Sunday marked the end of the long wait for Downton Abbey fans, as season 3 began with the theme that the times are a changin’. Slowly to be sure, since this is post war Britain in 1920 and not the hippie 60’s in America with Bob Dylan.
The New York Times reviewer, clearly exhibiting an ‘upstatirs’ attitude compared the series about British aristocrats and their servants to “ Fifty Shades of Grey: soft-core pornography, but fixated on breeding and heritage rather than kinky sex… Downton Abbey is a fantasy that gets sillier in prolongation, and as is the case with Fifty Shades of Grey, there is a huge audience that cannot get enough,” says Alessandra Stanley. She attributes the popularity to the cheeriness of the melodrama—no bad news lasts too long and every problem is overcome, be it an inconvenient fiancée who graciously succumbs to the flu or a daughter running off with the chauffeur.
Sorry Alessandra, but I’m with the masses on this one. It is the stuff of good melodrama and how can you not love a series with those clipped, formal British accents and the butler delivering statements of righteous indignation when a fork is misplaced or one of the many rules of class violated. I love when people get to say: “I do love you so terribly much” or “I’m so dreadfully sorry” or “m’lady.” I’ve already decided when we become grandparents that I will be Grand-mama (accent on the last syllable) and Gary can be Papa (also accent on the last syllable).
Host Laura Linney’s analysis is a bit over the top when she describes the Crawley family as “so irresistible that they ought to be classified as a controlled substance,” but she is the host after all and many fans would agree with her.
Maggie Smith, as the Dowager Countess still gets the zingers-my favorite when she mistakenly asks for a drink (one of the new fangled cocktails of the 20’s) from Lord Grantham and then recants “Oh I thought you were a waiter.” An understandable mistake since he appears in black tux rather than full white tie, a shocking break with decorum, due to some downstairs treachery among the servants. Maggie’s also right on target, commenting on the impending visit of Cora’s mother, played by Shirley MacLaine. “She reminds me how thankful I am to be British.” “I thought she was American,” asks Matthew. “Exactly,” replies our Maggie.
The 20’s costumes are interesting—amazing that a style that made women look flat chested was ever popular. The automobiles are grand—classy with running boards, big headlights and bright colors.
I can’t seem to escape breast cancer, even when I‘m engaging in pure entertainment. Mrs Hughes, the lovely housekeeper, has a lump the doctor will test with a syringe. The good hearted cook, Mrs. Patmore, who has accompanied her to the appointment, inquires if it will be painful and is shushed by Mrs. Hughes, who with that stiff upper lip is prepared to endure the necessary. I thought getting fluid always meant a cyst, rather than a tumor, but the fluid is bloody and must be sent away to be analyzed for 2 months. How’s that for turnaround time? (I don’t think even The National Health today is that bad.) Sneak previews seem to indicate it will be cancer, but that may be a red herring. In any case, I’m sure the good doctor will find a solution. After all, Matthew did walk again after being confined to a wheelchair with spinal injuries and Lady Cora recovered from the Spanish flu. Here’s hoping Mrs. H. won’t have to weather a Halstead radical mastectomy (which was used from 1892 until well into the 70’s.) If they do have her die, the only bright spot would be finally seeing a chink in the emotional armor of Carson the butler.
A very satisfying episode, but I regret to say I already know a significant plot twist coming up, due to unfortunate web surfing. Beware: the British started the season on Christmas Day, so they’re ahead of us and some posts blast headlines that are too late for even a spoiler alert. I’m so dreadfully sorry.