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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

February 4, 2013 at 10:36 AM

Catching up with ‘Downton Abbey’

(Need I say — if you’re behind on Season 3, beware; spoilers abound.)
Back from a little vacation and ready to talk “Downton Abbey” — or, if you prefer, Upside Downton Abbey:

(Those Muppets look uncannily right, don’t they? Particularly Carson’s eyebrows, and the Dowager Countess’s lavender gown.)
So, a friend who’d been lagging a bit behind on her “Downton Abbey” watching called me over the weekend. “Sybil’s dead!!” she said, before even saying hello. Well, yes, she is, and now everyone’s had a week to process. What did you think? Sadly I’d already heard that Jessica Brown Findlay wanted out of the show (to focus on making movies, I believe), so knew it was coming — but the show kind of gave us a sucker punch by safely delivering the baby and letting us think everything was OK. And then, oh — that awful sound of running footsteps in the night, and how quickly the end came, with the plaintive wail of a motherless baby girl from somewhere down the hall. This is soap opera, to be sure, but of a very high order, and I was completely mesmerized — particularly by the scene with Carson and the Dowager Countess. Jim Carter and Maggie Smith so perfectly nailed the very particular kind of intimacy these two characters have: not kinship, not friendship, but a closeness stemming from many decades of living side-by-side. The upstairs/downstairs curtain seemed to be lifted, just for a moment, as she patted his hand. And, as she walked away and stumbled on her cane, just a bit . . . well, she didn’t get to be Dame Maggie for nothing. Lovely scene.
Elsewhere: Bates is finally to be freed, and thank goodness for that as I don’t think I could have handled this subplot for much longer. “Downton Abbey” falters when it leaves its setting — the house, and the surrounding village, is a beloved character — and Julian Fellowes never seemed to find a way to make Bates’ plight dramatically interesting. I could do with a little less of Ethel; it seemed like her story played out last season already, and here it’s just an excuse for Isobel Crawley (who I love, because she has no idea how insufferable she is, and Penelope Wilton plays this so well) to meddle. And Lord Grantham is having a rough season of it; I don’t remember him being such a villain in previous years. Really — naming the baby after her mother is “ghoulish”? Luckily the Dowager Countess is, it turns out, a rather effective marriage counselor; particularly if you share her rather elastic definition of the word “lie.”
And no, Mrs. Patmore does not look like a frolicker. Could she please repeat that line in every episode?
What do you think of the season so far?

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