“It was a wedding present from a frightful aunt,” said Maggie Smith, alias Violet, the Dowager Countess, with a curl of the lip. “I have hated it for half a century.” She was talking about the vase shattered by Matthew Crawley (aka Dan Stevens) when finally, after much provocation, he punched Mary’s fiancé Sir Richard Carlisle (Ian Holm) fairly and squarely on the nose knocking him onto the floor, where they then both further indulge in a fury of fisticuffs.
The days of Matthew’s war wounds being a hindrance are finally behind him.
The Christmas Special at Downton Abbey (Highclere) was shot full of lovely lines, many of them delivered once again by the delicious Dowager Duchess Violet, played so flawlessly and with such great verve and vigor by renowned English actress Maggie Smith. If ever a role was the pinnacle of a fine woman’s acting career this one has been for her.
Emotions run high as Carlisle the cad, who has threatened his wife to be Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) with ruin if she didn’t marry him, was deservedly dealt with by the heir to Downton Abbey Matthew Crawley and her father the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). They finally both learned the truth about her night of lust with the Turkish gentleman Mr Pamuk, who had died in her bed when a guest in her father’s house.
Sir Richard it seems also didn’t appreciate the many traditions surrounding life upstairs and down in an English aristocrat’s country house, especially at Christmas and New Year. Decorating the Christmas Tree, which is brought in from the estate on Christmas Eve and given a place of honour in the Entrance hall, is a top priority and everyone takes turns in hanging an ornament on the tree.
Those downstairs are allowed a few courtesies and concessions by those upstairs, who fend for themselves during the day at Christmas. However downstairs in the Servants Hall as they pop the Christmas crackers to enjoy their lunchtime feast it’s hard to feel festive. Some of the retainers are struggling to enjoy their Christmas lunch, knowing that their colleague Mr Bates is on trial for his life. Later in the day at the Upstairs Christmas Dinner, along with the flaming Plum Pudding, many wishes for the year ahead include the acquittal of the faithful Mr Bates.
The annual Christmas shooting party, where man and beast seemingly become one is high on the agenda after Xmas, with tweed, a fine plain or twill weave woolen fabric from Scotland very much the fashion statement of the day.
Lady Mary looks divine in her small green felt cloche hat with the fathers and ribbons on the side as she stands alongside first her fiancée and then Matthew.
Everyone upstairs toasts the New Year with chilled Champagne. The time ticks over to 1920, the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century in which the third series of Downton Abbey will be set.
There is a surprising scene with the turncoat Thomas dancing with the Dowager Duchess at the Servant’s New Year Ball, after being offered a trial run as the Earl’s new valet.
The brooding mysterious Bates (Brendan Coyle) is left languishing in prison having been found guilty of his thoroughly awful first wife’s death. But it’s not all bad. At least Bates, and his lovely and dutiful second wife Anna, have been spared his death by hanging. Through the efforts of the Earl and his lawyer his sentence is reprieved, so that they can all continue the fight to prove the Earl’s friend and former valet’s innocence.
There is a whole lot of weejie board nonsense going on downstairs, as well as a sub plot being woven about another fortune hunting cad who suddenly appears on the scene Upstairs. Ever popular actor Nigel Havers features as Lord Hepworth. His presence gives the Dowager Duchess plenty of room to take aim and fire. He is endevouring to snare the Earl of Grantham’s sister and Violet’s daughter Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond) and Violet’s just as determined it won’t happen.
When he is finally caught in flagrante with the personal maid of Lady Rosamund, well it looks like he will end up ‘playing the violin in Leicester Square‘ as the Dowager Duchess surmises.
There’s also news of Sybil and her handsome chauffeur husband from Ireland. The news is so wonderful it should make the seasons festivities really rock, except the celebrations are being kept close just between the Earl and his wife, well for now anyway. And Sybil and her chauffeur husband do not make an appearance, which will disappoint many.
The poor set upon kitchen maid, the delightful Daisy provides another great back story. She is maturing and allowing her late husband William’s Dad into her life. She has also found her voice, realizing that if she wants more from life than forever being bossed about by Mrs Patmore, she has to speak up for herself.
It all comes to the end with the year 1920 off and running. Everyone watching breathes a sigh of relief as writer Julian Fellowes, on a gently snowing New Year moonlit night, allows Lady Mary’s hero Matthew Crawley to go down onto one knee and propose finally to the woman he truly loves.
Lovely lady Mary, she was as we would expect deliriously happy after waiting for so long. After all everyone wants a happy ever after story for all the fabulous folk at Downton Abbey.
Carolyn McDowall, 2012
Watch the Trailer of Downton Abbey Christmas Special