When the pre-show outshines the main feature, I’m beginning to have a little concern.
The episode “The Secrets of Highclere Castle” is a fantastic one-hour focus on the history and present day Highclere Castle, the setting of Downton’s Crawley mansion. The information is largely collected in the book written by Countess Fiona Carnarvon, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle. Read my review of the book here. And you can watch the whole one hour feature here.
I have high praise for Downton Abbey S1 and S2. That’s why since last February, there have been quite a few ripples sent out from the pond here. Like numerous others, I’m following the countdown to S3, this cultural phenomenon of using Downton Abbey to measure the passing of a year. So it was with much anticipation that I watched S3 premiered in North America on PBS last night.
It begins shakily (metaphorically and literally… maybe some shots with a hand-held camera?) telling the recent development of how everyone is doing. So many stories, so little time. So what we get is a montage, vignettes by the seconds. That is fine too, but somehow, the people seem different now.
It takes a while for me to get into the act, to get back that captivating feel as in S1 and S2. Such moments are sparse and far between, I’m afraid to say. Ok… before you fans of Downton throw pebbles at me instead of into the pond, there are a few ‘movie moments’.
My favorite is when Robert reveals to Cora he has lost all her money in a failed railroad company (Canadian? Sorry). He sheds tears for the loss while she is so forgiving and loving. What a moving scene. Cora Crawley is now my favourite Downton character.
Another sweet moment gives me back the feeling of why I love DA in the first place, is the Matthew and Mary blind kiss the night before the wedding, a wedding that is almost called off. But here in S3 E1, it seems Mary has gone back to her old, old self where practical matters and Downton heritage surpasses love and honor. In this case, I’m all for Matthew, who is unwilling to take the large sum he inherits from Lavinia’s father. Again, here’s the guy with some backbone when it comes to moral dilemmas.
Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson, the Grandmama from America, is the highly anticipated new twist. And she doesn’t disappoint. We need someone to turn the table, tip the balance, add some spice of life to the stiff traditions of Downton, if that means setting a buffet table, guests choose their own food, be it cold cuts and what not, sit anywhere they like, and joining in an after dinner singing of ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’. Violet Crawley, take that.
The prison scenes with Bates and Anna are heartwarming, another reminder of why I love DA in the first place. Some nice shots. I particularly like the one he slowly limps down the long flight of stairs. While for justice’s sake he should be out of there. But for cinematic variety, I think Bates in prison offers a nice human touch of pathos, which again is why I like DA in the first place.
Other plot lines seem quite weak. Daisy goes on strike? She should first join a union. The too tall footman/valet Alfred’s troubles with Thomas, recycled from previous episodes of Bates’. And Mrs. Hughes, I feel so sorry for her. But Mrs. Patmore proves to be a solid and lively character. Edith has grown more beautiful while Sybil turns lacklustre.
I hope the rest of the episodes deliver what I’ve so highly anticipated. The 20’s is a stylish backdrop for a costume drama. They’re all dressed up, and I wish they have somewhere to go, and bring me there with them.
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