Downton Abbey Christmas Special TV Review: Christmas at Downton was a bit of a post-turkey snooze

 

Paul Giamatti as Harold Levinson and Poppy Drayton as Madeline in Downton Abbey
Paul Giamatti as Harold Levinson and Poppy Drayton as Madeline in Downton Abbey

There was a time when the Downton Abbey Christmas special might involve a lady revealing she was up the duff by the chauffeur, or a much-loved character croaking it in a car accident. This year, it was as if, chastened by reactions to their rape storyline, the writers were determined to include nothing even mildly dramatic. If you were looking for a good time to fit in that post-turkey snooze, 8.30pm till 10.30pm was your window.

We still haven’t had a satisfactory conclusion to series four’s cliffhanger - did Bates really murder Green (Dennis Rickman from EastEnders) as revenge for his wife’s rape? However, for a certain breed of Downtown pedant, what we did discover was even more inflammatory. The ticket stub found in Bates’s coat pocket proves he made it from Yorkshire to London and back in a single day, despite the fact that, as viewers have pointed out, such a journey would be impossible using the transport of the time. Perhaps Bates’s time-traveling powers will be revealed as a twist in series five?

The rest of the two-hour special’s several minor plot-lines revolved around the family’s London home, where most of the characters had decamped for Rose’s debutante ball. The Earl sought to prove his loyalty to the crown by retrieving an incriminating love letter stolen from the Prince of Wales’ mistress by that dastardly Lord Sampson. He assembled an unlikely Downton’s Eleven heist crew, including dainty Rose and haughty Lady Mary, though the latter was more interested in insulting the soft furnishings than getting the job done: “Its rather sad to see the truth behind Mr Sampson’s smooth facade,” she commented, upon entering his flat.

As the descendent of two grande dames, Martha Levinson (Shirley Maclaine) and Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), it’s no mystery where Lady Mary gets her sharp tongue. Last night, Grandmama Levinson was in London again and ready to resume hostilities with the dowager countess, but while MacLaine vs. Smith is on paper a promising clash of wits, in practice both characters are by now too softened to be truly withering.

Downton’s long-standing American/English culture clash did play out to comic effect below stairs, where Carson the butler was constantly indignant at the outrageous yankee ways of the house guests. They want ice with all their drinks! Whatever next!

Upstairs, Mrs Levinson’s son Harold (played by guest star Paul Giamatti) scandalised the debutants by openly discussing money. Giamatti is best known for playing tortured introverts in American indie films, so the role of a flighty playboy bachelor was a bit of a stretch; a shame, since he was one of our best hopes for a new romantic story-line.

It seems Downton Abbey now contains more happily married couples, contended widow(er)s and assumed asexuals than is conducive to gripping drama. And no, Carson and Mrs Hughes holding hands during the trip to the seaside doesn’t count. How frightfully dull, as Lady Mary might say.

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It seems Downton Abbey now contains more happily married couples, contended widow(er)s and assumed asexuals than is conducive to gripping drama. And no, Carson and Mrs Hughes holding hands during the trip to the seaside doesn’t count.

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