Is 'Downton' Phenomenon Losing Its Edge?

By Rohan, Virginia | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), January 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

Is 'Downton' Phenomenon Losing Its Edge?


Rohan, Virginia, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


DOWNTON ABBEY

Within the world of "Downton Abbey," a dozen years have passed since we first met Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, along with his family and their devoted downstairs servants.

That year was 1912 and, as season five begins on PBS' "Masterpiece" tonight, it's 1924. And yet it feels like we've known these characters for an eternity -- and that's not necessarily a great thing.

While they are a most welcome sight, in the fifth season -- which has already aired on ITV in Great Britain -- Julian Fellowes' characters have settled more deeply into their familiar grooves, or perhaps we should say ruts.

The widowed Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is still the beautiful, sought-after sister who gets all the male attention and main-

tains a fondly formal relationship with her toddler son George.

Her younger sister (Laura Carmichael) is still Poor Edith. Her one true love remains missing in Germany and their love child, Marigold -- a secret to almost everyone in Edith's family -- is now being raised by a local farmer and his wife. The husband realizes that Edith is the child's mother, but his wife does not -- and she fears that the aristocrat is making a play for her spouse.

Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), the class-bound butler, is still the stuffy traditionalist. Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), head housekeeper, is his kinder, wiser, more open-minded counterpart. They are inching toward a romance at a glacial pace.

Under-butler Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), miserable as ever, continues to stir up trouble, dunning Miss Baxter (Lady Cora's maid) for dirt that he's sure she possesses about valet Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his wife Anna (Joanne Froggatt). Can there never be a time when Bates is not in danger of being sent back to prison? Baxter has a dark secret of her own, which Barrow threatens to divulge.

Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) can still be counted on for both insights and comic relief, but her quips are not as marketable as in previous seasons. In this season's first three episodes, I cannot recall anything (on the order of "What is a week- end?") that's worthy of mass-producing on T-shirts.

Oh, there are some changes afoot.

The general Election of 1924 has brought a Labour government into power, much to the chagrin of Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Carson. But many of the staff are pleased to have a prime minister from the working class.

When a village delegation asks Carson, not Robert, to head a committee to build a war memorial to local dead, this seems to rankle Carson even more than Robert.

Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) continues to press Lady Mary to marry him, and they both agree to take a proverbial test drive -- a romantic trip to Liverpool. This leads Mary to ask the ever- faithful Anna to make an embarrassing trip to the pharmacy for her in search of a birth control device. …

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