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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!

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!

TIFF ads names to Supp.Oscar Race & “Lincoln” trailer sounds WRONG!

TIFF is SUCH a leveler. And always a surprise,too. Coming out of “Quartet,” one of the hottest tickets in town, was not only a VERY major Oscar chance at Best Actress for Dame Maggie Smith, but also for her supporting co-star, the other female member of the titular quartet of ex-Opera singers, Pauline Collins.

Collins dithers delightfully, and has alllll the audiences’ sympathy in the big, soon-to-be-infamous “Flower Scene” with Dame Maggie. I will say no more.It’s a massive spoiler. Once that scene happened I knew “Oscar Nomination for Pauline in Supporting.”

She’s been nominated before, too. For Best Actress, a number of years back, for “Shirley Valentine” and so she’s no stranger to Oscar.

A very solid supporting turn is done by Willliam H. Macy in “The Sessions” as a conflicted Catholic priest, who has to listen to all of the FOR SURE ROCK SOLID BEST ACTOR NOMINEE John Hawkes’ awkward sexual confesstions. It’s comic, but he’s very good (he always is) and I don’t think he’s even been nominated before. Shame, Academy, shame…Unless it was for “Fargo” many moons ago…

Jude Law in “Anna Karenina” is a shoo-in for a Supp. Actor nod, and maybe even a win, as his almost unrecognizable turn as Anna’s dull-as-paint husband Karenin. He shaved his hairline back and wears tiny little specatacles that transform his face entirely. And his performance as a stiff, repressed beaureaucrat ,who is boring  his wife Anna to tears, never bores the audience. No mean feat.

Then we have the always nominatable Phillp Seymour Hoffman, in what is really a lead, in “The Master.” The Venice Film Festival jury gave both Hoffmand and co-star Joaquin Phoenix a joint Best Actor Award.

Also finding herself in the Supporting category may be a surprised and always naked Helen Hunt, who thought she was playing a lead in “The Sessions.”Oscar Goddess Sasha Stone always points out how the Academy always awards female nudity and no one, believe me, NO ONE has ever shown so much of herself onscreen as Helen Hunt does as a sex “worker” in this terrific tearjerker about a man in an iron lung (Hawkes) who wants to finally experience sex before he dies. He does. And he does. And that’s the plot of “The Seesions.”

And from earlier in the year, before the essential TIFF-winnowing, we have both Dame Maggie Smith(yes, HER again) and her Downtown Abbey co-star Penelope Wilton in the box-office/senior citizen smash “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”both being giving campaigns from Fox Seachlight in Supporting. And so is Bill Nighy for that film.

Don’t know whether they’ve dropped Dwight Henry off their campaign roster for this excellent non-actor’s first ever performances as Qu’venzhane Wallis, dead beat dad in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

And last but not least, let’s not overlook Michael Pena’s fine, fine work in the police actioner “End of Watch.” He could be this year’s Demian Bechir.

I happened to watch the just-dropped “Lincoln” trailer today. Once, first, without sound, and then again tonight with it. And at first I thought all those early Oscar predictions of Tom O’Neil’s crew at “Gold Derby” nevermind “The Gurus o’ Gold”‘ were right on…then WITH the sound, everybody’s voices sounded WRONG. Esp. Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln! He looks great but sounds like a baseball player! Brad Pitt in “Moneyball!”

If it looks like they’re hiding DDL in the trailer, they ARE!

Let us not forget “War Horse” and the great trailer that promised so much….and then gave us…well, not that much.

Just like “Munich”! Spielberg’s next-to-last Oscar foray.

Uh-oh!

Snoring and pretentious and over-hyped. Here we go again!

I thought we just went through this last year!

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