Dear friends and readers,
I cannot deny for anyone still emotionally involved with any of these wrenched backward and forward manipulated-for-climax characters, there were still some stirring and/or genuine moments. There is some uncertainty about when and if it will ever end. So to this season’s finale:
For me intense distress over Anna (Joanne Froggart) in prison, humiliated, blamed, her own abused past used against her; some admiration for Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) defying all convention and rank-based demands to visit Anna; the improbable angelic quest of Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) and Mr Moseley to find witnesses to show that Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle) was in York the day his confession claimed he was in London pushing Mr Green (Nigel Harman) in front of a bus (if he went so far as to say that — we don’t know); however unlikely that such a confession would be cast aside, Anna’s release and continued abjection when she returns “home” (she will not go into Downton Abbey by the front door), and, not for the first time, her bleak presence in black during the Christmas festivities, only to be gladdened and rejoiced and taken away to a quiet private space with her beloved at last.
Punishment of servants and largesse on the part of masters and mistresses defined several of the stories brought to a temporary close. In the last two seasons Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith’s) adherence to duty and not exploiting those beneath her any more than her position demands was continued. She did not permit Spratt (Jeremy Swift) to triumph over Denker (Sue Johnston)’s inability to make a fine soup:
Violet was sorely tempted by Prince Kuragin many years ago, actually fled with him, but was pulled from the carriage, by his wife, the princess, and allowed herself to be dragged back not only to duty, but comfort and wealth, and social acceptability. She has reciprocated by paying for the princess to be rescued, giving the princess acceptable clothes and her reluctant husband back. She rises above the princess’s bitter understandable ingratitude.
It’s an interesting topic: the Dowager’s attempt to do the right thing. I suggest the Dowager has changed over the course of five years — or better aspects of her character have gradually been brought forth. At first she appeared as a kind of dragon lady witch — remember her first appearance, striking in all glittering black.
She does try to do the right thing, and we have now been given enough of her past to understand her marriage was not super-happy at all; she stayed because it was the right thing to do. Sometimes though these moral “right thing to do” can mislead. When she persuaded the older man to desert Edith at the altar, that was wrong even if it seemed conventional wisdom. She was with Rosamund in trying to remove Marigold from Edith. The “right thing” often violates our deeper emotions and needs — that’s a theme in Anthony Trollope by the way (whom Fellowes claimes to be much influenced by). The perversion of our deepest emotions by being required to follow social rightness — In Trollope’s novel, Lady Anna, the heroine, Lady or Anna Murray refuses to marry the Earl and does the “wrong” thing from everyone else’s point of view; she wins because she’s heir. But other Trollope characters walk away without the big money — in The Warden, Mr Harding for example. The Duchess would have been on Archdeacon Grantly’s side. Phineas Finn walks away to a small salary; he is not made happy and in Raven’s version he does it only because Mary is pregnant. But Trollope does fit in with Fellowes and here (as is not uncommon) if you examine Trollope for real, you find his inferences go another way.
It was certainly a season for older women to be proposed to (a Trollopian theme): Mrs Hughes’s (Phyllis Logan) reply to Mr Carson’s (Jim Carter) is a nearly exact repeat of Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton) to Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) and Violet to Prince Kuragin:
Mrs Hughes: ‘We’re celebrating the fact that I can still get a proposal at my age.’
Mr Carson: ‘And that’s it?’
Mrs Hughes: ‘Of course I’ll marry you, you old booby. I thought you’d never ask.
Where did he get the money? In the original Upstairs Downstairs, Mr Hudson and Mrs Bridges have been saving for their lodging house almost the full five years of the show.
And there were the intelligent conversations between the Dowager and Mrs Crawley once again:
Otherwise you were invited to enjoy the perversion of natural good feeling, or asked to rejoice in spite, coming comeuppances, abjection, and confronted yet more women who suddenly could put two and two together. The most dismaying was Lady Sinderby (Penny Downie). It was not that she was hiding deep pain; she seemed genuinely puzzled who Diane Clark and little Daniel (HELLO, DANIEL, HIS NAME!) could be?
I just wish there had been a flicker of recognition and anger in her eyes. I didn’t look but in the script it may say by Diana (Diana or Diane?) Clarke that she expected to be alone with him? I thought she did say that in fleeting passing. The actress the same age as Michelle Dockery, the younger set
(If so, absurd. Jim and I rented a hunting lodge in Sussex one summer. It was once a tryst place for a super rich Duke to have mistress and horses available. We had a large bed with a mirror over it. I kid you not. The building a sort of overgrown hut. I suddenly realize downstairs where younger daughter slept were once servants quarters. This is not marked at all by Landmark Trust who rents such places to people going on holiday in the UK. It was very large down there so lots of servants and grooms as across a yard were old stables — very much marked for our perusal. It was not that easy to get to — as the road is still not marked obviously from a pub, and the bus didn’t go there anymore. Nor were we told which more recent Dukes owned it.)
Rose (Lily James) to the rescue by a series of insistent hypocrisies with all joining in. We were to enjoy Lord Sinderby’s (Aldritch) shame. But what then? everyone conspires together not to help the woman whom he has obviously had a long time affair with, shows no concern for real for or her boy (we don’t learn his name though we do hers, Diana Clark). Meanwhile Lady Sinderby is suddenly unaware of what’s happening, and looks all surprise and bemusement and as ever Atticus (Marcus Bale) notices nothing. There is his half-brother. The character would be great on a slave plantation, surrounded by half-brothers and sisters who were his slaves too; Atticus showed perfect unconcern Beyond yet another women unaware of what’s happening around her (Lady Sinderby); beyond that it’s grating to see how the woman and her child apparently don’t matter, what matters is nothing shall be upset, nor Lord Sinderby embarrassed. Sickening. Yes she looked just fine – but all abasement towards everyone. In a series ostensibly so focused on women, women are dispensable and all children without rich men to keep them.
The worst grating thing was Fellowes’ tendency to when he run out of invented faux obstacles to create tension and climaxes on the back of, he returns to bad servants and we are to rejoice in their comeuppance or downright humiliation. Stowell (Alun Armstrong in the thankless role) was the snobbish butler more willing to hurt others to keep his ego up than his master the arrogant Lord Sinderby needs to:
Fellowes made it acceptable by having Stowell mortify our favorite working class turned sop-aristocrat Tom (Allen Leech) and those under him (including Thomas [Rob James-Collier] who got back Big Time with the encouragement of Lady Mary) but who is he? he probably has no money money than Mrs Hughes — in the first season she originally said she was socking it away; now she has a disabled sister she supports (the Tories will like that). We were supposed to enjoy him cringing before others. I have to have been personally hurt directly before I can enjoy that sort of thing. We were also supposed to enjoy how the Dowager finally best Spratt. His spite against Denker is disconnected from her bad behavior in London. These servants are despicable lot, no? both Spratt and Denker are subject to the Dowager — was that supposed to provide our enjoyment?
Despite what we keep hearing about staff cutbacks since the glory days before the war, the Downtown staff never seems overworked (lots of time for self-improvement, museum visiting), except perhaps in the case of Moseley as first footman — and that is treated as comedy–and Moseley’s fault, of course, for trying to get above himself. Who wouldn’t want to be a servant in a great house? My mother-in-law told me it was servitude and discipline from getting up to going to sleep, little money, hardly any time off.
It has been lacklustre season, filled with phony climaxes or dismissals. Mrs Drewe (Emma Lowndes) can’t be fired but she can be erased. This season was at its best when it tried to return to the tone and mood of the first season, but it did not work as in just the way years had gone by, so much pain and melodrama had been put before us. Also its structuring to move to climax after climax this year and not have one-hour long self-enclosed stories destroyed any of the first season’s quietude.
I felt in the last phrase of returning to the Abbey for a singalong at Christmas, they were trying for the quiet naturalness of the first season again. But as is seen from 3/4s of the 90 minutes they cannot — too much water under the bridge and too much expected. So first they have to go away to a super-glamorous place once again. I had thought Alnwick Castle was a testament to Canaletto’s many paintings, the fame of this country house from the Renaissance, deep in Northumberland, but it was apparently Hogwarts they were thinking of — Harry Potter. Whence a very silly YouTube over the preceding week where the characters tried to decide which house each of them would belong to in the school for magic.
Anibundel remarked that it felt like the cast were hanging around a museum. I noticed only a small segment of the show was filmed in the house. We did see them go into it, through the door, so it was not as with Chatworth in the 1995 P&P where the film-makers were allowed to use only the outside of the house, but only a few rooms were requisitioned. Anibundel said most of the rooms from the Harry Potter films were not there and noted the huge fireplaces (in centuries past to keep the occupants warm). The result was a film experience as absurd as someone wearing an extravagantly overdone dress for a short moment of a day at great expense and trouble. This to impress people fooled by glamour and fame and money. I found the inside of the house gross. As fake as overdone luxury hotels. All gilt, ludicrously over-decorated every inch each wall. Must be awful to sit in — but maybe no one ever really sits in those rooms, much less lie and read a book
With all this falseness to see this reassertion of how happy everyone is, not just must be, at Christmas, I was gain reminded of what Trollope said he felt like when he was commanded to make a rejoicing Christmas tale.
While I was writing The Way We Live Now, I was called upon by the proprietors of the *Graphic* for a Christmas story. I feel, with regard to literature, somewhat as I suppose an upholsterer and undertaker feels when he is called upon to supply a funeral. He has to supply it, however distasteful it may be. It is his business, and he will starve if he neglect it. So have I felt that, when anything in the shape of a novel was required, I was bound to produce it. Nothing can be more distasteful to me than to have to give a relish of Christmas to what I write. I feel the humbug implied by the nature of the order. A Christmas story, in the proper sense, should be the ebullition of some mind anxious to instil others with a desire for Christmas religious thought or Christmas festivities –, better yet, with Christmas charity. Such was the case with Dickens when he wrote his two first Christmas stories. But since that the things written annually — all of which have been fixed to Christmas like children’s toys to a Christmas tree, have no real savour of Christmas about them. I had done two or three before. Alas! at this very moment I have one to write [said by Julian Thompson to have been “Christmas at Thompson Hall”], which I have promised to supply within three weeks of this time — the picture-makers always required a long interval,–as to which I have in vain been cudgelling my brain for the last month. I can’t send away the order to another shop, but I do not know how I shall ever get the coffin made.
Yes Mr and Mrs Bates hurry off into that dark bare corridor away from the strained singing; there were moments throughout the hour (as I started with) worth the contemplating.
As for future predictions once again:
Here is a reasonably intelligent review
I have noticed no one has aged much — except naturally. They are all five years older, the daughters dress older; the dress of the servants reflects their changed occupations. I have been glad some of the women are not forced into anorexia: Elizabeth McGovern became that long before this mini-series to make herself viable as a comely older woman. The interviewer said it was to go on until 2010 – I had thought next year would be the last but Fellowes gave another interview which suggested it would drag its coffin on.
So he doesn’t “own” DA anymore and is not the only one to dictate the ending so perhaps it will get worse than ever (more fatuously cheerful with made-up crises easily resolved) or it will darken in ways that Fellowes wouldn’t allow. There’s a general strike coming … My sense is Fellowes made this years’ episodes follow closely on the last because he did not want to show the 1930s in England, the real destruction of some of these enclaves, the proto-nazism and fascism, the growth of socialism for real.
One woman on a Downton fan page called this a “fun” interview. Some people have odd ideas about fun.
So, out my crystal ball: We have two plot lines: Lord Sinderby has a bastard son and now it’s been brought out into the open the sudden bitterness of Lady Sinderby may actuate her into at least a separation for a while. (Maybe just maybe Atticus will notice his half-brother?) Anna and Bates are not home free. Mary will end up with the insouciant cool racing car driver whom she deserves and if he cannot make her miserable, little George will at least grow up to be a twisted ex-aristocrat; Edith (let us hope) return to London and get a nanny. Daisy and Mrs Patmore and Mr and Mrs Carson are provided for; Baxter and Moseley go off into the sunset for other positions in the same great house, or break free, he goes to teach and she to open a millinery and dress shop. We have been told the ending: Lord Grantham dies of a massive heart attack — it was angina and we see how breathless he is when drunk. Other age away, four widows left with another (Lady Rosamund) coming for visits. They have money to travel, at least Cora is young enough, except perhaps Lady Shackleton not far off in her cold cottage. Lady Anstruthers will not be welcome. But Thomas may stay on as butler at last.