It’s baack. And, can I just say that I would very much like to see a “Downton Abbey” spinoff featuring Spratt, the Dowager Countess’s butler? Played by Jeremy Swift (who did previous Julian Fellowes duty as a footman in “Gosford Park”), Spratt has a wonderfully slow-burning way of expressing snobbery by looking as if a balloon’s gradually being inflated inside his head. (You fear his eyes might end up spattered on the wall – but he’d remain standing.) A stickler for propriety who would put even Carson to shame – this fellow believes serving a doctor is beneath him — he is exactly the butler that the D.C. deserves, and I’m already crafting a proposal for a series in which he runs off with Harriet Walter’s delightfully crackly-voiced Lady Shackleton. Admit it; you’d watch.
Anyway. Here we are with Season 5, and once again the times they are a-changing at Downton. (The times are always a-changing at Downton; this is, of course, the entire point of the show. That, and the outfits.) The Crawleys are bravely continuing tradition by having dozens of people on hand to cook their meals and clear their plates and get them dressed and undressed, despite rumors that other posh families in the district are somehow making do with fewer servants. (Is it just me, or does Anna’s job, which seems to consist entirely of standing nearby holding the jewelry while Lady Mary fusses in a mirror, seem fairly low-stress?) But there are rumblings afoot: Daisy, downstairs, would like to get a little more education. Mary, upstairs, is plotting a clandestine weekend with Tony Gillingham, the current leader in the Who Will Mary Marry standings. Carson, who “feels a shaking of the ground I stand on” (again?), has been chosen over Robert to head up a committee to plan a local war memorial. The Dowager Countess is meddling in what just might be a love-affair-to-be between Isobel and Lord Merton. And the admirable yet tiresome (see, I’m already talking like a Dowager Countess; “Downton Abbey” has that effect on me) schoolteacher Sarah Bunting has gotten herself invited to dinner, and dared to express opinions contrary to those of her host. Horrors!
None of this is particularly eyebrow-raising (except Mary’s dirty weekend, to which I say, you go, milady); it’s pretty much par for the “Downton” course, and good fun. Rather more touching is Edith’s subplot: Since we last visited Downton, Edith travelled to Switzerland to take back her illegitimate baby daughter, who’s now living with a kind tenant farmer’s family. Her real parentage is a secret, but anyone can see that Edith’s poignant obsession with the child is the sort that Causes Talk. Will we finally learn the mystery of what happened to Mr. Rochester? What does the farmer mean when he says that Edith needs to find a way to “live the truth without telling the truth”? And will poor Edith, who distinguished herself this week by accidentally setting fire to her bedroom (cue a classic Lady Edith Hand Slapped On Forehead), ever, ever catch a break?
“Downton Abbey” has always been a soap opera, but a particularly high-quality one (particularly in Season One, the likes of which we will probably never see again); this season opener, with its too-obvious music cues and predictable plot developments, was a reminder of that. But these characters are irresistible, and I suspect that hearing the Dowager Countess make pronouncements (my favorite from Sunday: ““Principles are like prayers. Noble, of course, but awkward at a party”) will never get old.
Are you still watching “Downton”? What did you think of the opener?