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Last Sunday, series three of Downton Abbey descended upon our living rooms. It was crammed full of storylines, several of which I’m not going to have space to cover here – let me know what your favourites are in the comments section below and I’ll try and get to them next week.
Truth be told, I didn’t even realise series three had started ‘til Lauryn Morita (a Facebook friend of xo Jane UK) mentioned that she’d like recaps.
You can imagine how distraught I was at almost missing Shirley fucking MacLaine’s arrival as Martha Levinson, a.k.a Cora’s rich American mommy, complete with finger waves, fuck-off great coat, shiny red rental car and - oh thank God - the kind of acerbic putdowns that mean Maggie Smith’s Duchess has finally met her match (in front of the viewers, I mean. In the backstory they’ve totally done battle before).
Yes, it’s Duchess versus Grand Dame this series, and I cannot wait. Even the way Mrs. Levinson (I have no idea what I’m meant to call her…) talks to her granddaughters is a treat. “Tell me about the wedding, Mary, and I’ll suggest some improvements.” Excellent. There’s one in every family.
The fact that the Crawley girls are descended from two of the biggest bitches in television explains so much about Lady Edith’s demeanour if nothing else. (It used to explain stuff about Lady Mary, too, but then she found Matthew, dumped that mean media baron, and got a bit softer. Lady Sybil’s still the only one I’d ever go out for a drink with.)
Oh, Edie. The show really wouldn’t be the same without you being snippy, undermining your sisters’ happiness and making increasingly desperate attempts to get that nice, older dude Lord Anthony to marry you. Or at least properly snog you during episode two.
Now look, far be it from me to give out advice (I am, after all, the person whose friends once formed a committee to vet any potential love interests, so poor was my pre-marital taste) BUT I think Edith might just be going about this in the wrong way. I know she’s the gimpy less confident sister, but asking a potential shag to sit in the row behind you at church has never gotten anyone laid.
Granted, the slow-burn romance with Lord A would always have lacked the passion of Sybil’s affair and subsequent elopement with chauffeur-turned-journalist-slash-Irish-freedom-fighter Tom. Or even the convoluted two-series-long will-they-won’t-they-drama of Lady Mary “Cousin Snogger” Crawley with her cousin Matthew “Also a Cousin Snogger” Crawley.
But honestly, Edith. If you want to get married, or even just felt up by his Lordship, you are going to have to stop being such a twat, and just – this totally needs saying – JUMP him. Being frigid is curable, being a twat is not. Right now, you seem a little bit of both. Shy bairns get nowt. They especially don’t get laid.
OK, Edith’s lesson in the art of love over, let’s turn our attention to the other sisters. By the end of the episode, Mary had, after an argument over money and loyalty, finally made it up the aisle wearing what appeared to be a re-purposed silk sheet that made her look like a very beautiful ghost.
I’m sure it was very historically accurate - and I loved her headband - but it lacked the “wow” factor that I’ve come to expect from TV wedding dresses.
Meaning that the best part of the wedding was not the bride’s outfit but the advice she received from her mother and sisters beforehand. Cora’s veiled and delightfully innocent take on sex, “When two people love each other, you understand, everything is the most terrific fun!” is literally the sweetest thing I have heard this week.
Also delightful was Sybil’s take on her sister’s marriage, which she deemed “every bit as romantic” as her own, leaving only Edith to slightly sour the mood by refusing to congratulate her sister for finally (after shagging someone to death, then getting bullied by a latter-day Rupert Murdoch) finding true love.
Instead she prefered to snipe about Matthew’s looks and status instead. Whatever, Edith. At least, the cousin snogger’s gonna get laid before the end of this series.
Preggers Sybil had arrived back at Downton a few days beforehand, for the first time since eloping with Tom/Branson the chauffeur (who, iRL, was in the year below me at college!!!). Lord Grantham may not like their relationship at all - Mr. Carson, who is even more of a snob, certainly doesn’t - but, fuck them, she looks radiant and is so gratifyingly in love that the Duchess(!) secretly gave the broke couple money to attend Mary’s wedding. Everyone else can lump it.
Their relationship, much like that of Anna and Mr. Bates, who is still languishing in prison after not murdering his horrible wife, is one of my favourite parts of the show.
As is the acerbic Miss O’Brien. Having started off as a panto villain mate of mean-spirited Thomas the valet’s, her character has revealed more caring layers as the show’s gone on, including looking after shell-shocked Mr. Lang during season two, and going all out to get her nephew a job during this episode. I’m half-expecting them to show her frolicking in a field with puppies next. Or perhaps not.
Also below stairs is kitchen maid Daisy, who spent much of this episode sulking because she’d been promoted to Mrs. Patmore’s assistant but the Crawleys hadn’t taken on a new maid. The weaving in of issues such as this, and Tom’s involvement in Ireland’s struggle for independence, is, to my mind, one of the clumsiest parts of the show.
It’s like the show’s writer Julian Fellowes goes, “Oh, this bit’s set in 1920…” then consults Wikipedia to find out what went on that year before working it in.
I mean, does Daisy really seem like a candidate for suffrage? Really? This is a girl who was coerced into marrying someone she didn’t really fancy, just because he was dying, during the last series.
Another event that was inserted into this episode in the name of historical accuracy and plot devices was the news that Lord Grantham has lost most of Cora’s fortune, and so possibly Downton Abbey itself, on a dodgy investment in a Canadian railroad.
Yes we all know that dodgy railroad investments came back to bite many a lord on the arse around this time. What I doubt happened was that when the lords in question mentioned the loss of millions of pounds to their American heiress wives – who had been shipped over with all their money in the interests of saving the family pile in the first place - was that those women did a Cora.
Which is to say, they smiled supportively and squeezed their hands on receiving the news. Surely, the writers could have justified a little bit of screaming at this point in the show? Or possibly a frown? She’d have been within her rights to throw a few things.
What did you think of the first episode? Is Downton “Dallas with Dowries” (a phrase I've shamelessly stolen from Tory), or pretty much the best thing ever? And am I way too harsh on Edith? The comments sections needs answers.
I’m on twitter, wittering about all these things. Hit me up!@AlisandeF