Sunday, 12 May 2013

Downton Abbey (Series Two & Christmas at Downton Abbey)

Series two of Downton Abbey picks up in 1916, two years after the end of series one. WWI is now raging and life at Downton Abbey has been turned upside down. Matthew Crawley and the footmen Thomas and William all find themselves fighting in the war. Meanwhile everyone else is doing their part for the war effort back at home. Lady Sybil is working as a nurse, Anna and the other maids are having to fill in for the footmen, and Isobel Crawley is helping out at the local hospital. In Episode Two Isobel manages to persuade the Crawley family into making Downton a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. But there's romantic drama going on in this series as well. Just when it looks as if Anna and Mr Bates will be able to get married after all, Bates's vindictive wife (Maria Doyle Kennedy) shows up. She refuses to grant Bates a divorce and threatens to bring scandal on the Crawley family. Matthew has seemingly moved on from Mary. He's now engaged to a lovely young woman from London called Lavinia (Zoe Boyle). Mary, on the other hand, is considering whether to accept an engagement from a shrewd and powerful newspaper owner called Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen). Sybil is also torn. She has a growing love for her family's chauffeur Branson but she knows her family would be disappointed with her if she was to accept him. In addition to all this, Lord Robert is feeling useless in this time of war and the new housemaid Ethel (Amy Nuttall) finds herself in a difficult position. And Lady Mary's secret from series one keeps threatening to expose itself.

I really enjoyed series one of Downton Abbey. A few minor flaws aside it was undeniably excellent. Does series two hit the heights of series one? No. WWI is very poorly handled in this series. In fact I got the distinct impression that Julian Fellowes wanted to get the war stuff over and done with as quickly as possible so he could get to the roaring 20s. There's very little drama in the WWI scenes of series two; in particular the episode where Matthew and William go MIA is very rushed. This could have been easily stretched out for another episode and I didn't doubt for a second that they were in any real danger. It really doesn't help matters that Matthew keeps returning to Downton Abbey all the time either. An episode will start with Matthew in the trenches and then five minutes later he's back at Downton! Don't get me wrong, I really like Matthew. He's actually one of my favourite characters in the show and I liked seeing him... but the fact that we saw so much of him when WWI is on is a bit of a joke. I know that Downton Abbey isn't a war show but it still needs to handle its subject matter responsibly.

Series two has other bad points as well. The show basically becomes a historical soap opera in this series. We get melodramatic soap opera clich├ęs in series two like amnesia, miraculous recoveries and adultery. I got really annoyed with some of the characters as well. I got bored of the Anna-Bates stuff. I got fed up of Daisy moaning about how she doesn't want to marry William when he's dying. I became very disappointed with Lord Robert in the final couple of episodes. It felt like Fellowes didn't really know what to do with Isobel in this series either. In series one she clashed with Violet and in series two she clashes with Cora and then goes away.

I should make it clear that I didn't hate series two by any means though. I still like the show even if it's a guilty pleasure. The production values of Downton Abbey are still excellent, it's still extremely well-acted, there's still a lot of humour, and I still like and care about the majority of the characters. Violet continues to get some hilarious one-liners. My favourite being "You're not Toad of Toad Hall!" to Edith when she finds out that she's been driving tractors :) There's much less bitchiness and tension between Mary and Edith in this series too (that was one of my issues with series one). I suppose this isn't very realistic at all when you consider how nasty they were to each other in series one but I was just so relieved to see the end of their sibling rivalry. Mary's character, in particular, was far more bearable.

I'll mention the 2011 Christmas episode in this review too. It's called Christmas at Downton Abbey and is a 90 minute, movie-length episode. It takes place over the Christmas holidays of late 1919 to early 1920. Almost every character on the show is involved in this story and gets something meaningful to do, apart from Sybil and Branson who are both in Ireland. I loved this special episode! It's very strong and is better than any of the episodes of series two. It's very well-plotted, is great fun and really feel-good. I did miss Sybil and Branson and I didn't like the Ouija board stuff but everything else is great. I liked the different opening credits and it was really nice that Robert's sister Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond) got more to do than usual.

No comments: