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Posts tagged ‘Laura Carmichael’

“Downton Abbey” Ends With Everyone in Tears

Maggie Smith“Downton Abbey”s over. It’s official. It ended in Grand Style tonight with everyone in tears. In the audience I mean. The larger than life cast of characters all had miraculously and ridiculously happy endings. Not the least of  them the lovelorn Lady Edith(Laura Carmichael) FINALLY heading down the grand Downton staircase as a bride, with a super-long silken train. Lovely. And of course, it reminds you of when she did this same thing a few seasons back and got jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony Stralen.(Boo! Hiss!)

Presided over by the great legend herself Dame Maggie Smith, as Violet, the peppery Dowager Countess of Grantham, “Downton Abbey” is simply one of the greatest TV series of all time.

Rob James-Collier1

And of course, you ask what was my favorite moment? Well, when Thomas Barrow, the perpetually lonely gay under-butler, was finally made butler! Well, I was just wiped out! Last episode, he tried to slash his wrists in a bathtub, and nearly died.

Rob James-Collier was the superb young actor who took us on Thomas’ long journey from a wine thief in Episode One, to WWI, where he shot himself in the hand to get out of military service, to kissing another valet and getting himself in trouble with the police for it.

Yes. You could just kiss a man in those days and it could have been the end of your career. Whatever career it was, it was ruined by something so innocent. Chilling. Frightening.

So when Thomas finally triumphed, it felt like a personal triumph, too.

As all the heterosexuals were pairing off at a dizzying pace, it was almost ridiculous. Lady Edith and the Earl of Hexham. Daisy and the new(ish)valet, who can’t read, Andy. Even Mrs. Patmore and Daisy’s benefactor/farmer Mr. Mason, and Cousin Isobel and Lord Merton. You could also see Moseley and Baxter eyeing each other as did Tom Branson and the new editor of Edith’s now successful magazine.

Lady Mary, of course had been married in the last episode  to her dashing racing car driver beau Henry Talbot, played to perfection by Matthew Goode, who has had quite a vigorous career in British films, and will go on to many more I predict.

Lady Mary 1That’s a lot of loose ends to tie up, but tie them up author Julian Fellowes did. It’s his great achievement in the end. He wrote every word and conceived all these great characters so vividly, so memorably, it’s hard to think that any of these talented actors are ever going to be able to top “Downton Abbey.”

Oh, and Anna and Bates had a baby. Her water broke in Lady Mary’s bedroom no less, so that’s where she had her little baby son.

The symbolism is getting a little heavy around here.

I’m so upset that it’s over. But there’s still more “Downton” to come. I think a movie is in the offing. Wouldn’t that be grand?

Lady Edith 1

In any case, “Downton Abbey” will simply never end. Not in our minds and hearts, anyway. It’s sooooo rare that television can touch us this way, and we’re so happy it did. And Bravos and Bravas to all concerned! May their futures be as bright and happy as this last episode!

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Downton Finale Tomorrow~Over So Quickly!

Downton Finale Tomorrow~Over So Quickly!

I guess it speaks to the excellence of its’ continued supremacy, ratings-wise and otherwise-wise. In every respect, “Downton Abbey” has continued its’ amazing level of suspenseful perfection all through its’ sublime Season Four. Yes! It’s almost over! It just flew by! It can’t be! Say it isn’t so! But tomorrow we experience a luscious, super-duper, two-hour(probably) finale! Centering around Lady Rose’s Coming Out as a debutante Ball and accompanying festivities.

What’s going to happen? What’s next? Well, for someone who watches every episode at least four times over, there are some hidden spoilers.

The finale will jump ahead a year. We know this because that’s what Lady Grantham revealed about her brassy American mother (Shirley MacLaine) and neer-do-well brother (Paul Giamatti)s returning to Downton for Rose’s Coming Out Ball, which also seems to be taking place at Buckingham Palace!

So a year from where we left off feeling awful about poor Edith’s pregnancy, she and Aunt Rosamund will have been long back from Switzerland, and presumably Edith’s sad unwanted unwed mother crisis will be long over. Aunt Rosamond( Samantha Bond) and the Dowager Countess of Grantham(Maggie Smith)’s scheme will have been successful in hiding poor Edith(the excellent Laura Carmichael)s shame. And I predict poor Edith will be sadder than ever.How much more bad luck can one person take?

The main question being will the vanished Mr.Michael Gregson ever turn up? He just may. But at the very last second and we’ll all have to wait til SEASON FIVE to see how this cliff-hanger turns out.

Bravo to Samantha Bond’s continuing development of Lady Rosamund Painsswick. Maybe next year she’ll even be listed in the show’s opening credit! And in her previous film life, in her youth, she used to be a James Bond girl!

It’ll be a year, too, that has gone by for the beleaguered Bates and Anna. And though the villainous valet Green will be long gone, the mystery of how he fell into the traffic on Picadilly, may be revealed. Or maybe that will be left til next season, too.

But be sure about it, Julian Fellowes will see that SOMEthing major happens to Anna and Bates, who now have replaced Matthew and Mary as the series unlikely but main love interest.

Penelope Wilton’s Cousin Isobel instead of being shunted aside and neglected after her only son Matthew’s tragic death seems to have become a more important character than ever. And in her own right. And she seems to have two prospective suitors in the good village Doctor Clarkson and also Mary’s godfather, Lord Whathisname, who sent her flowers on the last episode.

Wilton is a marvelous foil for the ever brilliant Maggie Smith. Watching the two of them constantly duel with each other, verbally, is a delicious delight of this and all the other seasons.

My fave Thomas (Rob James-Collier) has not had a lot to do this season so far. He’s not had another gay love interest, at least not yet. Jimmy(Ed Speelers) is still there, but nothing at all has happened between them and since the dastardly O’Brien’s abrupt departure, he’s not really had an ally downstairs. The new ladies maid Baxter seems taken up with Mr. Mosely now, of all people. It’s a touching twosome that Thomas doesn’t like for one second. He’ll be sure they don’t last.

If anybody seems poised to stir up more trouble for Bates and Anna, it’s him. With his insatiable curiosity about what’s happening in Downton, he won’t stop til he gets to the bottom of, well, everything. And ANYthing. He knows something has happened, but he doesn’t know what. But dollars to donuts he’ll find out in this episode.

And the great Shirley MacLaine’s proclamation that she now has no ladies maid may usher in Baxter’s quick exit a la O’Brien last season. Julian Fellowes doesn’t drop these juicy plot hints for nothing. And is Lady Susan, Rose’s hated mother going to return for her Coming Out? And O’Brien with her? Will Shrimpy, her father attend? I think that some of them might turn up. My money’s on Shrimpy.

And what will happen to Mary and her many beaux? My prediction. Nothing. Love Mary’s ascendance to be a take- charge, no-nonsense business woman in the running of the estate.It totally fits with her bossy personality. I don’t see either Lord Gillingham or either for the other two making any impact on Mary’s now-frozen assets. She’s turning into an Ice Queen, but it suits her.

It’s funny to note how Dan Stevens’ departure(and Matthew Crawley’s violent sudden death in a car crash at the end of Season Three) has not really slowed down Downton’s plot or appeal whatsoever. There are, after all, nearly 20 other characters to pick up the slack, and they are all excellent actors.

Bates and Anna, I feel, and their rather incredibly dark storyline this season, involving Anna’s rape, has certainly carried and dominated and propelled the season and provided Anna (Joanne Frogett) and Mrs. Hughes(Phyllis Logan) with many tremendously juicy scenes to play. And of course, Brendan Coyle as Bates is marvelous suggesting menace of all sorts. He’s almost turning in to a kind of Bill Sykes figure.

Bill Sykes was the terrifying villain in Dickens “Oliver Twist”. But we love Bates, er, don’t we?

Stay tuned. To be continued FOR SURE. I think they’ve already started shooting Season Five in London!

Downton Abbey Season 3 ~ Ep.6 ~ There Are Fairies at the Bottom of the Abbey

SPOILER! SPOILERS! AND MORE SPOILERS! ALERT!

CODE VIOLET!

Or rather, as she’s called by some of her family, Cousin Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) was in full purple sail in Ep.6, the penultimate episode of “Downton Abbey” Season 3. Yes, dear readers, dear Downtonians, Season 3 is ending next week. *sob*sigh*sharp intake of breath* Alas!

Quality television is sooo rare these days and “Downton Abbey”s got it. In Spades.

And in the dreamy episode 6, Cousin Violet prompts Cousin Isobel to say “Have you changed your pills?” In one delicious set-to after the other, over Uber-social reformer Cousin Isobel’s (the superb Penelope Wilton) wanting to maintain former prostitute and former Downton maid, Ethel, as her cook and house-keeper.Shocking!

MEANWHILE!

Rob James-Collier’s sinister bad boy and head valet Thomas comes out of the shadows and is really at the center of this magnificent episode, which is, yes, an exploration of the attitudes towards homosexuality in the unenlightened Roaring 20s. In Post War Downton, everyone downstairs seemed to be roaring at Thomas. So bad Thomas, become poor gay Thomas and overwhelming sympathetic.

Thomas’ redemption began in Ep. 5 as he broke down crying at the death of Lady Sybil in childbirth in Ep.4. Rob James-Collier’s breakdown was as involving and empathetic and it was surprising in its’ power. “She didn’t even know I was alive!” he sobs “She was the only one who was nice to me!”

The death of Lady Sybil is going to be an ever-occuring and equivalent touchstone to the”Upstairs Downstairs” death of Lady Marjorie on the Titanic. Everything from now on will keep referring back to the untimely death of the lovely Lady Sybil at 24 years of age.

One keeps coming back to the fact of “Why? Why did they kill her off in such unceremonious, but incredibly compelling dramatic fashion?” And I keep coming up with the answer Well, she couldn’t act very well, so what else were they going to do with her?

With her abrupt passing, Tom Branson, the stupendous Alan Leech has really come into his own as the grieving father, former chauffeur and left-behind Irish son-in-law, who, in this episode begins to take over the running of the estate. He’s the new manager. And as magnificently played by Leech, he’s also becoming a very major character and dare I
say it? A heart-throb.

Which brings me back to the other emerging male star of Season 3, Rob James-Collier’s Thomas, who in this wonderful and also horrifying episode is called upon to play depths of emotion, his character has never been called upon to play so far. There are layers upon layers of dreadful humiliation as his frustrated gay feelings have nowhere to goand get him in to terrible trouble this episode.

Led on by the devilish Miss O’Brien, a former friend, Thomas thinks that Jimmy(Ep Speleers), the flirty footman is infatuated with him.

And so one night, he attempts a very beautiful kiss of the sleeping footman, the gorgeous Jimmy, who awakens and threatens to punch Thomas’s headlights out.

This disturbance is witnessed by the witless Alfred Nugent, and is reported upon by both Alfred and Jimmy to the Head Butler the super proper, Mr. Carson, who is revolted. And calls Thomas in to tell him he’s “foul” among other choice insults as he prepares to fire him. Thomas movingly says as he’s leaving”I may not be like you. But I’m not foul.”

And the major plot now revolves in this gripping episode of what are they going to do with Poor Gay one-handed Thomas?

James-Collier really proves himself to be a considerable actor as he is called upon by the brilliant, subtle script to play all the levels of loneliness, hurt, heart-break and degradation that homosexuals of that time, and earlier, were subjected to.

Oscar Wilde’s name was mentioned and that scandal that landed Wilde in jail in the Gay ’90s, was a mere two decades earlier than Downton’s time of 1920. And Thomas is constantly threatened with jail for his innocent, aborted kiss. As Wilde was. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment at hard labor because he was gay. It ruined his health and destroyed his talent.

And of course, who is behind all these machinations? Thomas’ former partner-in-crime Miss O’Brien, the wicked witch of Downton, who, I’m happy to say, does get her comeuppance quite grandly at the end of these two hours of television glory.

Oh! And Bates gets out of jail! I almost forgot! And it is in Bates’ and Anna’s new home, a cozy little cottage on the estate, bien sur, that we watch them happily refurbish as poor, gay, lonely Thomas sinks deeper and deeper into depression and hopelessness that the wicked trap, ,which evil Miss O’Brien has set for him snaps shut.

There is a saving punch-line to all this, but neither Bates nor Anna knows what it means, and why it causes Miss O’Brien so suddenly to heel, bitch.

And the words that brought her down off her broom=stick and back to earth with a resounding thud?

“Her Ladyship’s bar of soap”.

Anyone who has been watching since Season One will know what that means, but it’s too complicated and dastardly to explain here.

As I have to also comment on Lady Edith’s emerging career as a newspaper columnist! Laura Carmichael also outdoes herself in this episode and she begins, through writing to find herself. I could identify.

It also takes this busy, jam-packed episode to London, where she is chaperoned by her Aunt Rosamond, Lady Painswyck. And so we get to see more of that delightful character. who is the Dowager(Maggie Smith)’s smart London daughtet, and watch with unalloyed joy as Lady Edith, the mouse of the glamorous Grantham family, begins to assert and find herself through journalism! A column! She becomes a blogger, Roaring ’20’s style, and of course, her editor falls in love with her.

Laura Carmichael is magnificent as she goes from the recently jilted bride, left at the altar in Ep.2, and we delight in her triumph as she becomes the butterfly that was still in the cocoon at Downton and begins to spread her wings ~ a bit. Though she is still very shy and proper. And she can’t believe people are responding to her writing! I know how that feels!

ANOTHER wonderful Downton episode, two hours of heaven, then next week, two more hours and it will be gone until next season. And yes, there is going to be a season 4 and maybe much, much more according to a Vanity Fair article on Julian Fellowes, whose brilliant and sole creation this is. He does all the writing of all the episodes of all the seasons himself! It’s all him! It amazes me!

Because that almost never is allowed to happen in American television, which is why British television is so superior to ours almost always. Because the British have this thing about “The Writer” and it’s called respect. And it’s a beautiful thing.

“Downton Abbey” which is becoming the most successful series ever on PBS, can be seen on Sundays at 9pm on Ch.13 in New York and is rebroadcast on Monday at 1am. Or rather Tuesday morning at 1am. It can also be seen on Ch.21 WLIW on Mondays at 8pm.Don’t miss it!

“Downton Abbey” Ep.4 ~ A Masterpiece of Shock and Awe

Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!

If you haven’t seen Ep.4 of Season 3 of “Downton Abbey”, the season that is blowing minds right now, don’t read any further.

It’s a masterpiece, I feel, of dramatic series television. I’m in shock at what happened and in awe of the stupendous, brilliant performances of the entire cast, in this, what had to be their most challenging episode. Fresh off their SAG award win on Sunday for Best Drama Series, Downton Abbey in this horrifying episode more than lived up to its’ accolades.

What happens in Episode 4 that is so shattering, so shocking, I feel like I can only talk about it in a whisper as if I were one of Downton Abbey’s loyal but distraught servants…

Lady Sybil Crawley dies in childbirth.

Yes. They’ve killed off one of the hit series major characters, the youngest and most beautiful of the three Crawley sisters, who are at the center of Downton’s great story.

SUCH a shock. I couldn’t believe I was seeing it happen, but it was.

Lady Sybil was giving birth at home, Downton, of course, even though she’s the one who had run off with the studly chauffeur, Irish rebel Tom Branson(the excellent Allen Leech)and there are TWO doctors attending her. One the local doc,Played by David Robb, who’s been on the show since the beginning, and one, a knight, played by Tim Piggott who Lord Grantham has brought in from London.

They fight, as Sybil is struggling in birth bangs and their heated dialogue is a summation of sorts of the thoughts about birth-ing in the days before modern medicine. The family doctor diagnoses eclampsia(sp?) and possibly fatal situation that requires Sybil to be taken immediately to a hospital and a Caesarian section be performed and Sir Whatever is saying “It’s all right. It’s perfectly normal.”

And unfortunately the family doctor is right. And the beautiful 24-year-old comely heroine passes away in scene after horrifying scene where the actress Jessica Brown Findlay gives the best performance she’s ever given thus far.

I kept thinking of my red-headed Scottish great-grandmother, whom I never knew, of course, who also died in childbirth, leaving her surviving daughter, my beloved grandmother traumatized forever.Women often died in childbirth in those days and writer Fellowes obviously wanted to depict this tragic situation, and he did so in a profoundly compelling way. The horror of Sybil’s death seems worse than the horrors we saw in Season 2 of World War I.

In Downton’s stellar cast of twenty+plus leads, I always felt she was the weakest link, acting-wise. She was merely pretty and not up to the nuance of “Downton”s complex, brilliant script by Jullian Fellowes, just barely skating through on her sensational dark good looks and voluptuous figure.

I hope they didn’t kill her off for bad acting. But possibly they did. In any case, she, young, beautiful, rebellious, is dead, and looking realistically like hell in the process. Poor thing.Death did not become her.

But this really shocked me. To kill off a leading character in a sensationally successful hit series is just never done. And one didn’t expect this to happen to arguably the most beautiful young woman on the show. One didn’t see this coming. And the impact on the remaining two Crawley sisters, the superb Lady Mary(Michelle Dockery) and the marvelous Lady Edith(Laura Carmichael), their parents Lord and Lady Grantham(Hugh Bonneville and Maureen McGovern) is shattering. And of course, affords Dame Maggie Smith as the grieving grandmother a chance to show off her legendary dramatic chops as her heart breaks with the rest of her family’s at the grim injustice of this tragedy. As we see her walk away from the strong-arm of the butler, leaning on her cane for strength, she seems barely able to make it to the doorway.

And of course the emotion and drama run high throughout this entire episode the most powerful of the entire series. So far. Most moving of all I found was the surviving husband’s, Irish Tom Branson’s, helpless grief. His baby girl survives, but he has lost his beautiful, young wife, whom he desperately loved.

I was devastated. Truly. As if someone I had known had died. I feel like I’ve been mourning poor Lady Sybil
all week. I’ve watched Ep.4 three times already as it kept coming up on different PBS stations.

For those of you who MUST know, after its initial airing on Sunday night at 9pm EST on Ch.13 here in New York and rebroadcast on WLIW at 8pm on Monday night and then again at 1AM Monday night.

It’s probably coming on again right now somewhere, and of course, you can watch it IMMEDIATELY online at pbs.org.

The last image is of the sobbing father, Tom, holding his new-born baby daughter in his arms, staring out an upstairs window of the vast estate, almost as if he and his little child are prisoners there now.

I wasn’t expecting this. There are three more episodes to go, and they’ve GOT to top this one. It was a killer. I can’t imagine how.But I can’t wait to tune in again.

Downtown Abbey, Season 3, Ep.3 ~ Recap & Review

“Downton Abbey” continues on as such a delectable television delight that I just feel compelled to write about it again! Right now! And this will contain spoilers so if you don’t want to know what happened in Ep.3 last night, then DO NOT READ ONWARDS! SPOILER ALERT TO THE MAX!

Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, does not have cancer. Poor Lady Edith has rebounded remarkably well from her altar-side betrayal by the spineless Lord Strallin, and writes a letter to the London Times about British women getting the vote, and the episode ends with it being published!

Edith, it seems, is now an embryonic Suffragette, and we glimpse that this may be her character’s main focus from now on. And good for Edith!

When her older, beautiful sister, Lady Mary, tries to commiserate with Edith over her abandonment by Lord Strallin, Edith dismisses it with “that was horrid” and moves right on to the next topic! British Stiff Upper Lip philosophy in action! Which can be summarized as “Don’t talk about it, get on with it!” She’s doing as her grandmamma, the Dowager Countess told her, “Stop whining! And DO something!”

Her younger sister, the beauteous Lady Sybil, y’know, the one who “Married beneath her station” to the Irish Chauffeur, Tom Branson, has been stranded in Ireland as her hunky hubbie has fled from the country due to the start of the “The Irish War”,it seems he’s been instrumental in perpetrating, including the burning down of a castle of a family who was friends with the Crawleys, the Drumgooles.

The Dowager Countess Grantham otherwise known as Cousin Violet otherwise known as Dame Maggie Smith, puts it all in perspective with a “Thank goodness! That house was hideous!”

And her son, the Earl, promptly shuts her up.”Mother, please! You’re not helping matters any!”

But Tom Branson seems to have been directly involved in planning the conflagration and is now sought by the police and has had to flee the country in fear of his life, leaving his pregnant wife behind.

“How could you?” Lord Grantham exclaims!

Lady Sybil finally arrives unscathed, but now neither of them can leave Downton until their child is born, which means it will now be born British, not Irish, as father Tom wanted.

There has always been so much trouble in Ireland I just don’t know when one war begins there and another ends. The Troubles there really never ended until modern times.

And the pregnant Lady Sybil, and mainly Branson, are really the focal points of this episode, which is more of a place-holder than the last, explosive one. Although as you can see, there was plenty going on at Downton, always.

Meanwhile, below-stairs, the stalwart Anna is dismayed that her jailed husband Bates has stopped writing to her. And Bates, and we see him often in various prison situations, is equally disturbed that she has not written him, but the “bit of bother” in the jail is eventually resolved by the episode’s end with Anna going to bed with the packets of Bates’ dirty envelopes. Ah! How ineffably,painfully romantic!

Meanwhile, in another fast developing subplot, the fired housemaid Ethe Parks, who did not look like a major character at the start of her storyline in Season 2, now is taking more and more center stage as the Seasons wear on. She has become a prostitute and ends up going to Mrs. Crawley(the wonderful Penelope Wilton)for aid for herself and her little boy who has no father. She wrenchingly at last lets him go into the hands of the boy’s late, ne-er-do-well father’s parents, the Bryants, IOW, his grandparents, who are, of course, conveniently wealthy. And can make sure the boy goes “to the right schools” which is everything to these people in these times.

Penelope Wilton endeared herself forever to me by her memorable performance in this year “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” She was the dark character in that light film, the one who can’t change and just doesn’t like India.

But I digress. Mrs. Crawley or Cousin Isabelle, Matthew’s mother, is also aflame with righteous reformist zeal as she not only aids damaged-goods Ethel, but in the end takes her in, at least temporarily, as her house-maid.

Their housekeeper/cook, Mrs. Byrd is scandalized.”It is not part of my duties to wait on the likes of her.”!?!

Downstairs is also all lit up with the arrival of the sexiest new footman imaginable (played engagingly by Ed Speleers), who calls himself Jimmy, but whom Mr. Bates insists is now “James.” And suddenly we’re reminded that Thomas is gay, and yet ANOTHER sleeping-dog subplot is re-awakened, as we see Thomas’ eyes lighting up at the sign of comely Jimmy.

All the downstairs ladies like rock-star footman Jimmy, too, like the hapless Daisy, the lovelorn kitchen-maid who is in this Episode promoted to “Assistant Cook.” Mr. Bates urges Lord Grantham to get this staff “back up to snuff” as they were pre-War. And a sassy, new kitchen maid Ivy is hired, whom Daisy, of course, at first sight, doesn’t like one bit.

And Miss O’Brien, who is usually referred to in the butch-est of terms as “O’Brien,” is seen lurking about in the background wearing her darkest blacks as Thomas ogles the sexy Jimmy. Uh-oh! Not since the Wizard of Oz and Margaret Hamilton have we seen such a witch!Cue the hisses and boos every time she comes on!

And I can’t wait for the NEXT episode, next Sunday! 9pm!

Meanwhile, Episode 3 is now up on PBS.org, in case you missed it.

“Downton Abbey” is the best series on television right now. I don’t know HOW you can bear to miss it!

“Downton Abbey” is back and better than ever!

Whatever was “Downton Abbey” going to do?

What do you do to follow-up World War I as a plot point and setting? Well, you just continue with the high level of scintillating scripting by series creator and sole writer Julian Fellowes and the superb acting of the outstanding British cast that the public has come to know and to love, upstairs and below-stairs. And yes, the great “Downton Abbey” is more than back and, I’m happy to say, is better than ever.

I’m glad I waited to sing its’ praises until now, un petit en retard, the airing of the new Season 3, Episode 3 is tonight at 9pm EST.

SPOILER ALERTS!!!!!!

Because in Ep. 2, the subplot of what happens to middle sister, the less good-looking of the three glamorous Crawley sisters, Lady Edith, just lands on one like an unexpected ton of proverbial bricks,just as it does poor Edith. She is shockingly abandoned at the altar by her groom, the older, and partially wounded in the War, Lord Anthony Strellin.Bastard!

It is heartbreaking and beautifully under-played by Laura Carmichael, as the luckless Lady Edith, and her mother the Countess of Grantham, Elizabeth McGovern. Lady Edith’s two grandmothers are no slouches in the sympathy department either as the magnificent Dame Maggie Smith and the dazzling Shirley MacLaine, offer their support to the sobbing Lady Edith, too, in wrenching scene after scene that tears your heart out and throws it on the grounds of the sumptuously manicured estate.

I was not expecting to be so impacted by this storyline of the less lovely, but utterly sympathetic, sister’s May-December hook-up with much older Lord Stallin. But yet I was. And better yet, it was an utter surprise.

You just don’t see the stupendously well-mannered and stiff-upper-lipped Lord Strallin doing something so cowardly and dastardly as this. But he does. And now the series has a new villain! Although we may never see him again. The least he could do is pop off due to stress and leave poor Edith all his money, house, grounds, the lot!

Humiliating poor Edith in front of an entire church-full of the assembled landed gentry of The County AND their horrified servants! It’s a trauma that you know is going to echo down this season, and the next and the next. Will Edith ever be lucky in love? All signs now point to “No.”

And this unbelievable, shocking debasement comes in Episode Two, right after her older sister, the beautiful, but difficult and opinionated Lady Mary (the superb Golden Globe nominee Michelle Dockery) has married so well and so grandly to the series dashing and desirable heart-throb, Matthew Crawley(Dan Stevens).Lady Mary and Matthew got married in grand style in Episode One, only to witness Lady Edith’s disgrace in Ep.2 Never a dull moment at Downton!

And Downstairs, the plot thickens and sickens, too. Mrs. Hughes(Phyllis Logan) the saintly housekeeper may have cancer. The abandoned and disgraced former housemaid Ethel(Amy Nuttall), has become a prostitute. AND former partners-in-crime,the villainous, but handsome gay valet Thomas(Rob James-Collier) and the equally witch-y Ladies’ Maid to Lady Grantham, Mrs. O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran)are now at each others throats,threatening each other, forecasting all kinds of skullduggery to come.

Worrisome and interesting, also, is the contrast of continuing downstairs problems of dutiful Anna,(Joanna Froggatt) head house maid, who married and fell in love with the valet Bates(Brendan Coyle), who is now in jail for the murder of his ex-wife, the no-good blackmailer Vera.

This May-December love story, with Holloway prison thrown in, has proven tremendously popular as “Free Bates” T-shirts being sold on the PBS website abound.

The intrepid Anna takes it into her hands to go out into the world beyond Downton, in this case, London, and try to find out just what happened to the loathsome Vera Bates. Was it murder? And if not her beloved husband, then who? Or was it suicide? She tracks down a neighbor of Vera’s in the East End and bribes her to talk about Vera’s last day. I think gets some clues, even though she doesn’t know it yet.

One) that Vera was scrubbing her nails quite violently the last time her friend saw her and
Two)that she was surrounded by rain-drops that made her look like she had a halo, according to the aggrieved friend.

Mark my words, Agatha Christie fans, those tiny details mean SOMEthing!

And one never tires of the endless interior and exterior shots of Highclere Castle, otherwise known as Downton Abbey itself. It’s presence (it IS one of England’s stately homes after all) continues to overwhelm its’ inhabitants, and it is itself the series focal point and most awe-inspiring character.

Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) looks like he’s losing all his and his rich American wife’s money, too,in Episode One. And her mother, the uber-rich American, Mrs. Martha Levinson (a perfectly brassy Shirley MacLaine)though in residence for Mary’s wedding, won’t give them a red cent.

The worry about just what is going to happen to Downton, and therefore the entire series, was just enough to start “Downton Abbey”s Season 3 off with a bang and I know if they can manage to pull us all back in WITHOUT the backdrop and drama of World War I, well, then we’re well and hooked all over again, and in for a full season of Downton drama and delight.

However, I do have to point out that Season 3, like many “seasons” of British television is only 7 episodes long! And so, you better make your date with Downtown tonight at 9pm.

And if you’re out and can’t be in to catch it, PBS.org is playing all the episodes online starting the next day, Monday. For a limited time. So one way or the other you can’t miss the magical magnificence of “Downton Abbey.”

Masterpiece “Downton Abbey” Swirls Its’ Way to a Magnificent Conclusion!

I am sooooo addicted to Masterpiece Theatre’s well, masterpiece, “Downton Abbey”! I was wondering when I was going to have the time and space to write about it, but now, with only one more episode left, the Second Season Finale, there’s no time left to start throwing superlatives at it! But don’t worry, at least its last show will ALSO be two hours long, like tonight’s was.

With all the Oscar excitement happening every other minute, I have barely had a chance to catch my blogger’s breath to spend the time and give the respect  to “Downton Abbey” that it deserves for being the magnificent achievement in series television that it is. It’s overwhelming. As all great art should be.

I have NEVER been so swept up by a British TV series in decades! Decades! Of course, it reminds one of “Upstairs, Downstairs” which I love as well. It’s all about the VERY rich Crawley(what a dreadful name) family, and their three marriage-aged daughters, Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil AND their servants.

The difference between “Upstairs, Downstairs” was that it was set very firmly at 25 Eaton Place, a town house, in the grandest of styles, in London itself. It was about life in a CITY house, with servants. And lots of stairs.

“Downton Abbey” is set in an overwhelmingly majestic mansion that is nearly a castle in Yorkshire. DEFINITELY the country. And there’s a lot of stairs there, too, but with grand stair-cases.

And presiding over all of Downton’s magnificence, is the brilliant Dame Maggie Smith, always a personal favorite of mine, since, well, since forever.

I had the great good fortune to have seen her onstage in her youth(and mine) do Margery Pinchwife in “The Country Wife” ( with the divine and busty Patricia Routledge as Lady Fidget, who yes, was hilarious, and yes, couldn’t stop fidgeting!) And she was equally at home as Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” which she did under the direction of the late great Ingmar Bergman, which I saw her do in the West End.

Maggie was overpowering and as excellent in serious roles, though  she is today  mainly known for her great comedy. And certainly her Dowager Countess of Grantham, the grandest of grande dames, is the grandmother of the Crawley brood. She seems simply hilarious, but as World War I broke out in the Second Season, Dame Maggie began to be able to show that her Dowager Countess had real metal as well as smarts AND heart. It’s a magnificent, career-capping performance that matches the majesty of Highcleere Castle,(yes, it really IS a castle) that is standing in as the fictional Downton Abbey.

Everyone in the series matches Dame Maggie. They HAVE to! All the many characters REALLY engage you and keep you watching no matter what. Particular favorites of mine are the two eldest Crawley daughters, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael).

Michelle Dockery, who is new to me (as are much of the cast except of course, Dame Maggie and American actress Maureen McGovern, as the mother of Crawley girls and Lady Grantham’s daughter-in-law) is SUCH a discovery as a new British leading lady. She has much of the weight of the series love story to carry and she does it with tremendous power, as she high-lights all of the many facets of Lady Mary’s VERY complicated character. You love her. You hate her. You want her to be happy, then you don’t want that at all. Then you love her again.

The same can be said of the less-seen Lady Edith, who is just as conflicted. Laura Carmichael looks a little like Maggie Smith when she was young, and you can see her being the grand-daughter who takes after her granny. Although as the plain, middle-sister sandwiched between two beauties Lady Mary and Lady Sybil, she has a very hard time of it. Especially in Series One, where her constant sparring and betrayal of Lady Mary, formed much of the drama pre-war in “Downton Abbey,” which they all just refer to as Downton. As if it were a person in their lives.

And one of the great glories of this superb series is Downton really is a tangible presence in all its’ characters’ lives. They can’t live with it, and they can’t live without it. And they are all living in a world that very shortly will be gone with the wind. Literally. As World War I changes everything.

In Series Two, I was not ready for my beloved British servants/masters series to turn into a war-time drama, but dear readers, dear cineastes, the War only lasts for part of Series Two. Enough to take away one of the most memorable characters, but I decided not to spoil any of this once-in-a-lifetime viewing pleasure, so I won’t put any spoilers here.

But suffice it to say, I will have A LOT MORE to say about this wonderful, unbelievable triumph of great writing, Julian Fellowes, who was the author of “Gosford Park” and great acting and directing. Down to the smallest part all the roles are perfectly cast, and “Downton Abbey” ends its Second Series on next Sunday on PBS. It’s another two-hour episode, and it never flags. It never gets tired. And it’s always enthralling.

So my greatest rave would be two words SEE IT! Next Sunday! At 9pm! The Sunday BEFORE the Oscars!

But more good news is that they are going to have a Series Three which starts in 1920! And Shirley MacLaine is joining the cast as Lady Cora(Maureen McGovern’s mother) and the Crawley girls’ American grandmother. That should be a hoot and a half!

My favoritie line of THIS evening’s episode ~ Maggie Smith to her grand-daughter Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith “Edith, don’t be depressive! It’s soo middle class!”

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