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Is “Downton Abbey” Winding Down? Say It Isn’t So!

Downtown 1Oh no! Say it isn’t so! But could “Downton Abbey” one of the most beloved television series of all time be running out of…..steam? Time is marching on, all over the Crawley family, and well, when I saw that penultimate scene of SPOILER ALERT!!!!!

Carson proposing marriage to Mrs. Hughes, and her accepting! Oh no! I knew the end must be drawing nigh.

As we head into 1925, I just saw so many storylines being wrapped up by screenwriter/genius Julien Fellowes that…well, it was all just too much, and too obvious. Lord Grantham and his Lady wife, Cora, have accepted poor sorrowful Edith(whose always been crying heretofore)’s love child, Marigold, as one of their own. Tom, the Irish chaffeuur-turned-son-in-law is heading off to America with his daughter Sybbie. Rose has gotten married, to a Jew, who doesn’t look Jewish at all, and THEY are also headed off to the US.

Mrs. Patmore has bought her own Bed and Breakfast. And Lady Grantham has also accepted her new ladies’ maid, Baxter’s criminal past.

The Dowager (Dame Maggie Smith), grander and wittier than ever, spurned her Russian suitor’s request that they run away together. And Dear Cousin Isabel(Penelope Wilton) was also proposed to by Lord Merton, and she ALSO turned him down. And that as they say is that.

Beautiful executed costumed and performed by all concerned. Don’t get me wrong. And with a terrific gay story line this year for the loveless Thomas(the excellent Rob James-Collier) exposing even further the gay ills of his time, there WERE high-points and I enjoyed every gloriously gowned minute of it.

But then there was the perplexing situation that arose around last year’s rape victim, the stalwart Anna(Joanne Frogatt won a much deserved Golden Globe for it). It seems now SHE was suspected of killing her predator Green, throwing him under a bus in Piccadilly Circus. And in a mirror image of her equally stalwart husband Mr. Bates’s jail term in Season 3, the saintly Anna is now imprisoned(falsely we all know) and I just said “HOLT ON A MINUTE!”

Fellowes was needlessly re-cycling plots for his marvelous characters, and tarnishing them in the process. To have Anna dragged to jail. And then TWO marriage proposals for the two older ladies on the show, it was just too much of a red flag, saying that he’s winding everything up at Downton and/or running out of ideas.

And letting us all down lightly.

All good things must come to an end, and it is said that Fellowes has been offered a lucrative television deal here in the States for a series about the rich in  America at the turn of the last century called “The Gilded Age.” And he like the characters of Tom and Rose all have their sites set on America. Say it isn’t so!

“Downton Abbey” really raised the level of Series Television to new heights of excellence in every single category, but now it, like the British way of life and class system it portrays, is beginning to fall apart. Or at least getting slightly frayed around the edges.

I hope this isn’t true, but…

 

Downton’s Back! And as charming/involving as ever!

Yes! We can all relax! They are all back!

And how we’ve missed them! “Downton Abbey” England’s answer to “Breaking Bad” is just as addictive, and could be called “Breaking Good.” Everyone’s best foot is forward in a two-hour whopper of a Season premiere.

No spoilers here, so feel free to read on. The joys of Downton are what they ever were ~ Delightful, nonpariel, and utterly charming,  AND involving! I found myself moved to tears at least twice.

How could it not be so? We’ve spent three years getting to know and love these characters, suffering their highs AND lows. I felt like a much-beloved friend died when Lady Sybil passed so unexpectedly in child birth last year. I was sent reeling. For days!

Knowing that the highly popular romantic hero Matthew Crawley, played so well by the dashing Dan Stevens, had decided not to renew his contract, and that he would be written out. RE: He would have to die some horrible death, which he did. I knew he was going so I wasn’t AS effected as I was by Lady Sybil’s equally abrupt passing.

I think it’s not a spoiler to say that his absence is deeply felt by one and all. And it’s six months later, and grief is hanging heavy in the air. Downton does grief well. But I can’t go further than that right now. I have to assume that this first gigantic come-back episode is still playing for some in different time zones, and I said no spoilers.

But I will continue. I think it’s OK to say you’re going to see A LOT of Carson, the head butler, in this episode. And that in the first minute, the hated ladies maid O’Brien departs with Lady Rose’s family. Her mother Susan was very taken with O’Brien in the last episode when they were in Scotland, and she hires her away from the distraught Lady Grantham and whisks her away to India.

And from that, much plot ensues. I miss her already. I wonder if Siobhan Finneran, who played bad so magnificently just decided to not renew her contract, too, and that she got tired of being so thoroughly despised by millions of viewers,and that she just wanted OUT. And will pop up in some sunshiny comedy, being maternal with many children. Or that writer Julian Fellowes just decided he had gone so dark with her, that there was nowhere else to go with so dastardly a villain. But I missed her, too. I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I did.

Like Lord Grantham, (the great Hugh Bonneville continues his benevolent reign) We can all identify with his “I don’t want things to change” attitude. That everything should stay “as they were”. But ah, life, is not like that! And Downton Abbey is subjected to many,many changes as the Roaring ’20’s begin to ROAR and the household both upstairs and downstairs is not immune to sands of time drip, drip, dripping through the hourglass. It’s not the chaos of WWI, but let’s say turmoil, if not chaos, ensues.

But they’ll always be an England.

I wondered what would happen to the excellent Penelope Wilton, Matthew’s well-meaning, socially conscious mother, now that she’s a widow, but author Fellowes does not neglect her character at all. She’s not shunted to the side, and is given A LOT to do. And I was very, very glad to see this. Wilton was able to show considerable range, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that. Her cousin Isobel is an essential character now more than ever. This is where the British really do excel. The 60-ish Wilton would’ve been written out in an American drama. The British revere and respect their character actresses of une age certaine.

And of course Dame Maggie Smith is Dame Maggie Smith, dominating all she surveys and every scene she’s in. And of course, the entire Abbey and the series itself. What WOULD they do without her? She lifts the level. She raises all boats.

And I have a warm spot in my heart for the lovelorn second sister, Lady Edith, played to perfection by the lovelier than ever Lucy Carmichael. I’ll just leave it at that.

Bravo! And I can’t wait til NEXT week! This mammoth two-hour season starter was setting up a lot and introducing new characters, and I liked all of it.

There were a few minor quibbles. But as Noel Coward once wrote “Don’t quibble, Sybil.” And quibbles are spoilers, so just  stay tuned!

“Downton Abbey” Ends and Begins to Shoot Season 4

Well, that was a BANG-up finale to perhaps the strongest season yet, Season 3, of “Downton Abbey,” a few weeks back now. It’s taken me this long to come to terms with its’ being over soooo quickly, and also so tragically…

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!SPOILER ALERT!

I knew Dan Stevens, who played the handsome, perfect Matthew Crawley, was leaving at the end of this season. There had been MUCHO publicity about it. How could this be? No Matthew! Oh Nooooo! You can’t DO that, Author Julian Fellowes! Noooo! How will we, nevermind Lady Mary, his pregnant wife, do without him?????

But Stevens’ three year contract was up, and I personally feel he’ll rue the day. I don’t think his fans will ever forgive him for leaving. And he’ll never live up to the career high of “Downton” and the classic, unforgettable heart-throb he created in Matthew Crawley.

So, we knew his character’s end was nigh. But it was the really harsh and violent CHOICE of how they choose to write him out, erase him completely, that was startling. Yes, Matthew Crawley is dead. Really dead. Dead as a Dickensian door-nail.

And the sight of the intense close-up of his handsome corpse with the blood running in a rivulet down his beautiful, dead blonde face was really something that stuck in my mind. I wish I could get it OUT of my mind! It’s haunting! That’s the word!That someone so young and so dashing and so rich, someone who had survived the trenches of WWI, only to die, like James Dean, too soon, too soon…WELL!

And as I watch that episode over and over and over again.
(What ELSE is there to watch on TV that’s THAT good? I mean, really!)

Well, that shot and the scenes of marital bliss leading up to it with his address to his newborn baby son, “My dear little chap.” Well, it began to get to me more and more the more I re-watched it. And of course, the tragedy of Lady Mary, the ever more and more magnificent Michelle Dockery’s fate, as a newly widowed single mother, is even more magnified the more that I see it. The happiest of images of her in that sun-filled room and her little baby grabbing at her finger…*sob*

But not to worry, dear fellow, Downtonians. They are already shooting Season 4. And we know Shirley MacLaine will be back for a least one more go ’round with the legend herself Dame Maggie Smith…The way the show keeps moving forward in time, the Dowager Countess must be now circling 100!

Another departure I saw coming in Ep.7 was the exit of Downton’s own Wicked Witch of the West, O’Brien. Author Fellowes had pretty much written himself and O’Brien’s character, into a corner with the utter blackness of O’Brian’s hideous, irredeemable soul, so she had to go.

And at the end that episode, we see her cozying up to Lady Susan, who is not at all happy with HER Lady’s maid, and is about to be posted to Bombay with her husband Cousin Shrimpy. Et voila! There goes O’Brien off to deepest, darkest India.

And I imagine Siobhan Finneran, the excellent Irish actress who has had the difficult job of making us love to hate O’Brien, for three seasons now, may have just had enough of this unrelenting, no-where-to-go-but-down character.

That brief scene in the happy, new love nest of the ideal working class couple Anna and Bates, where Bates whispers the words “Her Ladyship’s Soap” into O’Brian’s shocked ear. Well! It sends a chill down O’Brian’s spine that I felt, too, and sends her packing from the Bates’ house without her even having had her tea!

“Get Back in the Knife Box, Miss Sharp!” Indeed.

What will Season 4 bring? Well, STAYED TUNED! I know I will be!

“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.

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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