Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Downton Abbey: A Journey to the Highlands

I'll start with the warning that there will be **SPOILERS** in this post because I can't really write this review without them; some very significant things happened which I don't want to just gloss over. 
On the whole I was thoroughly disappointed with this Downton episode, especially when compared to the epic that was last years Christmas special. I think one of the major problems was the simple fact that it was set at the height of summer, not Christmas. Part of the beauty of last years episode was that it was seasonal and there was an enormous Christmas tree; everything was festive and happy and there were so many more issues to be addressed so the story could be developed. In comparison, this year the family and some servants journeyed to Scotland to stay with the Earl of Grantham's friend, 'Shrimpie' (really Downton, 'Shrimpie'?). Meanwhile, the majority of the servants stayed home at Downton abbey, using the two hour episode to go to  the fair. Yay. Allotting two hours (actually much less than that considering there was one minute of adverts for every three minutes of Downton yesterday, seriously ITV?) to the show was absolutely fine with me, in fact, I was thrilled. But when it came to it, absolutely nothing happened in the whole show before the final three minutes, which then left me so depressed I wished I hadn't bothered.
This is Christmassy...
And why did this Christmas special leave me so depressed? Matthew died. Julian Fellowes killed off the main character. What are they playing at? I mean, I respect that Dan Stevens (the actor who played Matthew) had decided to end his contract after three series, but did they really have to kill him off in such a dramatic manner, not a minute after meeting his son and heir for the first, and last, time. And at Christmas? Throughout series 3 it would appear that Downton has turned into an upper-class Eastenders - a child can't be born without one of their parents dying minutes later. My point is that last years episode left me happy and contented at the end of Christmas day, whereas, this year, I was left numb and in shock, with only a box of Quality Street to cheer me up. Even Fellowes' attempt to add Christmas cheer with the birth of Mary and Matthew's first child (I think he was attempting to go for the juxtaposition of this scene with the birth of Jesus) fell flat due to the death of the father immediately afterwards. Viewers were barely allowed to enjoy the scene of the happy family together for a minute before foreshadowing comments began pouring in and everybody immediately knew what was going to happen. Great. Very Christmassy.
... This is not.
Another problem I have is that Fellowes' writing of the series has become almost painful. The most cringe-worthy lines in the past series including Matthew's lines that "now [he and Mary] can start making babies", to a comment in the Christmas special: "I know you're nice because I've seen you naked". I mean really? How much more cheesy can the writing get? And since when has seeing someone naked been a good way to judge how nice a person is?
I feel I should mention some of the positives of the episode though: the setting was beautiful, although perhaps lacking in that very little of the episode was shot at Highclere Castle (the location of Downton Abbey); the costumes were, as always, stunning and exactly on period. I also feel I should mention Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) and Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) for their fantastic acting in this episode - the scenes they shared were brilliant and very funny. This actually brings me on to another disappointment with this episode: there was very little from Dame Maggie Smith. The usually hilarious Dowager Countess was barely used and, as a result, this episode was hugely lacking in the comedy aspect which, considering the lack of action and bleak ending, was sorely missed.
The 2011 Christmas Special... more of this please
I'm going to stop now because this post has basically been one long rant. But, the point I'm trying to make is this, since when did Christmas specials turn into bleak, depressing shows that make you want to go and die in a hole, rather than programmes that make you happy and contented? Quiet honestly, I would take a 'Vicar of Dibley' box set over these depressing new Downton episodes any day (luckily a Christmas special of the former show was programmed after the latter to cheer me up again). I just don't understand why, as the series has gone on, the story lines have become more and more bleak; what was once a relaxing escapism has now become more like an episode of Casualty. Although, as I saw somebody mention earlier today, the blood used was very realistic, which of course makes up for everything. 
Don't get me wrong, I adore Downton. It's been my favourite show for a while now, but I don't know if I can take much more of the empty plot lines before a dramatic death in the last minutes. So, considering how great I know Downton can be (last years Christmas special I'm looking at you), I'm going to be harsh: 5/10.

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