Downturn for the Abbey

We watched the last two episodes of Downton back to back last night. The only way to watch the programme is via a recording so that you can fast forward through the interminable adverts. The scripts for the fourth series are better than for the third which were better than the ludicrous second, but goodness they take a lot of swallowing. The Dame Nellie Melba storyline was quite bizarre – maybe they had to adjust it when they realised Dame Kiri can’t act (i.e. speak dialogue convincingly). Whatever, it was simply not credible that anyone, not even the Earl of Grantham, a kind of dim-witted country solicitor, would have treated Melba like a servant. She was one of the most famous women on the planet! Melba was more used to singing to kings, queens and emperors, and expected to be treated very much as their equal. I know that the British upper classes can be the rudest of any tribe of people, but for anyone to walk out during a Melba performance in order to play cards was too ill-mannered even for this lot of uncultured slobs posing as aristos. It was also rather tough on Dame Kiri, though one has to confess she looked terrified and sang embarrassingly badly. The producers doubtless thought the acres of press coverage it bought them made it all worthwhile.
But the whole series has become irksome, from Dame Maggie’s pantomime dame to her Humpty-Dumpty buffoon of a son – I’m secretly hoping he loses everything in the great financial crash that is some seven years off and thereafter has to earn his living chopping wood. Talking of wood, Michelle Dockery’s turn as Lady Mary is a one-note performance without any light and shade, a character she has made as expressionless as her face and voice. She is almost as bad as Elizabeth McGovern (the Countess) who drifts through every scene mumbling her lines, unfocused, and generally giving the impression of being on some kind of medication. Compare them with the sublime Penelope Wilton (Mrs Crawley) – who can bring a tear to the eye with just a glance – Phyllis Logan (Mrs Hughes the housekeeper), Mr & Mrs Bates (Brendan Coyle and the excellent Joanne Froggatt) and poor Mr Molesley (Kevin Doyle). Still, the Americans will lap it up and think it is really how the upper-classes lived in 1920s Britain. But we are giving up on it. Downturn has passed its sell-by date. And, by the way, what’s happened to Baby George? And why, in an age when simply everyone darling smoked fags, does only one character (the devious Thomas) light up? Ah – of course! American sales. Silly me.


IRENE SCHARRER

Irene Scharrer


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