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Downton Abbey: Christmas Special - Review

Downton Abbey, Christmas special

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

AFTER a hit-and-miss second season, Downton Abbey returned to near-best form with its two hour Christmas special on December 25.

Combining high drama with slushy romance and occasional bursts of comedy, the Julian Fellowes’ scripted series – now affectionately embraced as the new nation’s favourite – showed why it has comfortably won our hearts.

True, there were some silly moments that, at best, could be described as contrived – or else just plain lazy. But the joy was in the various pay-offs that Fellowes managed to deliver with relish.

Central to proceedings was the ‘will they/won’t they’ romance between Dan Stevens’ dashing Matthew Crawley and Michelle Dockery’s scandal-ravaged Lady Mary Crawley, made more complicated by her impending nuptials to Iain Glen’s hiss-worthy Sir Richard Carlisle and her season 1 indiscretion with the late Mr Pamuk.

In this regard, Fellowes’ seemed to opt for an almost pantomime-style depiction of how things played out with Glen taking on the villain’s role with thankless aplomb. Early on, every scene between Mary and Sir Richard comprised of him moaning or shouting at her with Matthew within convenient ear-shot. You could almost have started shouting ‘he’s behind you!’ every time Sir Richard opened his mouth.

Glen played the part to perfection but could have done with a little more shading to make the tug-of-love more emotionally complex.. especially as Fellowes’ deemed fit to give the actor a strong final scene in which he declared his one-time love for Mary. It would have meant a lot more had he ever been allowed to show it!

That said, the various plot machinations did enable a good bout of fisticuffs to develop between Sir Richard and Matthew in the Downton drawing room (even though the fight itself was a little fumbled), as well as another of Dame Maggie Smith’s fantastic put-downs… upon being told that he would never see them again, Dame Maggie said glibly, almost deliciously: “Do you promise?” You could almost hear the nation raising a glass of port in her honour.

Having got rid of Sir Richard, Fellowes’ then paved the way for the cheesy finale involving Matthew’s romantic proposal to Mary in a snow-drenched courtyard. It should have warmed even the hardest heart and was yet another of the big pay-offs that Fellowes’ seems to specialise in.

Elsewhere, the small matter of Bates’ (Brendan Coyle) trial for murder came to a resolution of sorts – the lame footman escaping the gallows’ noose and facing a life behind bars until the good residents of Downton can prove his innocence.

But even in this context, Fellowes’ stretched credibility ahead of the ‘what a relief’ pay-off with the trial scenes, in particular, provoking the question of how the Crown Prosecution could have come to know so much about what Bates said without any provider of evidence other than Bates himself.

How, for instance, did they know what certain servants overheard without being told by Bates himself? Certainly, even the ‘witnesses’ themselves seemed surprised at how much the prosecution knew. But where did that daming circumstantial evidence come from?

Still, even in the midst of such dubious scripting, Coyle and long-suffering love interst Anna (Joanne Froggatt) tugged at the heart-strings – the latter, especially, enjoying some genuinely touching scenes with her husband as well as members of the Downton household (both above and below living quarters).

Other pleasing plot devices included put-upon kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera) finding her voice and a father-figure, scheming footman Thomas (Rob James-Collier) haplessly finding favour with Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and Dame Violet (Dame Maggie) continuing to hog the show’s best lines whenever opportunity allowed.

Hence, for all its flaws and liberties Downton Abbey‘s Christmas special still remained a bit of a cracker… and a nice way to round off Christmas Day. Roll on season 3…

Read our review of the 2012 Christmas special