Happy Downton Christmas! There were so many holidays and special events in this episode – Christmas (with a lovely Christmas pudding), New Year’s, shooting, and the Servants’ Ball. How nice that the last episode of Downton Abbey Season 2 is a Christmas special. It almost makes up for the fact that the season is over. Almost.
I’d been wondering when there would be a good shooting episode since it’s such a classic, and Downton already had a fox hunt in the first season. This day’s shooting was especially good because it allowed Lady Mary to insult her fiancé Sir Richard some more for being vulgar, and it also let her spend more time with Matthew in a pastoral setting. The later set of fisticuffs between Matthew and Richard was just the star on the Christmas tree.
I know I’m probably in the minority with this one, but I really felt for Sir Richard. I think he sincerely loved Mary, and he tried to help his almost family the way he knew how – by keeping the Bates scandal out of the papers at great inconvenience to himself. He was really just super jealous that Mary and Matthew were still being all googly-eyed with one another, so it does seem hard that she puts him through that and then breaks off the engagement anyway. Not only that, but he had to endure Christmas at Downton and watch them all play “The Game” which his lot just calls charades. I think it would have been more interesting if they had made Mary at least kind of like Richard, and show her being torn between her class and his new one. But no, Richard’s was probably just a one-sided love. Granny’s parting shot to him wasn’t even that good considering that Cousin Isobel gave her a Christmas present to use to crack her nuts. At least he and Mary parted on not so bad terms – classy, Mary. He’ll always remember her pantomiming The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (a pointed allusion, I think, to her sordid past which is affecting her present romance), and he’ll always have his profit from selling Haxby. Oh dear, did I just mention money?
Even with Richard out of the picture, the course of Mary and Matthew’s love did not run smooth. Even the sweet, dead girl, Ginger Lavinia, wasn’t the main thing coming between them, but Pamuk. Lady Grantham finally told her husband about that terrible experience, and he broached the subject with Mary. This was probably one of my favorite scenes in the whole season, and it totally restored Lord Grantham to his place of being the perfect aristo and a decent man and father. I don’t even think he would have done anything differently if he hadn’t also had an indiscretion with Jane – all is forgiven. He was so sweet when he suggested she visit her grandmamma in America to ride out the scandal, and bring back a real cowboy from the Middle West (please tell me that’s the plot of Season 3 – I’d die to see that). Now that her father knows and still loves her, of course Mary can confess to Matthew. She aptly brings up Tess of the d’Urbervilles and compares them to Tess and her disloyal lover Angel Clare, thereby showing that literary Mary likes her some shocking novels and that she sees herself in grandiose terms as a tragic heroine. But there will be no tragic heroines at Downton this year: Matthew proves himself more broad-minded than Angel and proposes. You know what she says.
Elsewhere at Downton, Anna (who knows women) was put through the wringer with Bates’ trial for wilful murder, in which he had the worst witnesses ever. He was found guilty, but then reprieved by the Home Secretary meaning that next season will probably find Anna playing lady detective to find out how the late Mrs. Bates actually died. I’m glad Anna has a pseudo-happy ending, but I would have loved to see her and Mary live it up in New York and Newport. She and Mary make a good passive-aggressive team, like when she revealed that Aunt Rosamund’s suitor was really after the lady’s maid. First Sybil and Branson (parents-to-be now), now this – those two really don’t like the upstairs and downstairs to mix.
Thomas continued to get into scrapes in his quest to become the Earl’s valet, even stooping so low as to hide Isis the dog and then losing her. But his faulty plan was rewarded because when he appeared all mussed up, he impressed the Earl and got the job. He’s moving up in the world. Also, that scene when Lord Grantham came upon Thomas with his hair all covered in twigs reminded me of the scene in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Darcy meets Lizzy after she has just walked to Netherfield to inquire after Jane. Is there more romance in the air? Maybe for Lady Edith. My heart bled for her a little when she told her old suitor Sir Anthony Strallan that she was not going to give up on anyone who called her lovely.
There was some Ouija board fun downstairs which got Daisy (does she have a tragic past?) to get over her William guilt, got her a new friend in her father-in-law (who gives her good advice on how to get a raise and promotion), but also allowed Lavinia some last words (that was her with Anna and Daisy, right?) directed towards Mary and Matthew, twirling around in the snow. And that’s where we left Downton, at the start of 1920.
And what is to become of our beloved Crawleys and their servants (besides Downton Abbey Season 3, that is)? Something tells me that they’ll be doing pretty well for themselves.
A few of the actors are part of the “corset crew” which is what one UK paper dubbed a tight-knit clique of up and coming actors under 30 who had struck it rich in period dramas such as Downton or Great Expectations (coming to PBS in April!). There’s Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil), who is in the coming-of-age film Albatross which was released in the States in January and who will next be seen alongside other corset crew members in the adventure miniseries Labyrinth where she will be searching for the Holy Grail in modern and medieval France. Sure, why not. Laura Carmichael (Ethel) was just in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Sophie McShera (Daisy) was recently in the hit play Jerusalem, and McShera’s flatmate, Zoe Boyle (the unfortunate Ginger Lavinia) has guest-starred on American TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Sons of Anarchy. She was living with the scullery maid? How could Cousin Matthew have overlooked that.
Amy Nutall (Baby Mama Ethel) might not be in the next season, but who cares when she has such an amazing voice? She played Christine in The Phantom of the Opera when she was just 17. How could they not let her sing in the show? What a waste – things might have turned out differently for her if they had heard her sing. The corset crew member I’m the most interested to see in his next project is Dan Stevens (Matthew, naturally). He actually had one of the posher upbringings, which should serve him well in Amy “Clueless” Heckerling’s new movie, Vamps, about two socialite vampires (Krysten Ritter and Alicia “Cher” Silverstone), where he plays Wallace Shawn’s son, Joey van Helsing. It’s a little embarrassing how much I’m looking forward to this movie.
So it looks like Michelle Dockery (who was my favorite) is as much of an uppity minx as Lady Mary seeing as how she is not in the club. However, she probably isn’t sweating it since she’s continuing in period piece mode with a role in Joe Wright’s new production of Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightly. I would have liked to see Dockery play Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion where she was supposed to be wonderful. I guess she can do high and low. Penelope Wilson (Isobel) and Maggie Smith are in an upcoming movie together, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – let’s hope they get along better in that.
As for Julian Fellowes, he has the new Titanic ITV1 miniseries coming up which will be shown on ABC in the US, and features some familiar faces – such as Maria Doyle Kennedy (Mrs. Bates). He’s also adapting the screenplay for the new Romeo and Juliet movie starring Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth (a corset crew member – it’s like a cult). But he’s so versatile – books, movies, TV, even musicals – that I doubt these will be the only things he’s up to. Oh, and I guess he’s busy being a baron, now. How authentic for the creator of Downton Abbey.