Dear ‘Downton Abbey’

From left to right: Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Grantham, Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham, Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley, Penelope Wilton as Isobel Crawley, Allen Leech as Tom Branson, Jim Carter as Mr. Carson, and Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes.



Downton Abbey Series 3

From left to right: Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Grantham, Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham, Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley, Penelope Wilton as Isobel Crawley, Allen Leech as Tom Branson, Jim Carter as Mr. Carson, and Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes.

QUICKREAD

CAST PRIMER

A who’s who on “Downton Abbey” primer:

■ Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville): A middle-aged father of three daughters, who has devoted his life to the care and upkeep of his beloved Downton Abbey. Oh, he’s had his failings (he made out with a housemaid while his wife was sick), but is overall a great guy. And when he tells off a cheap stage performer who tries to blackmail Carson the butler, it’s powerful and classic.

■ Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern): An American heiress who Lord Grantham married for her money because upkeep on Downton Abbey is financially backbreaking (though he did fall in love with her about a year after they married). She can be snobbish but practical, and she’s actually very nice as well as being a devoted wife and mother.

■ Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith): Robert’s mother and the master of droll witticisms. She’s unrepentantly in favor of the British class system, feels entitled to her aristocratic life and is, despite all that, hilarious and excellent.

■ Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery): The oldest of Robert and Cora’s three daughters. She’s cynical, occasionally mean, a little wild and ultimately has a romantic heart. We forgive her the sham engagement to that gauche journalist, Sir Richard Carlisle.

■ Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael): Middle of the Crawley daughters. She seriously suffers from Middle Child Syndrome, feeling overlooked and ignored in favor of her two foxy sisters. She’s really bitter and cruel in Season 1, but mellows in Season 2.

■ Lady Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown Findlay): Youngest Crawley daughter and a renegade who works as a nurse during World War I and runs off with Branson the Irish chauffeur afterward.

■ Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens): Heir to Downton Abbey and the Earl of Grantham title, though he’s only a third cousin. He’s a lawyer by trade, scandalizing his non-working, aristocratic relations, and his mother, Isobel (Penelope Wilton), is a reforming, opinionated firebrand who annoys the Dowager Countess at every turn.

■ Mr. Carson (Jim Carter): Butler at Downton Abbey. He rigidly follows rules and observes the unforgiving class system, and yet he is absolutely wonderful and practically perfect.

■ Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan): The housekeeper of Downton Abbey. She’s the female Carson — a little stiff, but otherwise wonderful and practically perfect.

■ John Bates (Brendan Coyle): Lord Grantham’s valet. They served together in the Army during the Boer Wars, during which Bates was injured. Bates has a lousy wife, Vera, who he’s trying to divorce. He’s decent and good and doesn’t deserve his sufferings, which include jail.

■ Anna Smith (Joanne Froggatt): The head housemaid at Downton Abbey. She loves (and secretly marries) Mr. Bates and will do whatever it takes to clear his name. She’s also a loyal servant, willing to help Mary move a body.

■ Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier): A footman at Downton Abbey. He’s generally plotting, is always mean and invited a German soldier to shoot him in the hand, just so he could leave the World War I trenches.

■ Sarah O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran): Cora’s lady’s maid and an inveterate schemer and evil-doer. She and Thomas are tight, which explains a lot.

WATCH LIST

The nine-month wait for a new episode of “Downton Abbey” was a long one, but it was made easier for me by other British period series and mini-series, including:

■ “Pride and Prejudice”: aside from the immortal, peerless novel by Jane Austen, the only “Pride and Prejudice” I acknowledge is the six-part, 1995 BBC mini-series starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. It’s the story of the five Bennet sisters and their pursuit of husbands, but also it’s about the foibles of the British class system.

■ “Horatio Hornblower”: an eight-part mini-series based on the C.S. Forester novels about a young midshipman in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The last two parts in the series aren’t as great as the first six, but they’re all wonderful as they follow Horatio through the ranks as he learns to be a naval officer. Plus, Capt. Sir Edward Pellew! Horatio’s superior officer and as fine a man as ever there was.

■ “The Forsyte Saga”: A 10-episode (six in the first series, four in the second) drama, based on James Galsworthy’s novel, about the aristocratic, sprawling Forsyte family at the turn of the 20th century. Soames Forsyte is terrible but tragic, his first wife Irene marries her way through the family, it seems, and cousin Jolyon Forsyte runs off with the French nanny. It’s a soapy delight.

■ “Land Girls”: A three-season series about the Women’s Land Army, who took care of the fields while the men were off fighting World War II. Critics have complained it isn’t historically accurate, but who cares, when teenaged Bea Finch ends up pregnant by an American G.I.? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

■ “Merlin”: A series exploring the early years of the wizard Merlin as he learns he’s magic and becomes squire to the haughty Crown Prince Arthur. And if that doesn’t lure you in, nothing will.

■ “North & South”: Not the John Jakes tale of the American Civil War, but the four-part mini-series based on the Elizabeth Gaskell novel about life during the British Industrial Revolution. Parson’s daughter Margaret Hale moves to the northern mill town, Milton, where she agonizes over the terrible conditions mill workers endure and clashes with John Thornton, the cruel-seeming mill owner. Of course, they secretly pine for each other.

■ “Upstairs Downstairs”: the new one, not the ‘70s version, which is, ironically, so dated it can be hard to watch. Through two seasons so far, it tells the delightfully dramatic story of Sir Hallam and Lady Agnes Holland and their servants in the years before World War II.

Honorable mentions: “Wives & Daughters,” “Daniel Deronda,” “Middlemarch,” “Island at War,” “To the Ends of the Earth” and “Little Dorrit.”



Mr. Bates is in jail.

He’s in jail, and poor Anna is being resourceful and determined about it. She’ll get her beloved Mester Bets (that’s how she says it) out!

Plus! Sybil ran off to Dublin with Branson the chauffeur — we were cruelly denied the wedding scene — and Edith’s trying to renew the flame with that old guy, we forget his name. Then, Thomas kidnapped the dog, Lord Grantham kissed the housemaid, that allegedly amnesiac Canadian burn victim disappeared without a trace, Carson and Mrs. Hughes are wonderful, as usual, and Matthew and Lady Mary are engaged! Finally!

Needless to say, these are exciting times for the Downton Abbey Appreciation Society.

Season 3 of the immensely popular British import premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6, on Rocky Mountain PBS and the wait has been excruciating. Not only has there not been a new episode in America since last March, but Season 3 premiered in the U.K. Sept. 16.

So, we in the Society have had to scrupulously avoid spoilers, clicking away from any whisper of “Downton Abbey” on the spoil-happy Internet.

You see, if there’s one thing “Downton Abbey” has taught us, it’s that delayed gratification makes fruit all the sweeter, and there are few things quite so sweet as turning on PBS and getting that first glimpse of the dog’s bum as opening credits roll on a new episode of “Downton Abbey.” We like to be surprised, to be delighted, shocked and fully immersed each Sunday night.

And OK, fine, when I say “we” I mean “me.” So far, I’m the only member of the Downton Abbey Appreciation Society, but I know it’s only because my fellow obsessives have had to be so vigilant about spoiler avoidance.

I sense you’re out there, though: 5.4 million of you tuned in to the Season 2 finale on PBS, a number not matched since “Ken Burns National Parks” in 2009.

I issue this call, then, to join me in the Society. Let’s talk Downton! In fact, I’ve written a script for our first meeting; all we’ll have to do is read it.*

Member 1: Poor Mr. Bates! So decent! So wronged! He is a Stoic sufferer.

Member 2: Maybe too Stoic? He’s got to stop telling Anna he doesn’t deserve her. He does, though she is a saucy little bundle of moxie and determination.

Member 3: Love her!

Member 4: And that Vera! What a piece of work. What on Earth did Bates see in her to marry her in the first place? Granted, he was probably seeing her through the bottom of a bottle, poor lamb with a troubled past. I know he didn’t poison her, but he should have.

Member 5: Why do I suspect O’Brien of being involved?

Member 6: Because she’s mean?

2: So mean! But very, very fleetingly cool, enough so that I’m confused. Just like with Thomas.

4: *sigh* Thomas: I keep wanting to feel sorry for him, because his life hasn’t been easy and all he wants is to better his lot and his schemes are so pathetic, but must he always be such a jerk? I mean, who kidnaps a man’s dog? Poor Lord Grantham.

1: But he kissed the maid (I mean Lord Grantham, not Thomas; Thomas tried to kiss that Turkish guy and it was so awkward and sad)! When his wife was practically dead from Spanish influenza!

5: He’s human. And otherwise so morally upright. When he gave his blessing to Sybil?

6: That was lovely. But he and Cora should have gone to the wedding in Dublin.

3: Yes! Granted, we must accept that these are people of their times and places, but come on, Robert. She’s your kid. I don’t care if she’s marrying the chauffeur. Which brings me to a point of contention with the “Downton Abbey” writers: Stop denying us the salacious explanations! When Sybil told her family — including grandma, the Dowager Countess! — that she and Branson were getting married, that’s an explanation I want to see, not just the aftermath! Same goes for when Cora told her husband that oldest daughter Mary had slept with the Turkish emissary and he’d died in her bed (and she, Mary and Anna had moved the body).

4: Is it wrong I thought that scene was hilarious?

1: Clandestine corpse movings often are.

6: Speaking of hilarious: that allegedly amnesiac Canadian burn victim?

2: Man, did he ever disappear without a trace. I’m willing to swallow a lot of contrived suds in my favorite classy soap opera, but that?

3: Good riddance, Mr. Bandages.

1: Can we talk Poor Edith Who Looks Like Big Bird?

6: So much nicer in Season 2! Sybil even commented on it! It’s because she had a purpose. War is hell, but it did OK by her.

5: But not Daisy. Poor William. And (kind of) poor her. Though, how grateful am I that she FINALLY came to terms with her 11th hour marriage to sad, dying William and established a relationship with his dad, thus enabling her to stop whining, “Boo ah dune lohv eem! Noh een tha weh.”

4: And so saucy of her to ask for a promotion!

1: Apropos of nothing, Carson for president! In fact, let’s have a Carson/Hughes ticket in 2016.

3: I would have paid $500 to see him perform with the Cheerful Charlies. He’s my secret boyfriend. And he and Mrs. Hughes: so “Remains of the Day.” I love them.

2: Why have we not yet discussed the Dowager Countess? Why?? SHE IS THE GREATEST! Where to even begin with her? “Don’t be defeatist, dear; it’s terribly middle class.” Or: “One can’t go to pieces at the death of every foreigner. We’d all be in a state of collapse whenever we opened a newspaper.” So unapologetic! So snobbish! I adore her.

6: What think we of Matthew, heir to Downton Abbey?

1: He’s growing on me. Like a fungus, perhaps, and he responded to his wheelchair like a 14-year-old girl…

5: Excuse me. Can we agree that Dr. Clarkson needs to go back to medical school? “Your spine is severed, Matthew, and you’re paralyzed for life. Oh, wait, no. Oops, ha ha. It was bruised and you’re walking again. My bad.”

1: Agreed. Anyway, he’s smart and handsome and Mary loves him. Loved his proposal in the snow!

2: And Mary. Such a snob. So cynical. Best wardrobe ever. Obviously, we’re all crazy about her.

3: Obviously.

4: So, prognostications or wishes for Season 3?

6: Well, Wedding of the Century, Precursor to William and Kate for the nuptials of Matthew and Mary, of course. Plus, Sybil’s pregnant! Loving the anticipation of a wee Irish baby. More dark secrets are necessary, I think. Also, this show finally has conditioned me to full-body cringe every time two people are alone in a room discussing anything — it’s like, stop! Somebody’s probably listening at the door or will walk in unexpectedly. So, more of that, too. I want Mrs. Patmore to take up with the grocer, obviously, and Isobel should take up with the doctor (his medical abilities notwithstanding). And Mr. Bates must get out of prison! Immediately!

1: Cora’s mom is coming from America, apparently. Please let her be Molly Brown rather than Edith Wharton.

5: And let the Downton fabulosity continue!

*I have written this script for six, but could easily expand it to accommodate 20 or 50 or however many members join. Email me and we’ll discuss a) the Society possibilities, b) tragic housemaid Gwen and her illegitimate baby and c) dead, milquetoast Lavinia.



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