Archive for February 14th, 2013

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past — George Orwell

The past is a competitive business — Peter Borsay

The women, Tom and Matthew (final shot of watchers)

Thomas, Lord Grantham and Dr Clark (near final shot of players)

Buvan, great-souled (Aamir Khan), at bat (nowhere near final shot)

Dear friends and readers,

But wait, you are saying, whence that third still? who can they be? the hero is not white, not even in white. Buvan! How did Aamir Khan get into the grounds? Patience, gentle reader.

I’ve no doubt we were to take the ending of Season 3 as charity itself (as in “the adieu” of Darcy). Thomas (Rob James-Collier) not excluded, not handed over to the police after all; far from sacked, he’s to be under-butler. No silly soup of emotional sentimentalism either. There’s the Duchess (Maggie Smith), holding out, determined as ever. She has gotten rid of the (gratifyingly grateful) Ethel (Amy Nuttall) who was continuing to cause all that dreadful “talk:”

Ethel and Mrs Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) standing by, outflanked

I mean what’s a friend to do? Ethel had a plan (it seems). She will tell her beloved child, Charlie, brought up by his grandparents in a great house nearby where she is to be cook (Mrs Patmore’s ex-pupil now) that she was his nanny when he was baby. What more could she want? Her life is rebuilt (we may remember the mocking laughter of the prostitutes taught to sew earlier this season). As Mrs Crawley admits, no one will know. “The slate wiped clean.” Did you not feel that you had an instance of Mrs Wood’s East Lynne before you, fully explained, nay justified?

But Thomas, now, suffering crying Thomas


has been allowed to stay.

In case you missed this part (or fell asleep by the second hour on PBS), this last part has shown us that Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers) is the kind of homosexual who when they make public office cover up their own activity by ceaselessly persecuting other homosexuals. He’s after Thomas’s body fluids in another way. If Mr Carson (Jim Carter) gives Thomas the good reference (all heart is Mr Carson even though Thomas is “revolting,” lives in a “revolting world”), he, Jimmy, will go to the police. Who saved the day? Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) again (she did it for Ethel) to the rescue. It seems Mrs H knows of such men (!) and believes Jimmy led Thomas on. Mr Carson bows to her authority (ironically) and she goes to Mr Bates. She is not missing from the cricket game, although naturally not to be seen under the tent nor in all white

Naturally all discretion, behind her we get to glimpse Daisy (Sophie McSheara), Ivy (Cara Theobold) and Mrs Patmore (Leslie Nicol) as befits their rank

Miss Obrien (Siobhan Finneran), that insidious spying witch, has also poured effective poison into the ears of her nephew, Alfred (Matt Milne) but is defeated by a mere two words uttered in her ears by a gallant Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle) who has returned all Thomas’s treachery and mockery of him with an act of supreme generosity: “her ladyship’s soap.” (So Mrs Hughes said were the magic words.)


This also nicely rounds out Season 3 by bringing us back to Season 1 where (we are to recall) Miss Obrien caused her ladyship’s miscarriage and near death by putting a cake of soap near her bath and leaving her ladyship to slip and fall, thus keeping Matthew the unexpected heir.

The camera on the puzzled Anna Bates (Joanne Froggart) so as to spare us the shattered woman

Miss Obrien I say nowhere to be seen at last. Nor Jimmy just now.

Alfred is not let off so easily. Peculiarly slow in the brain-pan, once an idea is put into his head, it’s hard to dislodge it, so he has gone to the police about Thomas; said police turn up to take Thomas away, but Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) now to the rescue. There has been some misunderstanding he tells the police, and by a mere word and look gets Alfred to apologize and confess he was “squiffy.” For those not in the know of 1920s upper-class slang, that means drunk, and Alfred mistook some “rough-housing” between male servants. We see in the policemen’s looks they don’t believe a word of it,


but Lord Grantham’s word overrides all and the victim they nearly had their claws on is saved — at the cost of Alfred’s humiliation.

We are supposed to find it ironically amusing that part of his Lordship’s motivation is Thomas’s supreme ability at cricket. Grantham would not want to lose such a valuable player. As long as we assume all homosexuals would be treated horrifically by everyone they meet in this era (not true), these grudging good faeries (Mr Carson, Mrs Hughes, Mr Bates, his Lordship) seem noble and we have learnt our warning lesson about how hard it is in life to be a gay man.

Of course not that his Lordship really cares who wins. At the closing moments when Molesley (Bernard Gallagher) has (no surprise there) flubbed it, he not being any more manly than Sir Anthony Strallon (Robert Bathurst) was — I mean just imagine Strallon trying to play cricket –, Lord Grantham, I say, shows he does not care who won after all. The thing is to play the game. And why? it’s an assertion of a vision, that of the sporting British empire, all-inclusive, all powerful, endlessly pastoral green, unproblematically hierarchical enacted before us.

Which brings me to Buvan — look up, gentle reader — that dark-skinned man in black playing cricket too. The scene comes from an intensely anti-imperialist, anti-British powerful Indian Hindi movie, Lagaan, which also ends in a cricket game. Only there it mattered who won, and it mattered big. The situation:

It hasn’t rained for two years in Champaner, a village in sweltering central India, but Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne, who is a Billy Zane doppelgänger), the commander of the local British regiment, isn’t about to give the parched villagers a break. He makes a bet with Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), the most spirited of the villagers (and of course, the handsomest), but only because he believes it’s a sure thing: If the villagers can beat the British regiment in a cricket match, he’ll cancel the land tax for two years; if the British win, the villagers will have to pay three times the normal, unreasonable amount.

Jim, my husband, focused on how at Downton who won does not ultimately matter at all, what matters is the assertion of the abbey, the team spirits carrying on. And this final part lets us know it will, at least for a little while. I remember reading Tariq Ali’s sense of intense irony in recounting how this movie which shows the Indians beating cruel injust British is all about a cricket game. Simon Raven has a cricket game at the close of his adaptation of Trollope’s Pallisers, and some people who don’t remember the books very well think there is one there. Not so. Trollope was not an imperialist; anyway his sport was hunting.

Important political lessons learned too: like his mother, Isobel Crawley (above) Matthew (Dan Stevens) has compromised, held his tongue, played along; his reward is our princess bride, Mary (Michelle Dockery), and his Lordship’s acquiescence in all his schemes for turning the estate into a business, with the tenants having to pay much more and, with the help of the new steward, Tom Bransom (Allen Leech, who of course turns out to be good at cricket) make much more money for higher rents. You win by giving in to these powerful people. We see where again Mary is in charge in their bedroom trysts when she puts off love-making; he acquiesces and turns out she has been to the physician, had an operation (not a problem) and in this final scene speaks of their “little prince” on the way.

Here she’s all hat

If we were seared for Edith (Laura Carmichael) over her humiliated wedding dream, now we need not worry. Hers is indeed a Jane Eyre story, but it’s one robbed of all rebellion, all radical feeling & thought. She has kissed the whip several times by now in her piety before her father and grandmother (who responded we recall to Edith’s mild complaint with “don’t whine”) and gotten a job as a journalist. Congratulated by the editor, Charles Edwards (Michael Gregson) for not writing just about women (whew! she’s not going to be one of these militant feminists, a one note Sally), she was nonetheless put off by his seeming to flirt with her. Horrors. She checks him out and discovers he’s married. A true daughter of this house, she’s learnt her lesson not to want a man beyond all, and she does not hesitate to say she quits, only to be told he has a mad wife in an asylum and simply in such dire need of hope, a good woman’s affection, that she apparently agrees to stay.

Edith has ever been a sympathetic listener

(Come back next year, gentle reader)

In all this Edith shows her distance from a character newly introduced, the foolish great-niece, Lady Rose McClare (Lily James), with sly salacious smile (joyfully compliant anyone?, a kind of Barbie doll made real) who just lends herself out to be seduced by a man lying about his wife and is rescued by a trio of Matthew, Edith, and Lady Rosamund Painswick (the aunt, Samantha Bond). The scene reminded me of the trio at the close of Don Giovanni who rescue the silly Zerlina. Perhaps this sweeping dismissal of teenage girls in the invention of this character provided the worst because so priggish moment in the hour.


There is at least something redeeming about all but Miss Obrien forgiving Mr Barrow, even if the terms upon which it’s done bring us to “don’t ask, don’t tell” of your great shame. Ethel does not end up in the streets, with her new skill (pace the Dowager’s sneer) she may hold out until the whirligig of time is in her favor. The woman who should have been her mother-in-law, Mrs Byrant (Christine Mackie) is another of these compromiser’s with viciousness: Ethel should leave the scornful Mr Byrant, the boy’s grandfather to his wife. The depiction of Lady Rose has no such compensations. The character as conceived reminded me of Sheridan’s conservative depiction of young women as Lydia Languishes, eager to jump out windows. So much for rebellion. The dowager tells Lady Rose she will be kept on a tight leash (like a puppy?) until she’s of age. For her own good of course.

Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) back to loyal sweet do-nothing: thus she enacts a woman satisfied with a rich woman’s life

Tom Bransom is now prepared to live at Downton (as Matthew has learned to) and allow his daughter to be brought up there. His reward is no longer to be an exile. He is taken into the great home place and this not-exact parallel to the end of another rebellion (Sybil’s marriage) fits the Lady Rose story. In the end you will be assimilated.

If not visible, Miss Obrien is protected by her ladyship and Mrs Hughes’s silence: one night before the cricket game Cora must hurry off to “Obrien’s” care (it’s evening) lest she be “scolded.”

How inclusive it all is! Anyone left out that you can think of, gentle reader?


Despite Miss Obrien’s telling Ivy to “stay out of it,” Ivy carries on disapproving of Jimmy’s intransigence, forcing him to leave the table

So, in this mini-series and hour we see charity enacted — within the limits of stereotypes controlled by conventions which insist on a heterosexual nuclear family as the way of life that is safe.

This final part of season three ends in the big ritual scene Part 1 did. The whole self-preserving system is enacted before us: the community is self-perpetuating; who a character is, is as much a function of his or her place in this paradigmatic system as what he or she does over the course of the sequence. There is an appetite for real community that Downton Abbey feeds, and for those who can respond to what there is in it of kindness (a good deal) and mutual support, watch it as it were against the grain, aware of the ambivalence in the portraits of the hard authority figures.

Those who are fans for such series ignore the reality that the fakery and bogus nature of much that is represented in shows like Downton Abbey is not one that is widely popular; many turn away to commercial channels, to “pop” programs because upon looking at the dress, accents, house, they know they do not belong to this myth. Football instead of cricket; macho-male violent action-adeventure films would be the opposite pole. There are some fine programs on these channels (HBO) and the mini-series and police procedurals, screwball comedies can offer other kinds of ambivalent lessons. But it is rare to find alternative visions of meaningful complex real identities. Probably they are found most often in local theater art, localism.

Right now as individuals the politics of space and place as presented to us in our media seems controlled by corporations backed by military machines. Unemployment remains high, salaries low, much harshly and competitively enacted. That’s why the prospect outside the Abbey seems so bleak. It’s what’s experienced outside it in the 21st century streets & buildings that makes it so alluring.


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