Well bugger me. I love, love, love Downton Abbey, even though I know, for all its pomp and splendour, it’s essentially Coronation Street in period costume. It’s camp and clever, stylish and satisfying, pretty and persuasive all at the same time. Not to mention more addictive than heroin. Probably.
I have to say, however, having sat open-mouthed as the credits on this year’s Christmas special whizzed past that I’m a little disappointed. The big storyline was Rose’s debutante ball and her ‘entry’ into society (ie: placed on the marriage market – feminists please address your complaints to Mr J Fellowes, at ITV). For aristocratic girls and their families of the time, being presented to the King was a massive deal, but thanks to the crazy melange of other storylines served up, its impact was somewhat reduced, which was a shame. That said, I was aghast at the hideous frocks Rose wore at the presentation and the subsequent ball (sickly pink puffball, anyone?), so maybe it’s just as well the scenes felt a bit glossed over.
It’s not my only beef with this Christmas edition. First of all, it didn’t even feel like a festive episode, given it wasn’t set in December. Not a sprig of holly was about the bring a whiff of Yuletide cheer – and for some, god knows they needed it. Tom skulked about the place like a thief in the night, allowing smug servant Thomas to – ahem – lord it over him, even though Tom is, as everyone knows, Thomas’s social superior. My Christmas Downton wish was ignored – there was no gift-wrapped backbone this year for the conflicted former chauffeur.
Next, and for me the hardest blow, was the criminal underuse of Paul Giamatti. He joined the ranks as Martha’s playboy son Harold. Apart from standing around looking vaguely uncomfortable and falling for the charms of an upper-crust young girlie, the Oscar-nominated star (should I say that again?) had chuff-all else to do, which was a bitter disappointment. Fingers crossed they bring him back in future episodes and give him a storyline to get his teeth into.
Flawed this festive edition may have been, but there were some truly golden moments – and they all involved Maggie Smith. Her bitchy exchanges with Penelope Wilton in the carriage were a joy to watch, even more so than a corridor conversation with the redoubtable Martha. Why, Julian Fellowes, do we not get more of these superb ladies doing what they do best?
The night’s biggest surprise (at least for me), came courtesy of Edith. I have always been firmly Team Mary, and have never liked her sour-faced, spoiled younger sister. But as she poured her heart out to a singularly unhelpful Lady Rosamund, it was painfully obvious to see Edith was not coping with the decision to give up her baby daughter. Michael be damned – I don’t care if he comes back or not – separate a mother from her child at your peril.
Edith may not be the most sympathetic of characters, but here she proved there’s more to her than her girlish whims and bratty tantrums. She’s a woman in pain, and heaven knows where Julian Fellowes will take THAT when the curtain goes up on season five.
I can’t wait to find out.
Contributed by Scheenagh Harrington