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Downton Abbey: Season 3 - Episode 3 reviewed

Downton Abbey

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

IS IT me or is Downton Abbey more interesting when concentrating on the downstairs staff?

The third episode of Season 3 was a classic case in point. While upstairs, we had the wedding of Lady Edith and Sir Anthony to contend with, as well as the predictable resolution of Matthew’s inheritance (he’s going to invest in Downton, who’d have guessed), it was the downstairs storylines that really had us gripped.

True, Lady Edith got jilted at the altar, as Sir Anthony finally saw the light of day and left her before the ceremony had barely started, but – again – there was an inevitability to the story. Edith seems to be the go-to lady for Julian Fellowes to dump most of Downton‘s upper class hardships upon.

And who didn’t know her big day was doomed once Mary had wished her all the luck in the world? Perhaps the biggest surprise of the storyline was the sight of Dame Maggie Smith actively encouraging Edith to let Sir Anthony go… has she ever moved as fast since the series began?

As for the culmination of Downton‘s financial woes, Matthew’s about turn was another of those countdowns to the inevitable. The manner in which it was achieved, via a shaky letter device, was evidence of Fellowes’ writing at its most contrived.

The letter in question virtually absolved Matthew from blame in breaking Lavinia’s heart and gave him the writer’s blessing to keep his inheritance.

To draw matters out, Fellowes had Matthew question its authenticity, hinting at a plot device that wouldd have been more convincing. But instead, he had kitchen helper Daisy come in and save the day by admitting that she had posted the fateful letter.

And so Downton was saved. It was, admittedly, a heart-warming moment. But it was also cheesy as hell.

Far better were the happenings downstairs and, in particular, the drama and uncertainty surrounding Mrs Hughes’s cancer scare. Impeccably played by Phyllis Logan, the uncertainty surrounding her character’s fate gave rise to some genuinely poignant moments – not least of which was her exchange with Elizabeth McGovern’s Cora.

The conclusion of that story was also nicely realised, as news of her all clear was greeted with a private song of relief and joy by Carson… who had spent a large part of the episode attempting to uncover the truth behind Mrs Hughes’s tiredness and help alleviate some of her work burden without revealing that he knew.

Jim Carter, as Carson, was another of the episode’s saving graces. And who didn’t sigh with relief at the outcome?

Enjoyable, too, is the battle of wits now taking place between O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) and Rob James-Collier’s Thomas. Previous cohorts, O’Brien has now taken the higher moral ground and had to contend with Thomas’s latest attempt to discredit her.

The coming weeks should be fun in seeing how she plots her revenge, as the one upmanship between the servants (especially during Bates’ day) have always been one of the show’s strengths.

Downton Abbey‘s third season remains a marked improvement on its second yet still feels inferior to the show we fell in love with during its debut run.