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“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.

“Les Miz” in IMAX! My Third Time! Bliss to the Max!!

“Les Miserables,” which is my #1 film of the year, can also be seen now in IMAX, which I didn’t know about until director Tom Hooper mentioned it in an interview. And so I HAD to see it for a THIRD time in a Whirlwind month of “Miz.”

There’s so much to say, and so little time…before I see “Les Miz” AGAIN! Yes! It’s THAT good! And THAT addictive!

FINALLY! Tickets were available for purchase by ordinary movie-goers. It has been sold out in NYC, since its’ opening Christmas Day, when it broke B.O. records, and it’s taking off to be a record-breaking hit all over the world! It may even go over $100 million internationally by the end of this weekend!

And they said musicals weren’t popular with the masses any more!

Well, “Les Miz” is bringing out a certain type of movie-goer those who’ve been STARVED for a great movie musical.

Since I was a kid, it was always the movie musicals that got me into movies in the first place. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” being run over and over and over again on Million Dollar Movie on televisioni on Ch.9. Every single day, maybe even twice a day, when I was a bespectacled, red-headed kid growing up in the Bronx. Then came “Les Girls” and that little boy thought all movies were SUPPOSED to sing.

So it’s grand, just grand that “Les Miserables” returns movies to its’ rightful place, right near OPERA. Opera used to be mass entertainment in its’ time, and I just love that “Les Miz” onscreen is totally sung through. And what wonderful,stirring, powerful music it is!

From those first three thrilling chords of “Look Down” “Ah-huh!” Klang! “Ah-huh” Klang! And the spectacular wreck of a ship hulk that gets hauled into view by literally hundreds of dirty, grimy slaves of the state, Jean Valjean main among them. Well, it shakes you and just takes your breath away at the same time!

Audiences for “Les Miz” come PRIMED now to applaud, it seems to me. At an invited (non-critics) screening I saw(my second time)(many Academy members in attendance) there was applause at least four times and cheering and standing and MORE applause at the end. And this was without any of the talent present, which ups the applause meter even more. Hugh Jackman’s name onscreen got applause at the end as did Anne Hathaway’s and Eddie Redmayne’s and strangely Helena Bonham-Carter’s.

Well, last night this paying, weekday night audience applauded at least EIGHT times!

Of course, Anne Hathaway’s brilliant, blistering, unforgettable solo “I Dreamed a Dream” got applause. And she’ll probably get an Oscar, too.

And then they didn’t really applaud again til “On My Own”, which had not gotten applause at the previous two screenings I attended. That’s Eponine’s rain-soaked solo essayed here by Samantha Barks.

Then, of course, after that, “One Day More” got a rousing hand, and it continued virtually unabated five times more til the magnificent ending! I was losing count in the glory of it all as the suspense mounted, and of course, the wonderful Eddie Redmayne got his hand in “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables,” and the Thernadiers (a super oily Sasha Baron Cohen and the equally slimy Helena Bonham-Carter) even got applauded when they got thrown out of Marius and Cosette’s wedding.! Cheers, too! Amazing!

The involvement of the audience was like at  Broadway show. But no Broadway show gets stopped with applause EIGHT times! At least! But this being a high-paced film, “Les Miserables” never paused for a moment. I don’t think the stage version ever got this much applause. Maybe the 10th and 25th anniversary concerts did. But they were EVENTS. This is just a blockbuster musical. Incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life as a film critic.

“Les Miserables” never fails to disappoint. But I have to say that IMAX isn’t really necessary to see it in. Everything gets magnified and since the film is shot in extreme close-ups most of the time, it really is excessively CLOSE in Imax.Dizzying. I was counting the warts on Russell Crowe’s face. And then the hairs on the warts. I REALLY didn’t need to be THAT CLOSE. Too much information.

But his Javert is meant to scare. And he does. He’s the villain, and his strange, thunderous, bellowed singing is the film’s one discordant note, but it works, because he’s the one who’s out of sync with the melodious singing of the rest of the cast, as his character is out of sync, at war, with the rest of the world.

Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean wows me every time! The demands that are placed on him are literally Herculean, and utterly Oscar-bait-y and Oscar – worthy. And then he has to drag the wounded, half-dead, Eddie Redmayne through the sewers of Paris! Saving his life, in  yet another one of Victor Hugo’s novel’s great set-pieces, that is rendered impossibly odious and odoriferous in these tremendous close-ups. Oh yes, Jackman’s “Bring Him Home” sung to the sleeping Redmayne got a spontaneous round of applause, too.

“Les Miserables” is setting audiences free in a wonderful way. They seem FREE to applaud. And VERY free to cry. At the end, with the incredibly moving climatic scenes, there’s not a dry eye in the house. My eyeglasses were salted up with tears. But I was happy. The Greeks has a word for this effect. They called it “Catharsis.” I call it Oscar.

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