“Clearly Downton know’s just how much to reveal…”
As I sat down to watch this week’s episode of Downton Abbey, I felt strangely excited to see what sorts of shenanigans and mishaps would occur. Having only started tuning in to the programme last week, right at the start of the fourth series, I wasn’t expecting to feel any sort of loyalty or excitement for the programme. However, as the titles began to roll, there was something comforting about being welcomed back into the Abbey. Everything was going so, so well, and I failed to find fault in anything on-screen or in script…until two minutes twenty-one seconds, when Carson (Jim Carter) stumbled upon a letter hidden in a book, penned by Lady Mary’s dead husband.
Of course, this mystery letter caused all sorts of drama. The letter had been written when Mr Matthew Crawley had “suddenly remembered” that he had never written a will and would ‘hate for anything to happen to him whilst his wife was expecting their first child.’ The main issue caused by the discovery of this hidden letter was who would now run Downton? Matthew Crawley had wanted his wife to inherit his share. Was Lady Mary; that’s LADY Mary capable…as a woman? Could she run the estate? Her father, Mr Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) was not so sure. However, with the advice of Tom Branson (Alan Leech) the friendly agent of the estate as her instructor, Mary (Michelle Dockery) was soon able to debate estate decisions and add her opinions to the mix.
Ultimately, this strand of the plot was just all SO exposed and predictable. It was as if there should have been a dramatic ‘dun dun dunnn’ sound effect after every full stop was reached in the mystery letter. Personally, I think it was quite a lazy script devise, stolen from practically every other period drama ever produced. Although this was good at bringing lots of characters together and displaying interesting interactions and conversations, overall, it simply displayed Lady Mary depressed due to her husband’s death, facing a challenge and overcoming it, which is exactly what we saw last week in episode one.
Wider to this main story, the theme of unemployment is still present throughout the episode, as Mr Molesley is forced to undertake menial labour by laying tar in the village. He finds himself ‘at his wits end’ and therefore Mr and Mrs Bates decide to offer him money to repay his debts. The balance of society and divide between rich and poor runs rife and is partly what attracts me to Downton. The split in the household, as well as wider to its walls provides much of the interesting interactions and relationships, which the programme works really well. Simultaneously, the more exciting side of the era creeps into the episode, as Lady Rose (Lily James) and Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) take a trip to the more bustling area of York to experience the delights of the town (the bars and the men). Drawn by the music and the dancing Lady Rose donned glamorous twenties attire for the exciting trip. I really enjoyed this lighter side to the programme and overall much prefer the stories that dip in an out of an episode rather than dominate.
I also noticed more so in the second episode the beauty of the sets and scenery. Lady Mary looking out on the estate from hill-top; Lady Rose relaxing in her room, her bed covered in magazines, music playing in the background and then the more dirty and dark scenery of the bar in town as the ladies and men dance together making small talk.
Compared to last week, I definitely preferred this second episode. I guess that’s partly because I know the characters a bit more, but mainly because the variety of storylines within the hour were intertwined and widely dispersed meaning that the viewer could be interested in a number of different characters simultaneously. Just as one storyline in the episode got interesting, we would cut to another, which kept the programme engaging and ensured I wanted to find out more. Saying that, I still haven’t been able to find out who the mystery character, promised to me during the ‘next time’ of episode one is? Clearly Downton know’s just how much to reveal and how much to hold back each week to ensure we all tune in again.