Downton Abbey, ITV, finale review: Farewell to period drama that shows unpleasant people behaving unpleasantly

Dame Maggie Smith has admitted to never having watched an episode of the insanely successful show – you can see why

Dame Maggie Smith herself recently confessed to having never watched an episode of the insanely successful period drama Downton Abbey, in which she stars as the formidable Dowager Countess of Grantham. And if last night’s finale was anything to go by, I can see why.

Downton seems mostly to consist of unpleasant people behaving rather unpleasantly. Take Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), for example. A woman so nasty that the best compliment her own sister could summon was: “One day our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike.” And yet there she was at the end of the episode getting married – for a second time. It’s inconceivable that a woman so vile could convince one poor sap to marry her, never mind two. But Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) was so desperate to get her down the aisle that he spent the entire 100-minute episode with a marriage licence in his back pocket on the off-chance she would agree. 

She eventually did – but only after she’d sabotaged Edith’s chance of a happy ending. Having finally accepted hapless Bertie’s proposal – following some unexpected graveyard luck which made him a Marquis – Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) was allowed to enjoy it for about 12 hours before her spiteful sister Mary let slip about Edith’s not-so-secret secret child. The engagement was over before she’d had chance to raise a china teacup to it.

Downstairs, Mr Barrow (Rob James-Collier) was so fed up in his unsuccessful quest to find alternative employment – much to the other servants’ amusement – that he took some rather drastic measures involving a blade and a bathtub. Even that was unsuccessful and he soon found himself propped up on a pillow pretending to have the flu while Lord Grantham begrudgingly agreed to let him stay on as his servant. Who needs enemies, eh?

Equally unpleasant was Mr Carson (Jim Carter) who tried to put a stop to Mr Molesley’s blossoming (well, tentatively sprouting) teaching career and who was more than happy for Mrs Patmore’s B&B to be branded a “house of ill-repute” so long as she didn’t drag the Crawley family name down with her. The Dowager, meanwhile (the one character we actively encourage to be unpleasant), had come over all soft, telling the sour-faced Lady Mary that in reality she valued love “above all else”.  Who knew?

Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) at least seemed contented with his lot. Apparently having one horrible but happy daughter made up for the mousey yet miserable one. “Of all my children, Edith has given me the most surprises,” he said.

“Surprises of the most mixed variety,” hissed the Dowager in a brief but welcome return to form.

“A surprise is a surprise Ma-ma, and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last one yet,” he concluded.

Well I hate to break it to you, Hugh, but that was the closing episode so Edith may well have missed the boat. Still, there’s always the Christmas special.

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