Friday, December 26, 2014

Downton Abbey Christmas special recap – it worked as retro festive wallpaper (SPOILERS)

Viv Groskop
Thursday 25 December 2014 18.00 EST

The labrador’s backside is back for Christmas. And let’s hope it’s not just for Christmas, eh? Actually, my Christmas wish would be that it is just for Christmas. Because if this convoluted outing proved anything, it’s that this series has outstayed its welcome. Unlike Isis the dog, whose absence in this Christmas special finally disproved the conspiracy theory that she was just absent from the last episode to tease us. Sorry, people, but Isis really is dead.

As always this was a beautifully made and wonderfully acted confection showcasing all the shortcomings of the Downton Abbey brand. In the opening sequences, it felt as if the actors had been directed to speak the dialogue slowly and carefully in order to help viewers a) worse for the cooking sherry and b) unfamiliar with Downton (as probably many Christmas-only viewers were – lucky them). There was a lot of signposting of characters and history, which only served to flag up that there are often far too many people involved and far too many things going on.

As a standalone piece for anyone not following the series, I suspect this outing worked rather well as retro festive wallpaper. And there can surely be no finer features on screen than those of Matthew Goode (Wickham in last year’s Death Comes to Pemberley and also a series regular in The Good Wife), seen fleetingly here flirting with Lady Mary and making a Dukes of Hazzard-style getaway in a fast motorcar. If he is coming in as the dark-haired replacement for Dan Stevens, that will be a happy event indeed.

For those of us who have been suffering the joys and pains of the past five series, it tied up a paltry number of loose ends (Dame Maggie’s Russian tryst, Rose’s uncomfortable relationship with her new inlaws, Edith not knowing that her father knows about the Impostor Child). And Uncle Julian did at least give us the payoff we’ve been anticipating since last year’s Christmas episode: the marriage of Mrs Hughes and Mr Carson. Hooray!

But unbelievably (or totally believably if you are used to the snail’s pace of Downton) he left the “Who killed rapist valet Green?” plot open. We don’t even really know if it definitely isn’t Anna or definitely isn’t Bates. My money, despite the pub landlord’s evidence, is still on Bates. But surely by now we deserve resolution on this? We found out Green was dead on 10 November 2013. Seriously, Uncle Julian, how long are you going to leave this hanging? Do you even know who killed him? I suspect no one cares any more.

There were some pleasing details. The Russian Silver Fox! Midnight skating to the strains of the balaika! Setting sail in the prince’s yacht! The manic depressive Russian princess (Jane Lapotaire) was superb and, as every guest is forced to on this show, really made the most of her three sentences. Alun Armstrong as The Evil Butler, Stowell (yes, I know, I heard it as “Stole” and “Stowe” the whole way through, too), was wonderful: “I am not a novice anywhere.” And there was plenty of Molesley, which is always a delight. But what a missed opportunity! When Molesley was rifling in Anna’s drawers, I was convinced he would find the Ill-Defined Contraceptive Device. So disappointing.

But let’s draw a veil over that and concentrate on the best marriage proposal ever from a man resembling a cautious and lovable badger: “Well, that’s the point. I do want to be stuck with you ...” Who wouldn’t drink to Mr Carson’s happiness on Christmas Day?


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