Farewell Lady Sybil as she dies a very Victorian death
The youngest Crawley girl was just 24 and died a death heavily laden with melodrama, allowing Jessica Brown Findlay who played her to be even more expressive with her eyebrows.
Throughout last night's episode on ITV (to be screened on TV3 on Wednesday) , a black cloud hung over Downton.
At the start, her deteriorating condition was ignored by the breeziness of the medical professionals. “She’s just a healthy young woman going through a very natural process,” said Dr Clarkson, even though Lady Sybil’s temperature had gone through the roof.
The family were not convinced, remembering how he had failed to foresee the death of Matthew’s first wife, Lavinia.
In fact, Dr Clarkson redeemed himself.
Having spotted the overabundance of protein in Lady Sybil’s urine (too much information in the view of the Earl of Grantham) and thus the likelihood of eclampsia, he urged that she be rushed to hospital.
The problem lay in the fact that the family had chosen Harley Street’s Sir Philip Tapsell (a wonderfully pompous Tim Pigott-Smith) to deliver the baby, a man who believed that life and death lay in his hands, and who thought Clarkson’s worries were a sign of unprofessional provincialism. “If we moved her now, it would be tantamount to murder,” bristled Sir Philip.
And so with Downton Abbey’s usual frantic signposting, the audience knew that Lady Sybil was certain to meet her maker.
Former maid Ethel, now ensconced with Cousin Isobel as a “project”, had already started to talk about Lady Sybil in the past tense before she had uttered her last words – “Lady Sybil was always good to me,” she said wistfully, as if remembering a long-dead maiden aunt.
In a way, Lady Sybil’s death was one of those very Victorian deaths; a thoroughly decent person who had to be punished for her angelic nature to show the wrath of God.
After her death, her sisters Mary and Edith looked glumly like Goneril and Regan wondering if they would ever be able to get on without Lady Sybil there as the peacemaker.
It seems unlikely, and with Lady Cora now blaming her husband for not listening to Dr Clarkson, the family home is going to be a very unhappy one.
And even though the baby, a daughter, was delivered successfully, you know that she will be used as a political football as former chauffeur Tom’s econvictions harden and he has no reason to remain with an aristocracy that he despises so completely.