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.
Very excited that the Guardian is re-publishing the Series 3 Downton blog for the benefit of US viewers. The latest series aired on PBS from last night (Sunday). Amusing to discover how differently they are received. The American online commenters seem to think that Shirley Maclaine’s character comes across as totally idiotic. Over here she was seen as one of the least ridiculous things about the entire programme. Complaints are already starting to mount about anachronism and implausibility. Frankly, if you don’t like those twin devils, you are definitely watching the wrong show… For a review of Series 3, Episode 1 (beware: spoilers), click here.
Is Mr Selfridge the new Downton Abbey? This Guardian blog asks whether Downton fans are more likely to be thrilled or disappointed by ITV1’s latest period offering. Verdict: mostly thrilled. I praised the casting of Selfridge (Jeremy Piven of Entourage fame) and the French window-dresser (Gregory Fitoussi of Spiral fame). But worried that they were missing a household name. Where’s the Dame Maggie Smith of the piece? Still, a promising outing.
“The first episode brought a few one-liners to rival Downton. “This is a shop, sir, not an exhibition.” “Woman, lovely woman, what a sex you are.” “You would put a motor car in the window? How fabulously extravagant!” “I do so enjoy a shapely calf.” And some minor characters who, we can tell already, are going to be delightful. The fleetingly glimpsed, mournful butler already seems much more realistic than anyone on Downton. The “dark horse” lady head of accessories Miss Mardle (Amanda Abbington) who’s having a thing with chief of staff Mr Grove (Tom Goodman-Hill) is one to watch. And Mr Crabb (Ron Cook), the simmeringly anxious accountant, is excellent.” I do love Mr Crabb.
What author wouldn’t want to be played by Mad Men’s Don Draper? It can’t be bad news for Mikhail Bulgakov (below, left) that he is being represented on screen by Jon Hamm (in Sky’s A Young Doctor’s Notebook, which finishes tomorrow). Nor can it do any harm to his back catalogue, although I’d recommend reading The Master and Margarita before A Country Doctor’s Notebook.
The fact that the doctorly stories have ended up being adapted for the mainstream audience for Sky owes a lot to The Master and Margarita’s recent successes on screen and stage. They used to say that Bulgakov was the author who could never be adapated — now he’s everywhere in every medium. One of the theatrical highlights of the year was Theatre de Complicite’s version of The Master and Margarita at The Barbican. It was incredible — and universally well-reviewed. (Here’s Michael Billington’s. And congratulations to him for his OBE yesterday, by the way.) After a sell-out run in early 2012, the play is back now and booking to Jan 19, 2013.
Meanwhile, I picked the novel for Not-New Book of the Year for this list for Vintage Classics in the Guardian which also mentions Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native and William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow. Can’t see them coming to Sky Arts any time soon, though…
It is official. I am clairvoyant.
More choice comments from the Guardian’s TV blog where Downton is no. 2 on the website’s Most Viewed (second only to Dr Who). The overall verdict is that last night’s outing was disappointing — but that’s only to be expected from a series that jumped the shark a long time ago. It’s amusing to me: Downton is hugely commercially popular and pulls in massive ratings. And yet you only hear people complaining about it. Out of 100+ comments there are only two people defending Uncle Julian. Although, to be fair, most of the carping is affectionate.
Typical stuff: “Glorious madcap populist schmaltzy dross.” “The second someone said about Matthew driving back from the hospital, we knew his goose was cooked.” “I think Fellowes is now putting in the anachronisms deliberately, to take the piss.” “Downton started out as a rather interesting kind of spin-off from Gosford Park, but now it’s definitely Dynasty in costume.”
Love this comment about Branson’s reference to having “been on a learning curve”: “Ah yes, the learning curve. One of the best Downton anachronisms ever, and saved by Julian Fellowes right till the end, in order (I don’t doubt) to lull his audience into a false sense of authenticity. Could someone please compile the greatest anachronisms and put them out as a separate DVD?” I may well consider doing this…
Thanks for nothing, Uncle Julian. Viewer complaints are already flooding (OK, trickling) in after last night’s Christmas special in which a KEY CHARACTER was killed off. I won’t say who in case it’s spoilerising things for anyone. So if you don’t know then don’t read the Guardian blog here. From Twitter: “What a load of crap.” “Think I’m going to sulk until 2013.” “Very cruel.” “My mother is still wandering around the kitchen saying, ‘Well, that’s ruined my Christmas.'” “It was beyond cruel. Just anger-making.” “It was just unnecessary. They didn’t have this many people die in the war and the influenza epidemic combined.”
Favourite online comment: “I was on the phone to my Grandmother when he started his death drive. All I heard was “DIE, YOU STUPID, BORING LITTLE MAN!” and then “FINALLY! THERE IS JUSTICE IN THE WORLD!” I think she’d been at the cooking sherry a *wee* bit too much.”
There were some happy moments, though. The thwarted marriage proposal between Cousin Isobel and Doctor Death. The uneasy truce between Thomas and Jimmy. And the gastronomically-motivated courtship of Mrs Patmore by the chubby-fingered, grubby-minded grocer who wanted to get his hands on her hams. If I can just keep him at the forefront of my mind, I’ll tolerate tuning in for series four, come autumn 2013… For now I feel betrayed. How could you, Uncle Julian?
Writing in the Independent about how unnecessary it is to bring SEX into everything. I don’t mind if it’s in jest, vicar, but when it’s wall-to-wall lascivious licks and winks even on Mary Berry’s Christmas bake-off… Well, it’s gone too far. It started with Nigella — who was wearing the obligatory “festive wench” costume in her Christmas special — and now it has spread to everyone. Even Michel Roux looked as if they had told him to gaze longingly at his fish stew.
The BBC needed to take a cold shower after its foodie Christmas specials this year. “Other than the eye-watering close-ups of raspberries hitting their targets, the festive Bake-Off itself was relatively innocent. But the trailer… Weaving together Nigella’s heavy breathing and Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood’s knowing looks, it was a frightening thing to behold. It featured a soundtrack of a barely conscious Rupert Penry-Jones sounding as if he was lying on a sun-lounger on the set of Boogie Nights. And was that a lascivious wink over the “heavily beaten” egg whites that passed between Berry and Hollywood? If there wasn’t, then the programme’s editors willed it there.”
Someone make it stop. Mince pies are not sexy and you are spoiling them for us. Not to mention sex itself. Which has no desire to be tied up with mince pies. (Sorry, went a bit Fifty Shades there. It’s catching.)
Judging from the publicity pictures released to get everyone talking about the Downton Abbey Christmas special (ITV1, 8.45pm, Christmas Day), the fate of Thomas and goodness knows what else will be decided by a tug-of-war. If only Uncle Julian had thought of this before. It’s a method which could have been used to resolve so many plot points.
I am slightly concerned, judging from this picture, that Matthew is going to be written out in this episode. At the very least we already know that the seeds will have to be sown for him to leave in the first episode of Series 4 (to be screened autumn 2013). Beyond that, his contract is cancelled. Oh dear.
Dame Maggie looks refreshingly mischievous in all the pictures and I confidently predict that as long as she remains on board for the whole of Series 4 (she has already signed) then Downton’s survival is guaranteed, with or without Matthew and his now-you-feel-it-now-you-don’t tingle. Other highlights in store for the Christmas special? Mrs Patmore on a merry-go-round. Edith wearing a very strange embroidered felt cape (poor Edith). And Peter Egan in a kilt. How on earth will we contain ourselves? Viewers may want to lay in special alcohol supplies to handle the excitement. Or some drugs.
From today’s Notebook in the Independent, Putin’s advice to Russians: have three children! “It’s always a brave move to suggest there’s an ideal number of children. It’s also rather foolish. If there’s one area of life where there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all, then family size is definitely it.”
And from the motherland to the Homeland… a rant about Claire Danes in Homeland and why women don’t necessarily make better undercover agents than men. One fictional portrayal of a woman doing something well does not mean the patriarchy is under threat… Nor do spurious assertions about wimmin being able to “multi-task” amount to anything more than lazy reverse sexism. You don’t need to be a spy to work that out.