Last Night’s TV: Downton Abbey, ITV1
Well it didn’t take long for emotions to run as high as those preposterous spires that jostle for position along the upper reaches of Downton Abbey itself. If it wasn’t the unspoken passion of Lady Mary, it was Anna’s stricken little face after Bates’s abandonment of her, or Edith’s dismay at her fast-thwarted amour for the local farmer.
And that was just the romance, which we got in pre-war Downton too. But now there’s bodily harm to deal with as well. Tonight there was shell shock, a suicide and the execution of Mrs Padmore’s nephew for cowardice. Rarely has a second episode of a long series been so packed with miserable incidents.
The Great War is looking like it’s going to cast a very serious pall indeed over Downton Abbey, as of course it must. And Fellowes’s decision to concentrate on those at home rather than the soldiers at the front is proving an excellent one, giving the viewer some genuine insight into the helpless anxiety of those who were left behind.
It was left to the Dowager Countess alone to give us the occasional laugh. Her monopoly of all the decent lines grows only greater, or perhaps Maggie Smith’s performance is soaring to even more impressive heights. “The truth is neither here nor there, it’s the look of the thing that matters,” was my favourite of the night. In joint second came the admonition to Edith over her eagerness to drive: “This is not Toad of Toad Hall!” (Yes, Fellowes has done his research – The Wind in the Willows came out in 1908). And her dismissal of the pedigree of the family her daughter married into: “They were no great threat to the Plantagenets.”
In all it was a wonderful episode, if one requiring hankies. The one small caveat is that Lady Mary’s new beau, the alarmingly bourgeois Sir Richard Carlisle (that’s not a hereditary “Sir”), seems far too soft spoken and inoffensive to be quite the threat to propriety the Dowager Countess and the rest of her family seem to believe him to be. But then Iain Glen, who plays him, is a subtle, clever actor, and can do nasty with the best of them when the moment truly requires it.