Friday, 5 July 2013

Downton Abbey (Series Three & A Journey to the Highlands)

Series three of Downton Abbey begins in the spring of 1920. Lady Mary and Matthew are finally about to get married and things are now beginning to settle down after the upheaval of WWI. Having said that there are still some major issues that the Crawleys have to deal with. It turns out that Lord Robert made some terrible investment choices during the War and has completely mismanaged the estate - so the family is now in a financial crisis. They might have to sell Downton and move to a smaller estate. It looks as though Matthew will be able to inherit some money which would enable him to save Downton but he's not sure if he should accept the money. It comes from Lavinia's father and Matthew is still convinced that it was his breaking her heart that sent her to an early grave. And even if Matthew does come into the money he still has ideas on how the estate should be modernised to prevent this kind of problem from ever happening again. This puts him at odds with his new father-in-law.

There's more drama in this series as well of course. Cora's thoroughly modern mother Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) comes over from America and has some clashes with Violet. Lady Edith feels that she has at last found true love with Sir Anthony Strallen (Robert Bathurst) and wants to marry him. However his age and bad health has her father and Violet concerned. The now pregnant Lady Sybil and her ex-chauffeur husband Tom Branson find themselves living at Downton after Tom is implicated in a crime back in Ireland. Like Matthew, Tom then finds himself clashing with his new father-in-law. The ex-housemaid Ethel has now fallen into prostitution and Isobel goes against convention to help her get back on her feet again. Anna is still working tirelessly to prove that Bates is innocent of murdering his late wife. Mrs Hughes has a cancer scare. Thomas's life at Downton, and his career in general, is threatened after some spiteful plotting by Miss O'Brien. We also get some new servants. There's a new kitchen maid called Ivy (Cara Theobold) and two new footmen called Alfred (Matt Milne) and Jimmy (Ed Speelers).

I really enjoyed series one of Downton Abbey. I did think it was slightly overrated and I wasn't crazy-in-love with it. There are some much better shows out there and I don't think Downton Abbey really deserved all of its Golden Globes and Emmys. However I still thought it was a very good series and I did enjoy it. I didn't feel that series two was as good as series one and I thought that it got very soap opera-esque at times - but nevertheless I still found it mostly enjoyable and the 2011 Christmas special was a return to form. So what are my feelings on series three then? Er, well, the show goes even more downhill. To be fair Downton Abbey is still better than most things on TV and it hasn't become a terrible show. It's still extremely well-acted, the production values and locations are still gorgeous, and there are a few good storylines in series three. The episode with Edith's wedding is very good. The Thomas/Jimmy storyline is very good and it makes Thomas a much more sympathetic character. Violet's scenes with Martha are really enjoyable and Violet continues to get great one-liners in the series. However, series three is still pretty boring on the whole. I think this could be down to behind-the-scenes confusion. Julian Fellowes has said that Downton Abbey was originally only supposed to last for three series - but since the show was so much more successful than ITV had anticipated they asked him to make more. I can imagine that Fellowes' original plan for the show was fairly well thought-out but now extra series have been added and it's thrown the show into confusion. I don't think it helped matters that Fellowes was also working on his miniseries about the Titanic in this very same year. I think he must have had too much on his plate and just got too busy to care as much about Downton Abbey. And the fact that Fellowes has got more projects down the pipeline doesn't give me much hope that series four of Downton Abbey is going to be an improvement.

Most of the storylines in series three just aren't that good. The worst storyline in series three is - without any shadow of a doubt! - the Bates-Anna story. It's dragged out for much longer than it needed to be and all of the Bates-in-prison scenes are incredibly boring and pointless. I was longing for Bates to beat up his evil prison mate, instigate a riot, escape and go on the run! Or for Bates to die. Or for him to get released. Just anything to stop the tedium! The storyline about whether Matthew will provide the money that will save Downton or not was unnecessarily stretched out as well. Did anyone think there was the remotest chance that Matthew would say "No" in the end?! The Mrs Hughes cancer storyline was a blatant rip-off of Mrs Patmore's cataracts storyline from series one. It also looks as though Edith is going to be having an affair with her editor in series four, a man who has a mad wife in a mental institution. Not only is this storyline a rip-off of Edith committing adultery with that farmer back in series two, this is also a blatant rip-off of Jane Eyre!

Another major problem that I had with series three is that I got really sick and tired of some of the characters. Daisy, who started off as being quite a sweet and likeable character back in series one, becomes bitchy and spiteful towards the new kitchen maid Ivy. Mary chastises Matthew for being reluctant to accept the Swire fortune and help her father manage the estate, but when Matthew does do exactly what she wanted she moans at him for doing that. I've already mentioned how unspeakably boring I found the Bates-Anna drama. Carson really got on my nerves. Also, what's happened to Lord Robert?! He was actually one of my favourite characters back in series one but that seems like a lifetime ago now! Hugh Bonneville is still doing a brilliant job playing Robert but due to the writing the character has become so unlikeable now. Towards the end of series two he cheated on his loving wife Cora and in series three he becomes if anything even more annoying! Robert is incredibly rude towards Matthew and Tom, it turns out that he's an incompetent businessman, he makes snide comments about Edith wanting to be a journalist, he's intolerant... and his wrong call even cost him his daughter's life! Robert takes the advice of a pompous Harley Street doctor over the recommendation of his trusted family doctor, and the pleas of his wife, and Sybil ends up dying not long after childbirth. Nooo! I loved Sybil! She was one of the best characters in the whole show!

In addition to series three there was also a 90 minute, movie-length Christmas special in 2012. This is called A Journey to the Highlands and it was shown on Christmas Day. We're told at the beginning of the episode that it takes place a year after the events of series three so I think it takes place during the summer of 1922. In this episode the Crawleys go on holiday to visit their relatives the Flintshires at their home, Duneagle Castle, in Scotland. The Crawleys also take a few of their servants with them - Anna, Mr Bates, Mr Molesley (Kevin Doyle) and Miss O'Brien. The rest of the servants - and Tom Branson - stay at home under the watchful eye of Mr Carson. A Journey to the Highlands is a huge disappointment and it's nowhere near as good as the 2011 Christmas special. To be fair there are some touching scenes and I loved that the episode was actually filmed in Scotland. There are some stunning location shots of the Scottish Highlands in this episode and I loved Inverary Castle (which is where all the Duneagle scenes were filmed). I'd much rather live at Inverary than at Highclere! OK, Inverary itself isn't as stunning as Highclere but its spectacular scenery more than makes up for it in my eyes!

However, I really didn't like A Journey to the Highlands on the whole. Daisy and Ivy are now friends in this episode. I'm sorry, when did that happen?! The episode spends far too much time on Shrimpie and Susan Flintshire's marital problems as well. If these characters are going off to India then we're never going to see these characters again anyway so what's the point?! Why does Fellowes spend so much time on this?! The only purpose that I can think of is that Fellowes wanted to show us that Robert and Cora's marriage could have gone the same way if it hadn't been for Violet's interference. To drive home the point, Shrimpie has lost almost all of his money because he didn't modernise the estate and the same would have happened to Robert had it not been for Matthew. The Crawley's cousin Rose (Lily James) gets quite a lot of screentime in this episode as well and she's an annoying character. I'm not happy that Rose is going to be moving to Downton in series four! It's obvious that Rose is supposed to be the new Sybil of the show but Rose doesn't have any of Sybil's likeability. There's a very derivative feel to this episode as well. Back in series one there was an episode where Mrs Hughes had a date with a man at a fair and the man proposed, only Mrs Hughes turned him down. This plot is recycled in this episode, twice! Both Mrs Patmore and Isobel Crawley have dates with men at the fair and both turn down marriage proposals! There's also a new servant called Edna in this episode who is a clone of Ethel from series two. Just like Ethel, Edna has an attitude, she makes a play for someone upstairs (Branson) and she gets the sack for it. Finally, another thing that I dislike about this episode is that Matthew dies right at the very end! Matthew was another one of my favourite characters in the show and if I'd watched this episode on Christmas Day I'd have been really depressed! Even Matthew's final scene with Mary was quite depressing. Matthew is filled with joy at the birth of his son and he continually tells his wife how much he loves her. But Mary only accepts these professions of love as what's due to her and she never once reciprocates. She just keeps going on about how she's done her duty and how proud her father will be. This woman's got issues!

I'm not really looking forward to series four I must admit. Series three is pretty boring and lacklustre on the whole and two of my favourite characters in the show have now been killed off. If series four isn't an improvement on series three then I think I'll probably stop watching Downton Abbey


bookwormans said...

I love that you brought the "Jane Eyre" comparison to Edith's storyline. I almost died when her boss told her that his wife was mad and he couldn't divorce her, and Edith looked at him with these wide eyes and and asked "Why?". I literally screamed at the television "Has she not read 'Jane Eyre'?! How can any self-respecting woman (and an Englishwoman to boot) not have read that?!"

Indigo Montoya said...

I know! And it really makes you wonder if they're going to have the editor's mad wife burn her mental institution to the ground in series four. If so it would be the perfect metaphor for the show's burning itself to the ground!