fri 01/08/2014

Downton Abbey, Series 2, ITV1 | TV reviews, news & interviews

Downton Abbey, Series 2, ITV1

It's back, and this time it's exactly the same, with added explosions

Heredity porn: Dan Stevens and Hugh Bonneville squeeze into full military fig

And now for that difficult second album. Downton Abbey’s stately progress last autumn revived in television audiences a taste thought long dead: for populist drama offering a sepia-tinted vision of the English class system in which the well-to-do are dressed for dinner by bowing/curtsying feudal underlings. With social mobility back roughly where it was a century ago. it could almost have been a snapshot of modern UK plc. That did not stop it from being hungrily consumed as pure escapism, both here and in America where overnight it won four Emmys. And here for our pleasure is another helping.

I’ve got to say, not before time. There were a whole bunch of loose ends left untied by Julian Fellowes' script in the final episode of the first series. Love matches went unmade, villains unpunished, antagonisms unaddressed and Lady Mary’s tumultuous rumble with the Turkish diplomat was left a-dangle. It was a frustrated audience which bade farewell to the Abbey’s inhabitants both upstairs and down. But hey, they’ve all reported back for duty, and unless Fellowes is holding out for series three set in the roaring Twenties, some questions may even be answered this time round.

The first series began with a dynastic disaster – the sinking of the Titanic and the death of two heirs to the Grantham title. The second threatens another: this time the heir Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is putting himself in the firing line among the sandbags and exploding ordnance of the Trenches. And who should he bump into, smeared in stage mud and as ever plotting his survival, but Thomas the dastardly footman (Rob-James Collier)? Meanwhile, back in Yorkshire (not sure why but I never knew it was Yorkshire till last night, Highclere Castle being in Berkshire) his Lordship was eager to join up, as was William the second footman, while the valet Molesley was for dodging the draft and flying German bullets.

Dull old Lord Grantham is still to have a meaningful dialogue with his perfectly vapid wife

Other than that. nothing much has changed. Bates, for one, doesn't seem to have unearthed a cure for deep emotional constipation. He and Anna, played by Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt (pictured above), finally managed a mutual declaration, and even stole a blissful, long-delayed kiss, only to have the promise of happiness promptly whipped from under their noses by the blackmailing plots of Bates' shrewish wife. No doubt we’ll all be strung along till the cash tills have rung on the final ad break in seven episodes’ time. As for the rest, Lady Mary and the other sister (I always forget her name) are still scrapping like pointless ferrets. Dame Maggie, bless her, is doing valuable eyebrow work about flower arrangements and such. The maid O’Brien, who ended the last series with a sudden attack of conscience, has returned seamlessly to scheming. It all felt a bit like a kettle being put back on the boil. Meanwhile, dull old Lord Grantham is yet to enjoy a meaningful dialogue with his perfectly vapid wife.

Fellowes, the consummate melodramatist, does plot, not character. But the Rolls Royce acting, as ever, gets the writing out of jail

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Awfully funny this review,

Awfully funny this review, laughed out loud, wish this Dutchie could write like that, and how true: Fellowes does plot, not character. I mean, O'Brien is not for real is she, a perfect clone of Du Maurier's Mrs. Danvers and the Lady of the House is not all there it seems. But Downton is indeed a joy to watch. May it continue for a few seasons more.

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