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Downton Abbey - Season 2 - Final episode reviewed

Downton Abbey

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

SO, the second season of people’s favourite Downton Abbey came to a finish on Sunday night with a mix of high drama and equally high stupidity.

It’s fair to say that the sophomore run of Julian Fellowes’ Emmy award winning drama finished as it had begun… as watchable as ever but now curiously clunky to boot. You could sometimes hear the screenplay creaking under the weight of its own contrivances!

That’s not to say that Downton is a write-off… indeed, it remains a fine way to bring the week to a close and will now leave a massive hole on the Sunday night schedule. But Season 2 consistently fell some way short of the high standards of Season 1 as it strove to become overly earnest in the face of the World War I backdrop and frequently felt absurd as a result.

Sunday night’s climax was no exception, even though the war was a thing of the past. Well, almost… as the Downton household was very much at odds with each other throughout.

In the thick of things was Hugh Bonneville’s Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, having to contend with his own feelings of infidelity towards single mother housemaid Jane (Clare Calbraith), his concern for ailing wife Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), one of several house members to have succumbed to Spanish flu, and the impending departure of his youngest daughter, Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay), who announced her intention to marry rebellious Irish chauffeur Tom (Allen Leech).

Then there was Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and his attempts to sort out his feelings for flu-stricken bride-to-be Lavinia Swire (Zoe Boyle) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery).

Downstairs, meanwhile, head housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) gave lame valet Bates (Brendan Coyle) a marriage ultimatum, Thomas (Rob James-Collier) attempted desperately to get on the good side of flu-hit Carson (Jim Carter) having been stung by his black market enterprise and left penniless, housekeeper Elsie (Phyllis Logan) worked overtime to Ethel (Amy Nuttall) gain some financial support for her ‘bastard’ son, and the ever hapless Daisy Robinson (Sophie McShera) continued to shirk her responsibilities towards her father-in-law.

The ensuing 90 minutes provided closure for some of these stories, while setting others up for the forthcoming Christmas special and newly commissioned third series.

But, like we said, the manner in which this was achieved veered from utterly absorbing to downright moronic.

Nothiing underlined this more than Bonneville’s central character, who arrogantly dismissed his daughter’s feelings for chauffeur Tom one minute, only to be seen snogging housemaid Jane the very next. Or, if that blatant hypocrisy wasn’t enough, thanking Siobhan Funneran’s Miss O’Brien profusely for caring for his wife.

At least he came to his senses come the end of the episode, both doing the right thing by Jane and giving his blessing to Lady Sybil and Tom. It was one of several touching moments, that were impeccably well acted.

Similarly clunky, however, was the treatment of Bates and Anna’s ongoing romance. This series has been marked by the amount of times Bates has declared happiness is just around the corner for them, only to have the rug pulled from underneath them in the very next scene.

On this occasion, the happiness of marriage and their ensuing comedy love scene (“now that you’ve had your wicked way with me,” said Bates, struggling to keep a straight face) were quickly followed by the sight of Bates being led away in handcuffs for the alleged murder of his ex-wife. You knew that was coming from the moment Anna said “I do”.

Still, the acting carried it through with Froggatt, especially, excelling in her final scene as she attempted to stem the flow of tears.

Prior to that, however, was the episode’s biggest contrivance… the resolution of the love triangle between Matthew, Lavinia and Lady Mary.

Having set things up well (via a stolen dance and kiss between Matthew and Mary that Lavinia may or may not have witnessed), the episode then contrived to manipulate the most unlikely of tragedies.

Firstly, Lavinia, while recovering from the effects of Spanish flu, gave her blessing for Matthew to pursue his heart and be free of their wedding promise in a scene that was beautifully played by Boyle.

But then, moments later, she was on her death bed once more insisting that Matthew be true to his heart and declaring her demise to be the easiest option for everyone.

It was a scene that was supposed to have viewers in floods of tears but which felt horribly contrived and manipulated. And besides, far from having the desired effect of leaving Matthew to find solace in the arms of Mary, he instead declared their love for each other to be ‘cursed’ while mourning Lavinia’s death from ‘a broken heart’.

Admittedly, even he acknowledged how contrived that sentiment sounded while putting distance between him and Mary for more will they/won’t they drama during the Christmas episode.

And so the moments that grated stacked up against those that either enchanted or held us enthralled.

It was, I suppose, a fitting way to bow out… maintaining the hit-and-miss standard of this second series until the very end.

Let’s just hope that when it returns, both for its Christmas special and still-anticipated third series, Fellowes and company maintain a tighter grip on proceedings and return to the award-winning standards of that superior first run.

What did you think?