Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 4: Still entertaining, but those times need to hurry up and get a-changing

Alongside the history for dummies, we had Downton's favourite topic: inner conflict

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The Independent Culture

Whether it's giving us a potted history lesson or signposting a Life-changing Event, Julian Fellowes' Downton script isn't known for its subtlety. But at least in this busy episode we started believing things might actually “change”, rather than just talking about it.

On the curriculum this week: the plight of the tsarist Russians post-revolution, characterised by Dowager Countess’ former love interest, refugee Prince Kuragin, lowered to eating in a soup kitchen. We also learnt about the rise of the Nazis: "They wear brown shirts and go around bullying people," said Lord Grantham of the party’s paramilitary arm, as though explaining it to little George and Sybbie. Thanks for that, Robert.

New Downton Abbey pictures show Lady Mary in a quandary

Alongside the history for dummies, we had Downton's favourite topic: inner conflict. There was Barrow attempting to “cure” his homosexuality; Edith tormented over the custody of her illegitimate child, but staying quiet for the sake of the family’s reputation, and Tom torn by his loyalty to the family and his leftist beliefs. If you’ve forgotten what those were, they are handily incarnated in teacher-activist and nightmare dinner guest Miss Bunting.

 

Then there was Mary's decision over her two suitors. She’d just decided to dump Lord Gillingham after their week(!) of passion in Liverpool when up popped Charles Blake. Surely she wasn’t going to give him a go as well? Not a lady of her standing?

Talking of social standing, undercook Daisy had an intellectual awakening thanks to Miss Bunting and made an eloquant - if clunky - argument for secondary education for all. 

And there was Cora doing some more eyelash fluttering with the ludicrous art historian Mr Bricker. Subtext: Robert needs to start taking her seriously. Pronto.

Light relief came in the form of Violet and Cousin Isabel's amusing "tête-à-têtes over their love lives and Lord Merton's proposal, a prospect increasingly more interesting than Mary's love triangle.  

With all that entertainment, and it is still entertaining, it's easy to forget the storyline that the producers want us to care about: Is Mr Bates a murderer? Frankly, it’s hard to feel anything at all about Mr Bates. But at least the lines of enquiry are hotting up.

In between moping we learnt Edith is still writing her newspaper column. “What are they all about?” she asked wearily when the Dowager Countess enquired about the latest hot topic.  “The way the world is changing.”

We know how she feels: Downton Abbey is still keeping our interest, but it does need to hurry up and get on with it.

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