Episodes 1 and 2 reported our British correspondent, who is elated about how the storyline is proceeding so far, was all about actions and outcomes. Now Episodes 3 and 4 it seems are all about tears, terrors and temples to modernity.
Helping others is still a priority for Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and the family, who are all endeavouring to move the estate and its practices and people forward into the twentieth century.
They are also trying to help those, both upstairs and down, who don’t cope with change well, especially traditionalists like Mr Carson their highly regarded and respected Butler (Jim Carter).
His proposal to housekeeper Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) during last year’s Christmas special, delighted everyone. Carson is a man who now believes he is ready to embrace the new century and future, re-ordering his life.
We feel he and Mrs Hughes sense of excitement and anticipation keenly, because after all we are now fully involved in their story of love in later life.
Following the first two episodes Mrs Hughes has discovered there is so much to be arranged when it is your own wedding, despite being a dab hand with such family occasions in the past.
Mrs Hughes and Carson’s date is now imminent, with arrangements in their final stages. Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) having helped Mrs Hughes sort out the difficulties of her and Mr Carson living together has created momentum.
First of all however, we need to find out if the wedding reception will be held in the great hall of the house or in the village schoolhouse?
If you don’t want spoilers please don’t read any further.
After toasting British justice with champagne at the end of Episode 2 when Anna (Joanne Frogatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) were finally cleared of a murder charge, we find everyone upstairs and down is still being generous, each to the other, although on their own terms.
After all it is 1925.
Episode three revolves around leading up to their wedding day. It is all very endearing as written by Julian Fellowes, who has done the Butler and his lady proud by proving weddings are not only for young people.
First up though the cook Mrs Patmore and Lady Mary’s maid Anna are very unhappy with Mrs Hughes, because she has chosen to just get married in her old and very tired brown day dress, and we can’t help but agree.
Mrs Patmore cannot resist meddling, and so orders a dress by mail order for her friend, which when it arrives proves plainer than she imagined.
And so they ask Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) to help and she agrees.
Lady Mary is busy trying to deal with estate matters, while feeling slighted Mr Carson will not be accepting her offer to marry Mrs Hughes from the house after all.
She’s a big girl now, so we know she can handle it.
Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) is still going on job interviews, mostly though they prove to be a total disaster. He’s not dealing with change at all, or his loss of security.
Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is up to town to stay in her apartment and endeavour to sort out the dramas associated with running the magazine she has inherited.
She runs into an old acquaintance, who invites her to have a drink with him, which she accepts.
Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton) was estate agent for Brancaster Castle (Alnwick Castle) where the family went for the grouse-shooting season in 1924.
Pelham is a real charmer and now as we get to know him he is presented as a man who respects woman and particularly Edith, whose work and abilities he admires.
This is the first contemporary relationship we have yet seen on the show. Handsome, industrious, and entirely supportive we begin to see a glimmer of hope there may be a happy romance ahead for Edith after all.
She has now realised she may need to be brave and sack the editor of the magazine, and he agrees but first she says she will try one last time to talk him around.
Angrily the Editor is not to be placated and gives Edith grief when she expounds her views on how she would like the magazine to ‘look’ and what it should be about.
Dramatically he resigns and storms out leaving her entirely in the lurch on deadline day. Her new ally Mr Pelham steps in to help her finish the magazine so she can get it to the printers by 4am.
They work hard and succeed together and he urges her to consider becoming the Editor. However in this episode we find out she really wants to employ a new-age woman in the role.
Dowager Duchess Violet (Maggie Smith) is digging in her heels about the hospital issue, which is nowhere near being resolved. Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) advises her he is also re-thinking his opposition “In my experience, second thoughts are vastly overrated,” the Dowager retorts.
Her Butler Spratt (Jeremy Swift) gives Denker (Sue Johnston) her meddling maid the upper hand when she discovers he’s hiding his nephew, who has escaped from jail, in the potting shed.
Meanwhile Lady Mary has decided with Anna and Mrs Patmore they must help Mrs Hughes sort her wedding outfit as she will never ask.
Lady Mary promises one of her mother’s old coats without telling Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), who walks in on Anna and Mrs Patmore helping the unknowing Mrs Hughes try them on. She explodes in anger thinking they have all overstepped the mark.
Mortified and embarrassed they flee and when Mary finds out and says they were there with her permission, mother and daughter have a set to as they sort it out.
Lady Cora eventually apologises to Mrs Hughes, Anna and Mrs Patmore for her insensitivity and complete lack of empathy and they all happily accept.
Finally the wedding day dawns…
“We’ve come to dress the bride,” Anna proclaims to which Mrs Hughes replies: “Well, that’s a phrase I never thought I’d hear.”
Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes great day is here and everyone rises to the occasion as the pair marry in the village church and then enjoy a delightful wedding reception in the schoolhouse.
Showing great creative flair Mrs Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), Lady Cora’s lady’s maid has refashioned the coat overnight with her magic needle and thread and Mrs Hughes looks radiant.
Mrs Hughes could have stepped out of Vanity Fair dressed in Lady Cora’s coat and the schoolhouse is cleverly decked out looking for all the world as if it stepped out of the pages of World of Interiors!
Mr. Carson’s toast for his new bride is very special when he says “I am the happiest and luckiest of men. That a woman of such grace and charm should entrust her life’s happiness to my unworthy charge passeth all understanding.”
It’s an invitation for us all to shed a few tears, which soon turns into an outburst as the flood gates open.
There is a reason. The wedding day is made more glorious an occasion with the sudden and completely unexpected arrival of darling Tom Branson (Alan Leeh) and young Sybii (Fifi Hart). They have come home from America. How joyous.
We all feel as happy too as he is our favourite after all, the man we have a soft spot for, the Irish radical who found a way forward and a family who adore him.
It took him to go away to find out and so instead of wallowing in his pride he swallows it and returns home to their welcome arms.
Tom and Mary on his first day back talk about his position and hers and she relates how she would be happy with him working as joint agent with her, but it is up to him.
He declares after experiencing the American way, he really wants to find himself another profession and would be happy to help her while he sorts out what to do.
Whether Lord Grantham will agree their decision is the question, but he’s having severe heartburn and pains in the chest, finding he cannot drink Port anymore and resisting his wife’s pleading for him to see a doctor.
He’s causing Lady Cora to believe something far more sinister is going on, leading up to a conclusion on my part she may soon become an independent woman whether she wants to or not.
Thomas takes the role of the Butler while Carson and Mrs Hughes are honeymooning in Scarborough. His resentment at being seen by everyone around him happy when he’s feeling redundant and expendable is still simmering below the surface.
He is kept busy lashing out at all those who cross his path.
Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) is also still putting the cart before the horse, worked up about Mr Mason being given the estate farm now vacated.
Mrs Patmore tries to talk sense into her stubborn head so she won’t storm upstairs and confront the family over what she perceives as them all going back on their word… will she do it?
Daisy is quite dazed, she’s casting her eye favourably over Andy (Michael Fox) the footman from the city, who declares country life is what he’s after.
This is a show that has perfected ‘a look’ we all understand.
Anna and Mary also have a secret, Anna believing she has at last conceived and is expecting a baby.
This means at the right moment they will need to dash to town where minor surgery by the Harley Street specialist Mary hired will help her carry a baby full term.
Little do they know it will happen at night causing Lady Mary to lie, saying she needs urgent medical attention as she and Anna pack an overnight bag and flee. Tom misses dinner to drive them both to York to catch the train.
Bates is immediately suspicious, filled with terror something dreadful is wrong with his wife, that she is not sharing.
Baxter has been requested by the police to stand in the dock and give evidence against the handsome rogue and serial thief, who got her into so much trouble before.
Mosely (Kevin Doyle) is urging her on, standing by his friend’s side. How will Lady Cora deal with being embarrassed by the maid she has championed who had told her she’d been dismissed for stealing before the family found out. She may not want to see herself in The Times!
Dowager Violet is still waging war on Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) as well as Lady Cora and everyone else who now seems to be taking sides with her over the hospital issue.
Lord Grantham warns she will use ‘tears or terror’ to succeed.
That includes on her own daughter and Lord Grantham’s sister Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond), who has come up from town for a short stay.
Lady Rosamund declares to Lady Edith she’s going to recommend her to be a fellow Trustee for Hillcroft, a new college educating ‘ordinary women with potential’ (oh dear) to build a career.
Lady Rosamund confides that she has invited a Mr and Mrs Harding to luncheon with the family, he is treasurer of the Trustees. She has also met his new wife Gwen Harding, a recent graduate of Hillcroft College and wants to introduce the pair into their society
Thomas lets them into the house… and then finds out Mrs Harding was previously Gwen Dawson (Rose Leslie), who used to be a maid downstairs working in the house for a short time.
She’s all posh and proper now.
All his resentment boils over when he has to wait on her at lunch. Loudly ‘welcoming her back to Downton’, at which they all look amazed and embarrassed because they had not known who she was.
It is really not a smart move on his part because Gwen is a very different woman.
She enchants them all with her confidence and sincerity when she tells an endearing tale of how it was Lady Sybil, Tom’s loving deceased wife who befriended her and helped her to achieve her goal.
Lady Sybil found the job for me… we had a secret pact and her loving kindness changed my life… she relates, and from here I went on to be a secretary and to meet Mr Harding (Philip Battley).
Darling Sybil… says Lord Grantham, remembering his youngest daughter with great affection, she was taken far too soon from them all.
Thank you Barrow for reminding us of Mrs Harding’s time here he compliments him sarcastically.
This is not the outcome Tom had wished for, especially when later privately Lord Grantham takes him aside and ticks him off, telling him Carson’s big advantage, is his real kindness.
Lady Shackleton (Harriet Walter) a longstanding family friend of the Dowager Duchess and her nephew have also come to stay for a day or two. She is drawn into the hospital issue quarrel driven by Duchess Violet, who questions whether she’s there to help or irritate!
The Dowager defends her stand while they are in the library after dinner… “Less control by the people, more control by the state”… It is about fighting for ‘freedoms’ , which have been and still are being sorely won, and ‘…about people managing their own affairs’ she declares.
She calls on the example of nobles forcing King John to sign Magna Carta and they are all bemused, telling her its not the thirteenth century any more, all of them missing the point she’s trying to make entirely,
At the reception and dinner to welcome their visitors Lady Mary is astounded to find out the unknown nephew of Lady Shackleton, her brother’s son, is the daringly dashing, very well dressed Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode).
He resisted her interest when they met last season and at the time we discovered he loved fast cars, revealing his ‘racy’ style to everyone, including Mary to great effect!
Amazingly her equal and giving her as good as he gets back in return, has Henry patiently been playing a waiting game, applying restraint to win her heart? But why?
She now finds out he’s a professional racing car driver and it is clear he knows her first husband was killed by driving his own car too fast.
Lady Mary with images of Matthew dead in a ditch more than likely invading her head, declares cars are only a machine from getting from A to B. It’s now our turn to be patient as we wait to see as the storyline progresses, whether he can change her mind about that too.
He takes her to dine in the very glamorous restaurant in the Royal Automobile Club at London. Founded in 1911 as a Temple for car lovers, it’s at least a sporting start.
Anna at last tells Bates she is pregnant, leaving him elated as everyone Upstairs descends Downstairs to welcome Mr and Mrs Carson back home.
Thankfully we find out that we can still call them both Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes… changing that would seemingly be just be a bridge too far for all.
Goodness the Duchess remarks, I haven’t been below stairs for some 20 years.
Thomas is busy telling Carson being a Butler is harder than he thought, ‘as long as you have learned something his mentor declares’.
Finally Carson goes to check that his colleagues have cleared out his old room properly, reflectively removing his name from the door.
They are all left feeling the ground shifting beneath their feet… as indeed are we.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
Watch the Trailer for Season 6