After the best part of a year away from my screen, Downton Abbey was back, and if you heard a strange, strangled cry at about the time the opening credits started, then apologies – that was me as all the tension and excitement left my body in the form of a gigantic, involuntary squeal. Thankfully, I have very understanding neighbours, but they were probably hooked too, as series four FINALLY got under way. It began brilliantly, with O’Brien scuttling off into the night, six months after the events left me sobbing into my mince pies and cold cuts. Matthew was dead, but life at Downton went on.
Sadly, Mary hadn’t received the memo, and she wandered about the place like a ghost, eventually admitting that Matthew’s demise had removed whatever “softness” he had seen in her. She was frosty and distant, and no matter how often or how hard I yelled at the telly that he was an idiot, she listened as her father Robert – in between carping about the cost of death duties that would, no doubt, cripple the estate again – insisted the best thing for her was to insulate her from the world until she “got better again”. He stopped short of physically patting her on the head, but only just. Thank god for the unfailingly pragmatic Violet. While she didn’t do anything so unseemly as give her granddaughter a boot up the backside, in what was a poignant scene, she left Mary in no doubt that the time had come for her to step back into the land of the living.
Matthew’s mourning mother Isobel was suffering too, and looked as though she was on the verge of shattering into a million pieces. At a loss as to what to do with herself after her only son’s death, she too received a ‘chin-up’ visit by Violet, but it was a cry for help from Mrs Hughes that gave Isobel a new reason to get up and carry on, as she helped rescue an old acquaintance of Carter’s from the workhouse.
Meanwhile, below stairs, Thomas crossed swords with the bossy Nanny West, who foolishly decided she could order him around, too.
True to form, he appeared to stick the knife in when he confided in Lady Cora his fears that baby George and Sybbie were being left alone too often, but it turned out the nanny really was neglecting Tom’s daughter, prompting Cora to promptly give West the boot. Cue 1-0 to Thomas and a quick buff for his halo.
Away from Downton, things were looking up for Edith, whose romance with Gregson faced a watershed moment when he revealed he had found a way to divorce his unstable wife – but only if they went to live in Germany… Bookies will probably be taking bets now as to how far the fur flies when she lets THAT little morsel slip at the next family gathering. Elsewhere, Matthew’s former valet Molesley struggled to find a new position, and for once not even Violet, who had wangled him an ‘audition’ for a prospective new employer, could prevent disaster striking as he made a complete mess of things. To be fair, it wasn’t his fault, but even so…
The series four opener was everything I’ve come to expect from this sublime show: it was lovely to look at, impeccably acted (there really isn’t a duff note struck by anyone) and with plenty going on to keep me more than interested. Let the news ring out across the nation: Sunday nights now belong firmly to ITV.
Downton Abbey continues Sunday’s at 9.00pm on ITV.
Contributed by Scheenagh Harrington