Downton-Pedia ; It's Required Sunday Viewing but by Monday the Second Series of Downton Abbey Brings a Twitter and Facebook Storm of Criticism and Plot Analysis. Liz Hoggard Reports
Hoggard, Liz, The Evening Standard (London, England)
[broken bar] T'S WON two Baftas and four Emmys, been sold to more than 140 countries and has just been named by the Guinness Book of Records as the most critically acclaimed TV show ever. But has Series 2 of Downton Abbey lost the plot? Here are the questions being fiercely debated on Facebook and Twitter.
Has the eight-part Pounds 12 million drama jumped the shark? Even diehard fans are finding it hard to cope with the fast-paced plotting, while Downton virgins are frankly baffled. Starting in 1914, two years after Series 1 ended, it romps through key historical events -- the Great War, the Battle of the Somme, the Easter Rising, the Marconi shares scandal, the flu pandemic ... has writer-historian Julian Fellowes bitten off more than he can chew? And can anyone keep a straight face during the great clunking plots: last Sunday's episode saw Tom the Irish chauffeur attempting to throw a tureen of slop at a British officer -- in revenge for a cousin shot in the Easter Rising? Will the ad breaks never end? They are turning off viewers fast (400,000 lost by episode 3) as we get twitchy waiting for the truncated episodes to restart. The final part of last week's episode lasted only three minutes and included a highlights clip of next week's show.
More Dad's Army than Brideshead? With the transformation of Downton Abbey into a convalescent home for the war injured, has the brand been diluted? More opportunity for flirtation (Lady Edith and Thomas seem to be doing especially well at consoling injured young men) has taken the place of the pleasing Upstairs Downstairs dynamic.
Have the cast had work done? On the positive side, everyone's looking just that bit hotter in Series 2. Has glowing Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Cora), who suddenly looks 10 years younger, had a facelift? Meanwhile Dan Stevens, who plays dashing heir apparent Matthew Crawley, has disclosed that he lost a stone and a half after fans taunted him for being fat on Twitter.
Can it compete with Spooks? "Bonnets versus bugs" -- as the scheduling coincidence has already been dubbed -- is a clash of TV titans. The lastever series of Spooks is going head-to-head with Downton on Sunday nights and Peter Firth et al seem to be fighting back in terms of live audience share.
Is this class war? Fellowes (a lifelong Tory, now a peer) has long been accused of perpetuating nostalgia about the class system. His new series has provoked an outburst by AN Wilson on Radio 4's Today programme: "The idea that Downton Abbey represents this country's finest hour is bollocks, basically."
Made in Chelsea or The Only Way is Essex? Debate rages about just how posh the actors in Downton are in real life -- Michelle Dockery (Mary) insists she is pure Essex (her father is a lorry driver turned surveyor, her mother delivers meals on wheels). Dan Stevens, who was adopted at birth, describes his teenage years as "wild" and has told how he was repeatedly suspended from prestigious Tonbridge School.
Whose life is it anyway? Lady Cora may be based on the real-life Lady Almina, who once lived at Highclere Castle, the 19th-century house in Berkshire where the series is filmed. …