Archive for category Downton Abbey

TV Review: Russians, Art, and Boredom on ‘Downton Abbey’

Last week, Mary (Michelle Dockery) seemed pretty optimistic about having a holiday with Tony Gillingham (Tom Cullen) in Liverpool. However, now she looks ready to shake him off and move on to another suitor. She didn’t heed Charles Blake’s (Julian Ovenden) warning from beforehand that Tony was too boring. It’s rather puzzling why she insists on dragging on the affair rather than giving Tony the boot. It’s plain to see that Mary is bored, which probably makes the viewers feel bored as well. Even the fact that she’s seen by Spratt (Jeremy Swift) does little to enliven this part of the plot. One reason for the dragging pace is the fact that Mary’s suitors are not that appealing.

What is more enjoyable is the return of Richard E. Grant as Mr. Bricker. It’s only his second appearance on the program, yet he marks out a stronger presence than both Blake and Gillingham combined. Anyway, Bricker invites Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) to see a della Francesca at the gallery in London. Cora has always been portrayed as faithful to her husband Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and here is no exception in spite of how flattered she feels from Bricker’s compliments. It’s unfortunate that Lord Grantham can be a bit of a boor sometimes, ignoring Cora’s desire to still feel useful at the manor. I highly doubt that she’ll acquiesce to Bricker’s advances, but the art critic is bound to cause more trouble down the line.

The other thread worth paying attention to concerns Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), who disagree on whether or not to advocate to include Archie’s name on the war memorial. Archie, Mrs. Patmore’s (Lesley Nicol) nephew, was shot for cowardice and is disqualified from such honors. Carson insists that he won’t budge, but we know from the first episode that he detests being on the opposing side. There’s a hilarious one-liner from Mrs. Patmore as she implores Mrs. Hughes for help: “Everyone knows you can twist him ’round your little finger.”

As for other happenings in Downton, Rose (Lily James) is busy doing charity work in York with Russian refugees, who stop by later for tea and to view Romanov relics. It leads to an interesting encounter between the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and Prince Kuragin (Rad Serbedzija), an old flame from the 1870s. It turns out Lady Violet is not so conservative as she seems, an observation that makes her relent somewhat on pressuring Mary to tie the knot with Tony. Meanwhile, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) has been spending more time with Marigold, but her frequent visits do much to annoy Mrs. Drewe (Emma Lowndes). Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is looking into “choosing [his] own path,” the police appear to rule out Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), and Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) gets to stay at Downton after all.

Overall, this episode is rather disappointing, adding some layers here and there but doing little for a “wow” factor. Some plot build up is great, but going too slowly can make for an anti-climatic wrap up of a season. One hopes that next week’s installment will change the course. However, it could very well be the end of “Downton” at season six, with the recent news that PBS only confirmed a sixth season. Last October, it was also announced that writer and creator Julian Fellowes would be working on “The Gilded Age” with NBC. Is season six the last one for “Downton Abbey”?

“Downton Abbey” airs Sunday evenings on PBS at 9|8c.


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TV Review: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 5 Opener Puts Out Fires

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

“Downton Abbey” returned in all its splendor last night, picking up in 1924, which is 10 years after the time the series first began. Thank goodness for the jumps instead of having to wait 10 years. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) visits her daughter Marigold at the farm. Her grief for Michael and being separated from her daughter leads her to accidentally set fire to her room. The literal fire may be out, but one expects that Edith’s woes are far from over. Read the rest of this entry »

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TV Review: George Clooney Takes Over ‘Downton Abbey for Text Santa’

Caution: This post contains spoilers.

The beloved characters of “Downton Abbey” spoofed themselves in a “Text Santa” charity special on television this past weekend. It’s quite a hilarious romp, beginning with Lord Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) discovery that he’s lost the family fortune again. Following the familiar path of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” he thinks life for everyone would be better if he’d never been born. Joanna Lumley pops up as the Christmas ghost to show him just how things would have turned out.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Friday Fun: George Clooney and the ‘Downton Abbey’ Selfie

We’ve been hearing for days that George Clooney will be making an appearance on the ITV show “Downton Abbey.” It looks like there was a lot of fun on the set during filming, as the cast gathered enthusiastically for a selfie. The photo was shared by Radio Times and other outlets this morning, in anticipation for the Christmas special.

Though their characters are typically in the background or “downstairs,” on this occasion both Phyllis Logan and Jim Carter (Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson) are in the front with George, with Ms. Logan snapping the shot. A few cast members are missing from the group, including Hugh Bonneville, a friend of Clooney’s. See what happens when the Lord and Lady (Elizabeth McGovern) of the Manor are away! It’s a rare glimpse of modern tech infiltrating the “Downton” set, where the infamous water bottle photo was taken just months ago. That photo was lampooned to no end online, even by the actors themselves in good fun. It’s always great to see candid and fun moments when the camera isn’t rolling, though the dramatic scenes from the hit show are certainly not to be missed.

“Downtown Abbey” will air on Christmas Day on ITV at 9 PM. American audiences have to wait on viewing this two hour special if they don’t want to spoil anything from Season 5. Thankfully, the latest season will premiere in the States on January 5, 2015, so we don’t have to wait much longer here!

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Film News: ‘Frozen Fever’ Opens in March 2015 Before ‘Cinderella’

The beloved characters of “Frozen” will be returning next year in a special animated short, to be screened right before “Cinderella.” The special is aptly named “Frozen Fever” because unless you’ve been off the network, you’re well aware of the popularity of the 2013 film that started it all. It’s a surge that brought the “Frozen Sing-Along” only months later and to this day, still has adults and kids singing “Let It Go.” The good news broke today on Disney Insider, which hints that Elsa’s powers may wreak havoc at Anna’s birthday party.

One wonders if the move by Disney is a means of attracting more people to “Cinderella.” The live-action project is directed by Kenneth Branagh and stars Downton Abbey’s Lily James in the iconic lead role. The Downton connection may be a good enough draw here for some. On the other hand, marketing “Cinderella” and “Frozen Fever” together is a tactic that might prove more effective. I’m always wary when the movie trailer exceeds two minutes (this one clocks in at a whopping 2:41). The events in the preview also seem to flow chronologically for the most part, practically giving the entire film away. Compare that to last year’s “Maleficent,” which hits a minute and a half and two minutes respectively for its trailers, yet it still left a lot of room for guesses. A mere difference in length of thirty seconds to a minute is enough to leave you wondering (even just briefly) whether you should just wait for the film to come out on DVD or Blu-ray.

Let’s get back to the more exciting news of the day. Just this past Sunday, the waves lit up when Idina Menzel said that a Frozen sequel and musical “were in the works.” However, she’s since clarified that she “assumed” the projects were going on, reflecting her confidence in the popular franchise. For now, we all know we’ve got a case of “Frozen Fever,” so hang on for the remedy, which arrives in theaters on March 13, 2015!

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TV Review: Isobel Versus Lady Violet on ‘Downton Abbey’

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Last night’s episode of “Downton Abbey” was a marked improvement from the previous week, even though it did not offer surprises. In many ways, it was a return to the quips, wit, and dinner pageantry that has always made the serial popular. Understandably, the characters (and fans) have been mourning Matthew’s (Dan Stevens) passing, but the plot direly needed to move forward.

Major events:

The Crawleys throw a “surprise” dinner party for Robert’s (Hugh Bonneville) birthday, giving Rose (Lily James) an opportunity to sneak in a jazz band. Of course, the band is led by none other than Jack Ross (Gary Carr), the debonair singer who rescued her from embarrassment back in London. After the festivities, Mary (Michelle Dockery) discovers that Rose and Jack are more than just acquaintances. Thus, the question of interracial dating comes into play.

Meanwhile, Edith (Laura Carmichael) receives a letter from the doctor, confirming that she is pregnant with Michael Gregson’s (Charles Edwards) child. It seems she never gets a break, as she is despondent over Michael’s silence. Is Michael involved in shady business in Germany? In any case, it’s likely that the romance between Edith and Michael is over.

The highlight of the night was the clash between Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and Lady Violet (Maggie Smith). An ornate letter opener has gone missing from the desk of the Dowager Countess. Young Pegg (Joncie Elmore), the new gardener’s assistant, is the prime suspect. When another trinket goes missing, Lady Violet fires him, beginning a series of memorable discussions with Isobel over materialism and justice. For a detailed play-by-play, you may peruse an excellent review by Artsbeat columnist Dave Itzkoff. Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) makes a brief appearance to decide the final outcome: “I’d say that was game, set and match to Lady Grantham.” (Itzkoff may have gone too far in connecting the tennis language with his Superbowl style commentary. Nonetheless, his column is quite insightful and entertaining.)

The best quip of the night comes from the Dowager Countess as she says to Isobel, “I wonder you don’t just set fire to the Abbey and dance ‘round it, painted with woad and howling.” The chemistry between Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton is priceless.

Other developments:

A candidate at the Ritz dropped out, allowing Alfred (Matt Milne) to move to London after all. Despite her sadness over Alfred’s departure, Daisy (Sophie McShera) wishes him good luck at the last minute. Alfred’s position as footman is eventually filled by Moseley, after an amusing battle between Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter). There has yet to be a play-by-play on that series of confrontations.

Ivy (Cara Theobold) is furious with Jimmy (Ed Speleers) for making advances after an evening at the movies. She recognizes that Alfred was a gentleman compared to Jimmy, which upsets Daisy.

Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks) and Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) arrive at Downton, preparing to research estates in the area. Is the Abbey also in a precarious state?

Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) try to move past her ordeal by having a romantic dinner out. Unfortunately, Anna knows that Bates sees murder. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) rescues them from a haughty restaurant host, which guarantees them “a table for life”.

Next week, Mary takes on Charles Blake. Isobel discovers that the Dowager Countess is ill, which may bring that rematch after all.

“Downton Abbey” airs Sunday evenings on PBS Masterpiece.

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‘Downton Abbey’ Review: Bates Finally Gets Answers About Anna

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Episode four of “Downton Abbey” put Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) in a bit of a tight spot: tell Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) why Anna (Joanne Froggatt) has pushed him away or let him leave Downton. She chooses the former, knowing that Bates’ departure would break Anna’s heart. As Anna predicted, Bates intends to take action against the perpetrator. Fans may need to dig up those “Free Bates” shirts if he does follow through on his vow.

The other focus of the episode concerns the running of the estate. Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Tom (Allen Leech) want to finalize the eviction of the Drew family, news that Robert (Hugh Bonneville) delivers at a funeral of all places. However, Robert later changes his mind and offers to help Mr. Drew with the arrears. Mary and Tom let him have his way on the matter because they recognize that Mr. Drew is a good man.

More developments come about for the other characters. Phyllis Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) arrives to serve as maid to Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). She has a history with Barrow (Rob James-Collier), who tasks her with being nice to everyone and keeping him informed of even the smallest details about the Crawleys and the staff. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) goes to London and visits a doctor. Perhaps we can expect a new cousin for George and Sybbie? Also, Alfred (Matt Milne) takes a cooking exam at the Ritz in London, but he receives a rejection letter in the mail.

This season does not seem up to par with previous ones for many reasons. Firstly, there is the obvious and gaping hole left by the departure of Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley. Mary seems to have no shortage of suitors, but they are old acquaintances or friends of hers, rather than the outsider and modern thinker that Matthew was. (That does not mean that Evelyn Napier and Lord Gillingham haven’t dispensed good advice to Mary.) On another note, we have the grandchildren, but they pop in and out only momentarily when the nanny is not around. Additionally, “Downton” has a large cast: too many subplots in a single episode can throw off the momentum and focus. There is a great risk of foreshadowing an issue but losing steam when the “great reveal” finally comes because there are so many other characters to share the spotlight.

With that said, there is one dynamic that never fails to disappoint: the bickering between Violet (Maggie Smith) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton). Always eager to help the villagers, Isobel convinces Violet to hire young Pegg as a gardener. At one point, Violet quips, “I wonder if your halo doesn’t grow heavy. It must be like wearing a tiara around the clock.” Unfortunately, she suspects the new gardener of being a thief, setting the stage for an investigation. Will Isobel play detective with Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) as her Watson?

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