TV Review: Downton Abbey – Christmas special

In a fairly underwhelming Christmas special, ITV’s period drama failed to provide any real character or plot development. reviews


Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review contains spoilers.

A Downton Abbey Christmas special used to be full of twists and turns with dramatic car accidents, the daughter of a rich earl discovering she was carrying the chauffer’s baby, or the wit of Dame Maggie Smith. But this year had none of the things which made a successful Downton episode and after two hours there was nothing which left you longing for more.

Series four ended on such a cliffhanger that the Christmas special was bound to clear up the issue of Bates’s murder, right? Wrong. The end of series four left us wondering whether or not Bates had killed his wife’s rapist by pushing him in front of a bus; all we discovered was a ticket stub found in his pocket proving that he had indeed been up to London in a single day from Yorkshire. Is it possible to travel from Yorkshire to London in a single day using the transport of Downton’s era? Most likely not, but Bates somehow managed it. It seems irrelevant as Lady Mary discovered the stub and burned the evidence resulting in her perverting the cause of justice. It seems that Lady Mary has picked up Bates’s criminal mastermind characteristic.

London was the main location for this episode with the Earl of Grantham longing to prove his devotion to the crown by retrieving some kind of love letter stolen from the Prince of Wales’ mistress by Lord Sampson. It sounds almost as scandalous as Carson and Mrs Hughes holding hands during their trip to the seaside. However, the Earl assembled a team, including the ever-witty Lady Mary, to complete the job and regain the letter to restore justice for the crown.

But forget the scandal for a moment as romance truly was in the air for some of the Downton cast. Daisy was finally given an opportunity with the opposite sex and offered a chance of adventure by marrying Harold’s valet Ethan. She turned it down of course, the lure of a life as a kitchen maid in Downton keeping her stuck to the stove. Isobel and her gentleman caller also came into play, while Mary kept on going between dates with Black and Gillingham but refused to make a decision on which one she could see herself with. Treat ‘em mean and keep ‘em keen, Mary. You can see that she’s loving this a little too much.

It wasn’t all love as Lady Edith’s pregnancy finally came back to the surface. She returned from Europe after giving birth to Gregson’s child and handing the baby over, choosing not to keep it for herself. But after two hours of watching Edith clearly struggle with her decision, she decided it would be best to bring the baby back and devised a cunning plan with Branson. We’ll have to wait and see how that turns out.

Downton did give us some hope with Paul Giamatti making his arrival on the Downton set. Shirley MacLaine returned as Martha Levinson and wasted no time in bickering with Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith). As soon as they’d arrived they found themselves the target of Lord Aysgarth and his daughter Madeline, both of them gold-diggers. Playboy Harold was charming and sweet, showing that Downton characters aren’t all stiff, as he spoke with Madeline. Aysgarth hastily proposed to Martha, yet she declined and decided that becoming an English lady was not for her. Thank goodness for that; the show needs her to continue her constant sparring with Violet as it is one of the best things to tune in for.

The Christmas episode failed to provide any major character developments, and even the return of the Americans couldn’t bring any excitement to the episode. It may have been slow, but there were some promising romances budding for series five, the most exciting of all has to be Carson and Mrs Hughes. On the bright side, no one died this year.

One comment

  1. 6 Jan ’14 at 8:43 am

    marion brown

    Did you watch this? You have got some of the facts screwed, Ms Horton. Edith did not hatch the plot with Tom, but with Mr Drew, the tenant farmer. Madelaine Aysgarth is not a gold digger – in fact her embarrassment at her fathers’ plans for her to charm Harold is one of the storylines. And you fail to mention the “coming out” ball which was the centre piece for the whole episode. And the first news we have had of Gregson in three episodes…. the mention of the brown shirt brigade is the best intimation we have had of the upcoming Nazi regime and war. Little George Crawley should be about the right age to enlist by 1940…….
    But yes, not quite satisfying enough to keep us interested for another six months, or however long it takes to get the next season going.

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