There is no easy way to put this. The casting for Downton Abbey Series 4 is odd. Surely they could have got anyone they wanted? Without casting aspersions on any of those they have involved — who, I am sure, will turn out to be brilliant — why not go for some big names? Or some really outlandish celebrity choices? Instead we have Dame Kiri De Kanawa of 1981-Royal-Wedding-Fame and Tom Cullen and Julian Ovenden of No-one-Can-Really-Remember-Fame. (Cullen is a new-ish unknown. Ovenden was in Foyle’s War.)
But the icing on the Cake of Disappointment is truly the departure of Miss O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran). This is a total and utter disaster. Bigger, I would suggest, that even Cousin Matthew (Dan Stevens) leaving. The dynamic between Thomas and O’Brien is what has kept many of us going over the past three long years. I’m sure it’s the right thing for Siobhan Finneran (although it’s a type-casting which will already be difficult to escape) but it’s a tragedy for Uncle Julian and his already all-over-the-place plot. Without Thomas and O’Brien at the centre of the downstairs shenanigans, I dread to think of how messed up everything will be. New series filming starts now. On air September. And so we forge onwards.
Today Woman’s Hour asked ahead of Comic Relief: “Feminist comedy: what’s funny?” Listen Again here from 31 mins 40 secs. I would suggest this is not a wise question to ask. Feminism + comedy = disaster. Feminism = good subject for comedy. Feminism itself = not funny.
The report comes from What the Frock in Bristol at The Square (nice venue) where there was a crowd of about 80 for an evening featuring six female comedians, including me. The interviews were done in the bar before the gig and the crowd was very vociferous: “I don’t go to comedy because it’s very male-driven.” “I don’t think Miranda is a great role model.” “The guy tripping over the pavement, that’s my kind of humour.” “The male-bashing side of it is very amusing. But swearing… It becomes not amusing.” No pressure, then.
The Bridget Christie interview is lovely here. “Feminist comedy? It’s a hard sell. People are embarrassed and suspicious.” “I don’t care about fish. I’m a feminist.” I really want to meet the book shop man who made regular visits to the Women’s Section for his important business. Bridget Christie: “The Women’s Section stunk of farts. It was the least popular area of the book shop. It was symbolic to me.”
To the Donmar for BBC Radio 4’s Front Row to review Trelawny of the Wells, a 1898 play by Arthur Wing Pinero which has been subtly reworked by Patrick Marber. Unusual, fresh and entertaining play directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina). Ron Cook — Mr Crabb the accountant in Mr Selfridge — absolutely steals the show with his dual role as Mrs Mossop, the Peggy Mitchell-style housekeeper, and Sir William Gower, the snuff-addicted grumpy uncle. I enjoyed it very much indeed, as I said about 56 times during the programme.
I feel I must apologise to the people of the Americas for the Downton Abbey series finale. No-one else is going to say sorry, least of all Uncle Julian, so it falls to me. I am truly sorry.
Apologies too for the cock-up on the Guardian website where all the series blogs have been out of synch. Despite me complaining about this and even sending them a link to the one they were supposed to post on the right day. Pah!
For the record, PBS broadcast the last two episodes of Series Three as a special extended penultimate episode. In the UK this was shown in two parts: click here and here to read. And they showed the UK “Christmas special” as the Series Three season finale. That at least makes sense.
Meanwhile I have apologised for loads of things that aren’t my fault. No need to check my passport. I am British.
“Boom, shake, shake, shake the room! Boom, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, BOOM!” Improbably but exceedingly pleasingly the people at hip-hop-lovin’ DJ hoedown For the Love of Mic (“the silliest rap night in London”) asked me to be Agony Aunt on their show for London Fields Radio. This required me to dissect the lyrics of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems and advise him on future life decisions.
I took the view that 99 Problems is an expression of deep delusion and defensiveness. This man believes he has a lot of problems but a woman is not one of them. I would argue that by foregrounding the woman, he shows that really she is in fact the root of his problems but he is in denial of this key fact.
Mostly, though, I asked DJ Alexi Duggins (in another life, Editor-At-Large at Time Out) many middle-aged, high-court-judge-style questions about what rap words mean. A “gat” is a gun, apparently. Why not just say this? Also on this recording: Kris Kross (“Jump! Jump!”), Dizzee Rascal and Betty Boo doing the do. Those are the people I had heard of anyway.
If any American viewers are still watching this “entertainingly patchy” period soap opera, then the Guardian series blog caters for all your catch-up needs. In this week’s episode the Golden Eyebrow Award was even more hotly contested with Cousin Violet pipping Carson the Butler at the post with her rant about a “drunken gorilla”. A most unflattering reference to Branson’s mechanic brother. But painfully accurate, as many of Cousin Violet’s references often are.
After the horror that was last week’s episode, Downton: Week 5 fell back into its usual semi-mundane, semi-insane habits with an outing which focused with demented repetition on Ethel’s former status as a prostitute. “Has anyone noticed, by the way, that Ethel [above] used to be a prostitute? Yes, a prostitute who did prostitute things! In the manner of a prostitute!”
Online comments from US viewers are still slightly mystifying. They take it very seriously indeed and worry that they are not understanding elements of the plot and say things like “excellent storyline and excellent acting all-around.” I cannot disagree about the acting. Mostly they think I am rude and disrespectful to Uncle Julian. Which obviously I am. But only when he deserves it.
Oh dear me. It’s *that* episode. Series 3, Episode 4 reviewed here. I can’t even bear to speak of what happens in it. Not so much for fear of a spoiler situation but more because I still have not recovered from the feeling of betrayal this episode occasioned. I’m still having convulsions. I look forward, however, to reading more about what the people of the Americas make of it all. For now, let’s focus on happier times from Series 1. See above: SYBIL IN PANTALOONS! Those were the days!
Three weeks in and US viewers seem to be complaining that the subplots are “implausible”. Seeing as Downton is 100% subplots and no actual plot, we can only conclude that the whole enterprise is “implausible”. Well done, Americans! You’ve got it! From this week’s review here: “This was an episode that pointed up the main problem with Downton: when it’s mad we complain, but secretly enjoy it: when it’s not that mad we also complain, because it feels a bit boring.” Welcome to the Downton circle of self-loathing…
Click here for Guardian blog: Downton Abbey, series 3, week 2, for US fans watching on PBS on Sunday nights. I am endlessly amused by American viewers’ complaints that there are elements in the show that do not make any sense. I fear they may be slightly missing the point. As one contributor puts it: “IF YOU NEED CONTINUITY, AVOID DOWNTON ABBEY.” Similarly if you need narrative structure, fulfilling plots, character development and an absence of non-sequiturs, anachronisms and clunky dialogue. Apart from that, it’s BRILLIANT obviously.