Thursday, August 14, 2014

'Downton Abbey' Season 5, Episode 1: The First Review - The Earth Is Shaking At Downton (NO SPOILERS)

Neil Midgley

Today is the press launch of the fifth season of ITV's hit drama series Downton Abbey – even as I type, the actors and execs are doing a Q&A with journalists. But the first episode of this new season has just been screened to the press for the first time, and these are my thoughts.

This was as strong a season opener as we’ve seen since that very first season four years ago. And this time, writer Julian Fellowes didn’t have the sinking of the Titanic to help him on his narrative way.

Indeed Downton Abbey is finally – inasmuch as this potboiling manor ever can be – back to normal. Last year’s season opener started with special sad music, and the great house in darkness. Not only was Matthew (Dan Stevens) dead, but Miss O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) had left in the dead of night.

This fifth season opener has neither of those sadnesses to contend with (although, as you will see, that doesn’t mean it is without sadness). We started with the usual, familiar theme music – and with a much more well-adjusted Downton.

But before the episode started, Steve November, who is ITV’s director of drama commissioning, gave a few brief remarks. He said that we would see ‘surprising stories’ in this new series, and as far as Downton’s great set-pieces go, ‘some of the best we’ve ever seen’.

Even in this first, feature-length episode, November was proved right. The script was tight and incredibly well-plotted – you could imagine the producers and cast literally turning the pages quicker and quicker to see what happens next. (Indeed I understand that, at the read-through when the cast saw the script for the first time, that’s exactly what happened.)

Fellowes has perhaps taken some inspiration from ITV’s other big recent drama hit, Broadchurch, in his plotting. Before every commercial break, there was a cliffhanger. One of them made me cry: another made me gasp.


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