaically takes a cab to a gynecologist

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(Again for a recap see I should have been a blogger.)

But what grips and holds the attention is Mr Bates’s increasing seething wrath and his perception (Bates is no fool) that the man who violently raped Anna was Lord Gillingham’s valet, Mr Green (Nigel Harman), and Anna’s way of silencing, countering, repressing him. They have five extraordinary scenes, from which I pick just this still of Anna:

Anna

She refuses to be touched by him, to allow him to have sex with her. As played by Froggart, she feels more than shamed, dirtied, to blamed, the very act of sex has become distasteful to her, bringing back memories; and we do get this sense that she has become aware that marriage is a kind of forced sex too.

The slightest gesture electrified with wild feeling:

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he covers her hand with his when he begins to compel her to admit to the assault

I say he is no Hamlet because do not think for a moment he doubts who did it: to Mrs Hughes: ‘Was it the last night of the house party? … Then I know who it really was … I don’t believe you, I do not believe you, I think it was Lord Gillingham’s valet … The way his teeth are seen reminded me of a fox’s teeth, pointed, jagged:

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Talking to Mrs Hughes

Yes implicitly we are let into Anna’s changed understanding of her husband since he was let out of jail: she now knows what he’d do. Mrs Hughes tells him no use pulling his knife on her; she will not tell. More interestingly is A moment later though, Bates is seen crying, and then seeks Anna out. While he knows the way to win Anna back is to assert she is not ‘found out’ or ‘spoiled’ or less loved by him: “I have never been prouder nor loved you more than I love you at this moment now. She: ‘Truly?’ He: ‘Truly’

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Like Molseley, he knows ‘it’s too late’ to turn away, pretend to ignore or forget the crashing awakening trauma that has changed things. The man must not get away with it; some retaliation is from him a burning need: ‘if it was the valet, he is a dead man.’

Beyond the importance of structure, this part reveals how central is the script of a film. It provides not just what is uttered (and words matter, movies have words in them) but the tool of how everything is put together, what elides, what blends, what shifts from one angle and shot (a movie’s unit of meaning) to another.

Formulas and manuals of screenplay writing insist they must propel forward somehow or other at all times, stay within a tight pattern ever on the move; Fellowes’s scripts are not like this: they meander, they spend time filling in from memory, the past, filling characters out; this one is makes for a poetry of gouged feeling all round — even Jimmy cannot resist the spiteful suggestion that Alfred did not just miss winning a place. The characters are not given the variety nor verbal subtlety or density they’d have in a novel, but as ensemble art, this one’s sudden compression of all the others stories into slots interrupting Anna and John Bates’s agon is worth observing for anyone seeking to understand and defend soap opera and costume drama aesthetics and ways of commenting on its viewers’ worlds.

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The first shot of Anna shows her in her room, a book on her table, nearing a window and mirror; this is the second

It strikes me I should have asked why is Bates made the center of the agon and not Anna, after all he was not raped. This is strong evidence of the masculinist discourse and emphasis everywhere we go; there is justice done Anna, and the actress, Froggart manages to convey an enormous amount of what she endures, suffers, is silent over. Since she has refused to tell, refused to act, will not confide in anyone, however, probable this may seem, she cannot be the center of a popularly appealing drama — we see here why it’s necessary to leave realism to put the woman’s point of view across.

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Mrs Hughes as conduit

Ellen

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When I turned again, Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my study table. I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted for the first and the last time in my life. Certainly a gray mist swirled before my eyes, and when it cleared I found my collar-ends undone and the tingling after-taste of brandy upon my lips. Holmes was bending over my chair, his flask in his hand. “My dear Watson,” said the well-remembered voice, ‘I owe you a thousand apologies. I had no idea that you would be so affected’ — Doyle and Hawkesworth’s Empty House

I have heard you say that it is difficult for a man to have any object in daily use without leaving the impress of his individuality upon it in such a way that a trained observer might read it — Doyle and Hawkesworth’s Sign of Four, briefly paraphrased by Moffatt, Gatiss, Thompson

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John Thaw as Jonathan Small being taken away to prison at close of Sign of Four

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It is now Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) who walks off alone from the wedding gaiety (Sign of Three)

Dear friends and readers,

Well something like two years have gone by since the latest Sherlock mini-series was last aired, and as Episode 2 (Sign of Three, a total reconfiguration of the original story (see recap in I Should Have been a Blogger), Sign of Four) shows, there is something genuinely new attempted here; we have moved from sceptical and at times exhilarating camp to melancholy sentiment.

Nothing wrong in that. The real greatness of the 1987 filmic adaptation of Doyle’s Sign of Four was to have made the story turn on the perception that Jonathan Small has thrown away his life in his search for treasure and to have framed the inward story of this man (a kind of redoing of Marcus Clark’s For the Term of His Natural Life where the hero’s life is spent either in slavery or prison) with the grief on the one hand of Mary Morstan (played by the stunningly almost unreal beauty, Jenny Seagrove) for her father and on the other a coming perception of romance between her and Watson (Edward Hardwicke, as ever subtly plangent): inbetween half-mad melancholy bizarre twinned Scholto sons (played by Robin Hunter). Doyle’s story by comparison is a thin if exciting adventure chase, colonialist-drenched, also caught in the 87′ filming:

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Jeremy Brett at the helm, on a dark river, passing under steel bridges, keeping the prey stealthily in sight

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Jonathan Small, the pursued — scenes reminiscent or anticipating of Dickens’s text as seen in recent film adaptations (e.g., Sandy Welch’s Our Mutual Friend)

What’s awry is the melancholy sentimental figure is now Holmes himself and it’s not earned, there is no suffering, it’s egoistic. At the close of Sign of Four Small is the solitary figure, genuinely outcast; at the close of Sign of Three, Holmes walks away looking uncomfortable as everyone else gets on with the conventional wedding, but he is not exactly off to prison; at home will be Mrs Hudson and if he doesn’t keep his door firmly shut, his parents (Cumberbatch’s own parents have been secured) watching over him.

I thought it an intelligent idea to transform the original “Empty Room,” where Doyle brought Sherlock back and had to explain to Watson how he survived jumping over the falls so that the characters really emotionally involved in coping with Sherlock’s emotional manipulation of Watson’s depression:

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Watson, together again in Empty Hearse

but when Empty Hearse (see recap) was done in such a way that Watson’s neuroticism has become wounded friendship (I had hoped the new title signaled an allusion to Orson Welles’s Third Man, where we have an empty coffin, but no such thing); and as opposed to the original story (and the Brett-Hardwicke enactment) a huge rigarmole put forward to explain how it was done (filler not camp), I became restless. As Freeman as Watson says, who cares how it was done? I reread the original story and found the explanation had been kept to a minimum.

Worse yet, our two buddies have obtained two emotionally attached female sidekicks, one whom I am not supposed to forget is in real life Martin’s partner (Amanda Abbington) and looks just too ordinary clunky to be lifted into another realm. I really couldn’t help feeling the crew had decided they might as well give another of their set off-screen a job.

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The other is a girl so hopelessly smitten with Sherlock, Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), that’s she’s willing to marry an inadequate simulacrum, rather like a doll; I’m told this character was in the original stories; if so who her open worship in the original stories was kept decently in the margins.

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I admit the most touching scene in Empty Hearse was a quiet dialogue between Cumberbatch and Brealey, slightly sweet, which I wished had not been lost in the overblast of all the computer tricks both episodes are determined to cover the TV screen with.

As will be seen, any whiff of unconventional sex is erased this season. When Mrs Hudson’s (Una Stubbs growing so old) failed marriage is made to carry subversion we are in trouble — not that it couldn’t as she was an abused woman, but it’s made a sort of uncomfortable joke of. One can no longer complain there are no women in this series, though when they function in the way of Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in Elementary (Sherlock Johnny Lee Miller attempting to remain alienated by keeping to ragged clothing), I find myself wishing there were less of them. I don’t claim there was any feminism in the 1980s-90s Brett series, but there were strong lone women, and what was at stake often were versions of their integrity (as is seen in Jenny Seagrove’s performance as a daughter who in the end rejects how her father spent, wasted really, his life and hers).

Again to give the new series its due: The Sign of Three does eliminate the egregious (embarrassing) racism of The Sign of Four, both story and 1987 film. Doyle and Hawkesworth (screenplay writer in 1987) give Small a small (very) black man as a fierce (animal-like) servant with teeth that look like something from an early caricature of Darwin’s intermediate apes: his great quality is a dog-like loyalty to Small: he saves Small repeatedly by poisoned arrows. Of course Holmes has no problem simply casting these off with his hand, and shots the servant point-blank dead. By contrast, Gatiss, Moffatt and Thompson (three screenplay writers now needed) interpolate a new story about a black guardsman, more English, gentleman-like, courteous in his behavior than the guardsman in Winnie-the-Pooh (remember Alice bemused at him?):

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This Anglo-, very well mannered, self-controlled guardsman is stalked by a white half-crazed man who looks very poor (hence suspicious); this stalker attempts to murder the guardsman by stabbing him in the shower (shades of Psycho?). This man turns up as the photographer at the Watson wedding and is easily unmasked. As will be seen though the writers turn to a new stigmatized group for ready blaming (the poverty-stricken). And they elevate an elite norm of the gentleman. I remembered how in Gaskell’s North and South (adapted as a mini-series), the manufacturer Mr Thornton tells Margaret, our heroine, that what matters in a man is not his manners, his gentlemanly surface, but his character within. In the new Sherlocks we are in Nancy Drew land where the English gentleman is the figure all men long to be, and all women to marry.

The New Sherlocks have succumbed to a pattern I’ve noticed in many of the large number of mystery series that now are found everywhere on PBS; often the detective figure is no longer to the side listening, intervening, with each week a new perspective on whatever the theme is, but develops a little family and friend group who become a central nexus, rather like a situation comedy (which is what Doc Martin feels like). The central figure is normalized, attached to a group of conventional or unexamined ideals. The effect today is to rob these series of whatever serious emotions each of the weekly deaths or anguished characters who walk off the screen provide. The ensemble camp art, the nihilism of the second season is gone.

The inversion of the early and mid-century mystery-crime stories reinforces the complacency of having detectives who go about solving who did what, meting out poetic justice, tidying up the world — Margaret Allingham knew she was doing that with her Campion series; this is not what was projected by the Holmes stories, so we end up with the Empty Hearse supposed rationale of mad chases a terrorist threat laughably unrealized — but laughably won’t do as inspired silliness when one or both of our two men are in an unguarded emotional stews.

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock re-appearing in Empty Hearse

When Sherlock rescues Watson out of a bonfire for the Guy Fawkes’s night we are in a Perils of Pauline scene. (Again the female victims of old have turned male in the new Sherlock.) When the characters we are made to care about each time come back next week, and we are made to feel they will always be rescued in the nick of time, what’s to worry. Again we are in Nancy Drew land.

I am interested in this re-composing of the original materials: it represents a newly aggressive dislike of film adaptation that respects the source text’s terms and power. The justification is this will be more popular: it’s an elite group who knows the original books. Moffatt, Gatiss, Thompson may congratulate themselves that they’ve eliminated obsolete grating costumes and norms; but as we have seen, they end up substituting later 20th century ones.

Further, in the case of the Sherlock stories I think not. These are easy reading and still read. Hence the cult: you can pour into their relatively thin formats what you want. It seems to me no coincidence the last two PBS seasons other hit, when not sneered at because it’s a soap, Downton Abbey, gains more acceptability by not being based on an original novel. Gentle reader, have you noticed there are hardly any film adaptations of great books coming out of public TV in the US at least.

Here (like Austen’s Emma defending what she has hitherto seen no need to defend or herself questioned) I move somewhat in the opposite direction I usually take: I think there is something especially delightful and enrichening when you have a film adaptation that is faithful to the book. What makes people uncomfortable is the film in part does not live alone: you can watch it without reading the book if it’s long and subtle and well done enough, but reading the book enriches the experience immeasurably.

There’s a real prejudice against this — as there is against the art of translation. Since the development of copyright law which enables people to make money and perhaps lots of it dependent on the idea that the text as an idea even not made concrete in concrete books is a property there has been a strong development of the idea that secondary texts which are allowed but not private property in the same way are inferior. That does not go so much for films that make money and are copyrighted in their own right but the feeling does rub off. My feeling is the analogous adaptation, the appropriation is lauded on the wrong basis simply that they are different and so give us something new to talk about more easily — rather than the difference makes for a good film. It may; it may not.

The problem with the New Sherlocks is the material is resistant. They haven’t gotten rid of enough of it. In the originals typically a person who has been a victim comes to see Mr Holmes and sits down to tell Holmes and Dr Watson (standing by) his or her story. The narrator is this victim or another victim as the adventure gets going (in the Sign of Four, Jonathan Small). Colorful characters emerge with their stories (the Schioltos). In the first and second season although not explicit the narrating presence was Watson, blogger, man who visits his psychiatrist and spills his soul out. Now it’s Holmes himself, giving a long account of how he managed to fool Watson, and producing a tedious — and the writers know so try to deflect it by half-making run — wedding speech. The action such as it is is in flashbacks in the form of Holmes’s story. But Holmes does not bare his soul; that is part of the original material the writers haven’t dropped. Holmes listens, say in Sign of Four to Sholto:

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Holmes listening

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He and Sholto in a far shot of the house haunted by the treasure box kept within

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Sholto

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Inside the house, brother Bartholomew

The new Sholto (Alistair Petrie) is by comparison the man who listens; his face is horribly scared and he is so stricken by life that Holmes tells the story. Unlike Small and the half-mad Sholtos of the original story, this man has obeyed all traditional moral norms and been blasted; he comes to Watson’s wedding out of the same kind of sentimental friendship we see Holmes and Watson share:

Sholto

The man broods, the present disappears and we are in some other time with everyone watching Mr Holmes explains how he’s doing this, what he’s thinking. Since we don’t have a chase as plot-design, we are left with a curious stillness in both episodes 1 and 2 of this new season. Superfluous torture scenes thrown in — where again we are watching and nothing happens — the joke (bad taste I think) is that going to Les Mis is worse — Mycroft (Gatiss) is forced to take the parents to Les Mis (of course he would) so he is forgiven for letting Holmes be tortured in Empty Hearse. Yet Holmes will not bear his soul: it would not be the masculine thing to do. So whatever inward life such a scene could have is gone; its new context of domestic sentiment precludes taking it as an imitation of Tarentino.

Watching a German film adaptation of Marlen Haushofen’s The Wall last night, meant to be the faithful type and meant for cinema, I knew it was richer for me having read the book and the real interaction and intertexuality between text and film. I know the older Poldark series, the 1967 Forsyte, many of the most praised type of the 13 episode transposition (the technical term for faithfulness) do need us to read the book. That’s true for Fortunes of War — then the experience is remarkable.

Next blog I’m going to argue that part of the richness of Downton Abbey is its original scripts are not written to the formula of Syd Field — moving ever forward in a simple pattern — but rather meander, work up a full world, have much that remains inexplicable rather like a novel. By contrast, the new Sherlocks stay with the assumptions, aesthetic and moral of the latest year. They are interesting, but (I think) fail because they too closely mirror the currents of 2013 in TV, on the Net, in recent unexamined norms in actual life too. Neither looks at the conservative political ideas both programs embody.

Ellen

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Anna (Joanne Froggart) showing herself to Mrs Hughes minutes after the rape (Downton Abbey, Part 3)

Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan): ‘If you are with child?’ Anna: ‘I will kill myself.’ Mrs Hughes: ‘I won’t listen to that. We must go to the police.’

Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery): Matthew fills my mind still and I don’t want to be without him, not yet. I will never love again as I loved … I must have something to remember …

Mr Carson (Jim Carter): All we have are our memories

Dear friends and readers,

Does everyone know that a weekend in the country, a house party where a group of people sleep for several nights nearby one another and no one is policing the dark, can be dangerous? if you didn’t, if you watched these two remarkable episodes, you do now. In case we didn’t get it (or you haven’t seen Gosford Park or just as telling the 1974 Pallisers, Brideshead Revisited or any number of country house mysteries), this is underlined towards the end of the 4th part when Edith (Laura Carmichael) tells Michael Gregson (Charles Edward), her newspaper man with a past she does not know enough about that on one of these risky weekends long ago her parents were at least in the right bed or the legally allowed one at midnight.

While the treatment of grief and mourning in parts 1 & 2 left much to be desired, the overall perspective, details and (as it will evolve) fall-out and aftermath that results from an aggravated rape (sexual assault) and relentless sexual stalking; an attempt to outwit a man who lives by cheating at gambling; and the ignorantly snobbish behavior of many of the Crawleys (and key servants) — are thought through or intuitively presented with sufficient believable ramifications as to be worth watching and thinking about carefully. I wish I had the scripts for these two parts and hope that eventually Fellowes does publish them as he has those for Season 1 and 2. Fellowes weaves several love-and-sex stories together in a thematized mix amid his on-going exploration of how widowed or lone people deal with the loss of a beloved person. Again I refer to other recaps for details, and instead move onto evaluation and commentary

Multi-plotting of this type across a couple of hours makes for so many parallels and ironic undercutting one can go through only the central ones. The one that has garnered most attention — the aggravated rape of Anna by Lord Gillingham’s (Tom Cullen) brutal valet, Mr Green (Nigel Harman)– is paralleled in several ways. First the most painful thing to understand (which Mrs Hughes’s acquiescence in Anna’s silence acknowledges) is that Anna would not win in a court of law even if she could prove this aggravated assault. To do that would have taken at least seeing Dr Clarkson immediately and making plain before all what had happened, showing her wounds and the private ones too. This would shame Anna and even if she were believed, carefully planted over the course of the first hour are several incidents where Anna favors Mr Green, the most striking being the wild card game where Mr Bates’s (Brendon Coyle) real jealousy and resentment leads him to scold Anna for making merry while Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichol) is coming near to a heart attack as she tries to marshall her meager staff (for such a party) to produce the same kind of exquisite gourmet food as was de rigueur 20 years before the war. And we are not very far away from this kind of blaming and refusal to acknowledge a woman’s right to say no: a couple of summers ago now, a young woman who phoned the police for help was found drunk on the floor and they proceeded to rape her, and through the use of videos and their prestige, the case ravaged the young woman’s reputation.

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Card game captures Miss Braithwaite next to Mr Green

Equally interestingly still today is the assumption that Mr Bates would try to murder Mr Green if he knew a rape had occurred, and Mr Green had gone off scot-free. This not because the fear leads us to suspect that after all perhaps Bates did murder his first wife, was complicit in a robbery that sent him to prison for 2 years at one point and can be a dangerous man himself when aroused: among the scenes we see of him apart from others include a menacing threat of Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), in the prison he terrifies a fellow-prisoner into leaving him alone. These suspicious realities about potentials in the man’s character (I fear) just make him an eligible manly male (attractive) in today’s violent rape culture.

It’s rather the reactionary stance taking the law into your own hands that returns us to 18th and 19th century male duelling over perceived insults to one’s honor (especially in the case of women). It fits a world view which says that law cannot deal with all things because it won’t — and since Anna would not tell, would not go to the police and now it’s too late, the rapist is really all set to get away with it. Again the 1920s costumes and modes of talking may disguise a world where honor-killing is still infrequently punished. In reality were this rape to have happened at the abbey in the 1920s, and it’s not improbable maids were raped not infrequently by the upper class males or whoever thought he could get away with it — the rapist would go unpunished. And as we shall see this perceived possible result and the reaction of others to it will be part of the important aftermath.

As yet in these two episodes only Anna’s understandable revulsion is operative as she moves out of her home with Bates to return to a kind of virgin existence up in the attic — because he is as yet only grieving with hurt and has not as yet grasped what happened. I feel for her here, and have experienced the distaste a woman can have when she is forced to have sex with two men say within one week.

Part 4 brings out the importance of Miss Braithwaite’s (MyAnna Burling) stalking of Tom Branson (Allen Leech). She quickly observes his discomfort among these upper class people and depression, his lack of self-esteem and takes advantage of it, putting herself in his way at every opportunity, there to feed him liquor. Since the blog I referred to for a recap has suggested this was rape I feel I need to say a bit more in order to distinguish what is so repellent about Braithwaite’s manipulations. What happens in the bedroom (which we don’t witness any more than we witness Anna’s rape or the early partly coerced sex Lady Mary Has with Kemal Pamuk [Theo James]) lacks the crucial element of compulsion. Stalking as only recently been recognized as a crime and then you can only go to law if you are threatened with physical hurt in some way. Courts are (alas) notoriously unwilling to convict someone for bullying someone else, and in effect Braithwaite bullies Tom. Braithwaite is morally injuring Tom deeply, but much as we may deplore this, like Anna he is right to want to hide what happened from the family, and this gives her her weapon (again shame, he is shamed). They will regard him as having lowered himself by having sex with a servant. Drunkenness only makes the act worse.

In both cases Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) is our person trying to act justly; Tom is also to blame she says, Anna was not. Anna should have called the police because Mr Green is “an evil violent man” (Mrs Hughes also uses the word “vile”). Miss Braithwaite is merely despicable in her claim she is pregnant and Tom must therefore marry her, pernicious in her ability to work on Tom’s anxieties (he fears his new relatives will reject him) but herself open to spying (as she is a servant in a household Mrs Hughes controls) and thus her silly book about how to prevent and control pregnancy is found by Mrs Hughes who counts on Miss Braithwaite’s fear that in a “he said, she said” scene before the family, Tom will be believed. The weakness of Miss Braithwaite’s real social position enables Mrs Hughes to eject her with ease.

As with the assumption by all that Bates’s violence is understandable and to be somehow manipulated (not regarded with abhorrence) so I ask everyone to take note of the violence of Mrs Hughes’s threats: she assumes she has the right to “tear [Braithwaite’s clothes off” to examine her body. A long history of society thinking its members have the right to accost womens’ bodies especially if they are claiming illegitimate pregnancy lies behind this and is found today again in the vicious legislation passed by several Republican state houses that a doctor can in effect violate a young woman who is pregnant to discover what trimester she is in. Some may sympathize (really) with Miss Braithwaite’s desire to go up in the world (though this is condemned by Fellowes) but the issue here is that her private space is not considerable inviolable also precisely because she’s lower class.

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There are two other sexual relationships that parallel and partly undercut these. Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers) is trying to persuade Ivy (Cara Theobold) sufficiently of his affection to take her out alone with him to a play or movie. We are shown enough of his character to see he cares only for himself, but the mean motivations only slowly emerge as the counter story of the Alfred Nugent’s (Matt Milne) real affection for Ivy and genuine career aspirations to be a cook, which Jimmy mocks as beneath a man. Alfred: “We don’t all have to live off battered fish and meat pies.” Daisy’s Sophie McShea) yearning after the good man captures our attention too. This thread is part of the problem of decent employment that is a major theme of this series.

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Daisy cooking, Alfred studying

We will see Jimmy take Ivy out, get her drunk at one point and at another attempt to take advantage of her. But unlike Tom, her sense of selfhood has not been damaged and while succumbing to drunken sickness, she will throw him physically (if not emotionally) off.

The second is Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) love affair with Michael Gregson (Charles Edward). Let me state unequivocally the series shows her as right to trust him and give of herself to him — this is a parallel to Anna’s trust of Bates whose chequered past is not a measure of his full character. As Bates used his ability to forge signatures in the second part of this series to help Molesley (Kevin Doyle) so Gregson’s past where he apparently knows how to win at cards through skilful cheating is used by him to rescue Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) from another crushing debt and expose the petty criminal type, Sampson (Terence Alexander). All we have our are memories says Mr Carter of his loss of Alice and Edith is making beautiful memories for herself. Her aunt, Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond) is once again wrong (and her sarcasms unkind as Edith tells her) to heap scorn on her niece from the argument that the double standard has merit, but what is interesting about this is again an ambiguity and generosity of approach, for Rosamund will befriend Edith later on when Edith makes the difficult and strongly unconventional decision to have her baby.

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On the set (one of these promotional jolly shots) when they have become strained allies

Rosamund will not have heart enough to understand that Edith wants to mother her baby but she does go much further in the direction of emotional decency than we have seen so far. And Violet the Dowager’s (Maggie Smith) silence when she intelligently guesses what’s afoot speaks well for her too.

I grant that Edith is again used as a scapegoat, and continue to be puzzled at mean-minded comments (on facebook the other day) about her (jeering at her naivete), but then she’s in good company, her good nature making her vulnerable: this is true of Tom, Anna, Molseley whose efforts to keep his status are suddenly held against him — as he says a reverse of the values he was led to suppose the other characters really believe in.

I’ll go out on a limb and make a speculative guess: in an effort to get a divorce, Michael goes to Germany and then disappears from his flat, and thus cannot be told of Edith’s coming baby nor his responsibilities towards her. I am going to predict we find that Sampson got back at Gregson through his contacts. Lord Grantham declares Gregson’s behavior that of a gentleman and one moral last and this week’s part is the bleak (impossible) one that only by knowing ahead, and being on guard and as ruthless as the evil of the world can you protect yourself. Like Bates, like Grantham, like Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen), Michael has too much idealism in him. After all he paid Edith to write feminist columns; a far cry from Sir Richard Carlyle (Iain Clarke), unscrupulous newspaper magnate.

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It will be said I’ve left out a couple, or two couples: Lady Mary’s touching reunion with Lord Gillingham (if he is a pirate, he is a sweet one), as a childhood sweetheart she is probably more congenial with than she ever was with Matthew. Rose (Lily James) begins a (totally forbidden in the time) relationship with a black jazz singer, Jack Ross (Gary Carr.) Given their untouchable status, Lady Mary’s lack of vulnerability and resurgence of a strong self-esteem, coolness, and Rose’s childlike perception of the world, partly from the constant chaperoning, they are at no risk of rape, stalking, or exploitation. Lady Mary’s slowly growing love for Lord Gillingham is part of the development of how her real grief for Matthew continues to control her conduct and perceptions. She finds herself unable to revert to what she was before she met Matthew, unable to act as selfishly as she once did; his presence, her memories of him continue to fill her mind and heart — even though she can recognize a second good partner for life when she sees one.

Her genuine behavior when she is relieved to experience cheerfulness, enjoy dancing, riding, talk again occasions some of the most moving moments about sorrow. These emerge from Mrs Reginald (suddenly we are asked to “remember” how Isobel’s marriage was a happy one) Crawley’s watches Lady Mary and (as Violet remarks) acts nobly and admirably. When at dinner and sitting next to Tom (a widower himself) she says: “you’re all alive and my son’s dead,” but she knows that she ought not to want Mary not to spend all her life grieving and goes over to meet and shake hands with Lord Gillingham, knowing he may replace Matthew.

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Rose still wants nothing more than to go dancing in London and when Lady Mary comes up to London with Tom, to deal with tax authorities, they go to a nightclub with Aunt Rosamund. She accepts a dancing invitation from Sir John Bullock (Andrew Alexander) who in his drunken state proceeds to (a lout) to grope her, another version of sexual transgression though in the area of acute embarrassment for a girl with sensitivities as who has not?). At the house party Bullock proved himself a fool when he is taken in by Sampson; Rose had taken the high ground and showed herself all courtesy to him. His reaction: take advantage. She finds a handsome jazz singer, very African in look, cuts in on the half-drunken lord and whirls her away. The disgust the horrified Lady Rosamund immediately manifests is a piece with her hard reaction to the joy Edith knows in her relationship with Michael. It is to Fellowes’s credit that he has twice used the character of Rose to stigmatize and critique the way the upper class males assume they can do as they like with women and show decency among the white working class and now black entertainers. I am not sure it goes further than that with him.

Have I omitted anything valuable further? I’d like to mention the kindliness of the Duchess of Yeovil (beautifully played by Joanna David) to Tom; she is unfairly distrusted by Lord Grantham, as obtuse (or transparent as Lady Mary calls it) as his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) except for her moment of recognizing the stature of Nellie Melba, the opera singer. Lady Raven (role uncredited), one of the growing number of upper class single aging women who we are told lives in a small flat “north of the park” (in London). Mrs Hughes tells Mr Carson that is no reason to think himself superior; the real pity of their lives is that of widowhood. Dr Clarkson (David Robb) gradually drawing Isobel out to become his aid and nurse; we have a quiet scene where she is helping one Mrs Pegg and her fatherless child.

Kiri Te Kanawa as Dame Nellie. Not invited to eat with the family! A hireling who knows better than to complain (as she does take the salary). It is during her performance that Anna is raped, Michael Gregson exposes Sampson, Mrs Crawley tells Lady Violet that she prefers Bartok to Puccini (not really commensurate but this is naturalism).

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Nellie Melba was a Victorian opera singer

Ellen

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Those who are left are different people trying to lead the same lives … Winston Graham, Warleggan, Book 4 of Poldark series, ch 4, p 55)

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A dream image of Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) visiting Michael Gregson’s (Charles Edward’s) sumptuous renovated flat: he does the cooking too!

Dear friends and readers,

As in the other three seasons, when it comes to discussing an episode in detail and seriously, there are major problems when wanting to praise the new and brave kinds and here sombre materials the film-makers have brought (for a fourth time) to Fellowes’s story and characters. What distinguishes these first two episodes (however conventionally harped at by all the other characters in the usual familiar mode of “you must get over it”) is the real respect and time paid to grief. MIchelle Dockery delivers an expressionist performance (not realistic) and Penelope Wilton a subtly calibrated bleakness at the emptiness of her world (not just only son, but beloved husband gone).

This is though undermined by the assumption that there is such a thing as living in “the land of the dead” as opposed “to the land of the living.” This is nonsense, even for such a privileged person as Lady Mary who need not work for money, need not cope with her inheritance, need not even take care of her baby. What grates and scours the soul of the grief-striken is life not only goes on for you, but you are asked to do many things without the beloved where the now dead person was the competent one or at least the sympathetic support. So a childish notion simplifying what is happening made plausible by the super-rich nature of these privileged people’s lives makes any serious consideration of Lady Mary’s obstacles or Mrs Crawley’s future life precluded. In the early phases of Tom Branson’s (Allen Leech) there was attention to the immediate problem of what he must do now, where go, how cope, decisions he had to make (like his daughter’s religion and where to bring her up), and as he continues not to want to find any substitute but has at the same time to cope with Lord Grantham’s Hugh Bonneville) desire to revert the estate back to a backward management he becomes a quietly pivotal figure.

A second problem is the sheer snobbish emphasis of the circulating stills and shots: repeatedly we see only the upper class characters or the servants in carefully chosen moments. So an important subplot in episode one, concerning the loss of all livelihood and consequent self-respect, and need for emotional support in Mr Grigg (Nicky Henson) gets no shots, and Jonathan Howard as Sam Thawley is credited in only one listing of the cast (for Episode 4.2) and of course few stills, and hardly any mention except as it concerns the upper class girl supposedly “slumming.” So I lack adequate stills to present the visible in these two hours. Among the finer moments in Episode 4.1 occurs when Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) seeks out Mr Grigg in the workhouse and determines to act to help him (as the first duty):

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another occurs when after dancing together turns into a brawl (because of course lower class males must be “toughs”), Sam visits Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) and she has the decency to see him, and dressed as a maid, takes care not to hurt his feelings and do justice to these (far more sincere, with more depth than we’ve seen Lady Rose show thus far, except when it comes to disliking her mother).

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There are plenty of photos available online of Lady Rose looking superficial (unfair to her as a character probably) — funny that the producers have not seemed to realize few viewers are taken with this aspect of this character; what they like is her attraction to kindly affectionate — males from a class or race other than her own.

I do want to emphasize how much I like this as well as previous seasons, and that I am paying this phenomenally successful serial drama the compliment of rational opposition.

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Maggie Smith, beginning to age badly; here a genial intelligent look comes out

So, what makes a specific series of programs rise to the level of an important sociological event (which the numbers of people watching confirms)? The one Jane Austen movie to make it has been the 1995 P&P famously featuring Colin Firth. According to Dudley Andrews, such films take on a manic life of their own, their filmic qualities “challenge reality with their own intensities:” their content allows “us to relish, cherish, revel in public what we enjoy in secret, and take over the values and experiences we had dreamed as we read the eponymous texts.”

Which are the ones that matter in Downton Abbey? I’m not going to do recaps (see I Should have been a blogger for one of the first two episodes) but rather try to discuss a little some details which may help account for its general emotional appeal — as usual unacknowledged or in some popularly-conceived blogs downright contradicted. The point for me is to bring out into the discussably open what is made visible in this season.

Episode 1 opens differently (alas this is not kept up in the later episodes). We are in a dark house, we see two notes put on a mantelpiece and a woman’s shoes, dark colored, practical, hurry away. A child is crying, then we are in a narrow corridor watching a nanny hurry by; the first face we see is the pale still one of Lady Mary laying silently on her pillow on her side of her bed. The day is dawning as a winter mist.

The first dialogue is all about Miss Obrien (Siobhan Finneran) leaving without so much as a by-your-leave; not only is there no voice raised on her behalf (not that she has earned anyone’s friendship) but those she was attached to are blamed: suspicion falls on her nephew Alfred (Matt Milne) knowning and it emerges that Lady Rose did suspect her mother was plotting to invite Miss Obrien to India, luring her there as an adventure. Another servant is removed too, but not voluntarily: in the dark light of his small room, behind his desk, Mr Carson (Jim Carter) informs Mr Molesley (Kevin Doyle) that Downton has no use for Mr Molesley’s services: now that Matthew Crawley is dead, his job as valet is over; Mrs Crawley tells him as a widow she just takes her meals off a tray. More than half way through episode 2 Molesley has sunk to working in the streets in a laboring crew as his debts have mounted.

As the story evolves, we will find Molseley is not failing as a loser (to give credit to DA not a word Fellowes uses), but in a period of typical unemployment: we will see him show pride and by the end of the season become the support of an unexpected decent lady’s maid, Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) but I get ahead of myself in my efforts to bring forward what is valuable and reinforcing a “rhetorical scheme of motifs and symbols [filmic codes and archetypes]” which includes the rescue of Mr Charles or Charlie Grigg (Nicky Henson) from the workhouse by Mrs Crawley (for once commended for her liberal impulses). I cannot find a still of him working in the streets or I’d provide it. Other hires inauspicious for very different reasons include Miss Edna Braithwaite (MyAnna Buring): Rose’s naive use of a card in a window is shown not to work to produce a good person: Fellowes’s text moves on behalf of the coterie exclusions of character letters and control over people’s behavior these occasion (as well as a way of seeing if they are social enough to acquire these); these only fail to work (we are to see) when from mistaken sympathy Mrs Hughes gave Braithwaite a character: here is Buring from Season 1 looking avid:

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The first Nanny West (D Botcher) turns out to be malevolent as (through Thomas Barrow’s intervention which was not the result of knowing this) Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) happens upon her insulting Tom’s daughter as a “half-breed” (if I’m not mistaken the child’s mouth is taped shut) and exulting the baby George as “heir.” Fired on the spot. No shroving time allowed. Well such women did have enormous power over children and caregivers still do.

Downstairs in these two episodes is treated like a comic-poignant subplot in a restoration or eighteenth century comedy. Daisy (Sophie McShea) is now presented as longing for Alfred’s love while he longs for Ivy’s (Cara Theobold) and she hankers after Jimmy (Ed Speleers) who cares nothing for anyone but himself. (Mr Mason, the father-in-law, is another actor who has basically fled — he comes in for a late cameo appearance when Daisy is in need of older wiser male advice.) The plot-line will provide a quiet parallel for the rape to come but here the value is in the relationship of Mrs Patmore (Leslie Nichols) and Daisy: it’s Mrs Patmore who buys Daisy a valentine lest she feel left out when Ivy gets one (not as she thinks from Jimmy but rather Alfred). The two friends with Daisy emerging as superb cook provide some good moments.

Mrs Patmore is also made nervous because she cannot keep up technologically with Daisy or Ivy, and at one point breaks a plate that is part of a device, and Mrs Hughes gets down the floor to help her clean all up. As in the close of last year’s season, MrsHufhes emerges as an equivalent figure to what I’d usually given male characters — only instead of giving orders from on high she works quietly to reconcile and compassionate except when the person has done some unforgivable deed — and there are going to be several this season. She remains one of my favorite characters and I’ve become quite fond of her Scottish accent.

I assume everyone has read the unemployment statistics and harsh rhetoric that condemns the unemployed for whatever reason, not to omit punitive policies engendering further poverty. Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs does justice to the servant who decides simply to leave rather than be questioned, however this may damage further chances at further jobs (you don’t come away with the precious letter); to the servant who defies and exposes the mistress or master.

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The two major female presences of this season: Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Anna Bates (Joanne Froggart)

Of course the major interest is, Lady Mary, the story’s reigning princess. (She who is left standing after several departures of favored upper class characters.) Lugubrious comments abound: “a great love” pays for itself sometimes with “great misery.” But she is at least no longer materialistically performative. I liked her better in these two episodes than I have before. Fellowes is not always up to kind of utterance needed here: Carson is enlisted by Tom and he enunciates some of the most cliched utterances of the hours. Then Carson is fine with firing people too, and wants them to beg forj job, nothing standoffish allowed as we shall see. The World’s Employer. Over the course of these two episodes (one reason to regret that the two are run together is we don’t get the sense of time passing slowly which Fellowes did mean us to), Mary emerges as the central heir to the estate (due to a will Matthew did think to leave, however hurriedly done) and despite her father’s attempts to bully her into passivity, she begins to take over her husband’s previous role as manager, with the significant difference she is in feel so cold, and we know will not be a compassionate landlord. We must hope Tom stays on.

For romantic love interest, we are really turned over to Edith (Carol Carmichael), still presented in the light of someone or a type a person whose existence is to be regretted, so her appearances in super-sexy gowns, in chic restaurants, seems to me a curious anomaly which doesn’t come off. She will come into her own later in the season upon getting pregnant, but I admit finding the shots of her with Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards’s) irresistible dream images from afar.

People have seemed to resent the as yet happy couple Mr and Mrs Bates; for myself I don’t resent them as I find the images of them most of the time smiling at a distance as they obediently go about their jobs uneviable.

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There is a thread going on about distrustful disloyal employers: thus Barrow finds it easy to poison Cora’s mind against Anna as envious of Miss Braithwaite; Cora tells Robert who with his usual obtuseness warns Bates that Anna must behave. In this episode Violet Lady Grantham tries to help an old-time employee (Molseley) but that ignites the fears of her present butler, but in later ones she joins the chorus of punitive employers on the look-out for thievery (a stance endorsed by Fellowes in an encounter with Mrs Crawley after Mrs Crawley seems to have become emotionally stronger).

Anna does urge Mr Bates to help her find money for Molesley and help him out of his debt, and we are privy to some of his curious talents from his past: after securing a sum from the Dowager he forges an IOU where he appears to owe money to Molseley in order to give him some needed help. This will be matched by Edith’s newspaper man suitor’s ability to manipulate the cards as well as any card sharp and thus rescue Lord Grantham (just spectcularly bad with money) from a huge debt after gambling with one Samspon (Patrick Alexander), a hanger-on in the train of the aristocratic suitor-gentleman, old friends of Mary who will be arriving next week.

I don’t have a still of the touching close when after all Mr Carson going over his photos and pictures and seeing a long-lost loved girl, Alice, decides to come to the train station to bid Mr Grigg adieu (as Mrs Crawley has found him a job as a stage hand in another county) and we see these two friends walk off to talk. The motif of long grief brooding and twisting and finding some surcease in ending a quarrel though is felt with humanity in this still:

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Ellen

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