Downton Abbey: Lady Mary in widow's weeds splits critics
Was the first episode of season four a fascinating classic or same-old, same-old 'Downton Drabbey'?
PERIOD drama Downton Abbey attracted record ratings when it returned for its fourth series last night, but critics are divided on its central 'mourning Mary' storyline.
The first episode – which drew 9.5 million viewers, its best-ever figure for a series opener – is set in 1922 after Britain's post-war boom has abruptly ended.
It is six months after the death of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and his wife Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is still in mourning.
Owen Jones in The Independent is full of praise for Dockery's "stunning" performance, insisting last night's episode justifies the show's status as an iconic British drama.
"Downton is a well-performed, beautifully scripted insight into another England," says Jones. "There are fascinating, subtle insights into the impact of class on human relationships. This has the making of a classic that will last for a long time to come."
Serena Davies in the Daily Telegraph is just as impressed. Dockery "excellently" fills the capacious hole left by Matthew Crawley's death, she says. "She was back to her frigid best, all hooded eye-lids, chiselled profile, cadaverous frame shrouded in jet black silks: a beautiful raven."
But Metro's Keith Watson thinks the Lady Mary storyline made for "a frightfully slow show". One by one the "human defibrillators" lined up to bring mourning Mary back to life, he says, but nothing worked.
"She wanders around Downton like a sad ironing board," says Jane Moir in the Daily Mail. "Dripping in widow's weeds, face like a wet weekend, she makes Queen Victoria look like Timmy Mallett."
Sam Wollaston in The Guardian says Lady Mary is "basically Miss Havisham now", wondering the corridors and staircases, only really in body and hardly even that. "If you touched her she'd surely turn to dust."
Wollaston says it was "not the most auspicious of openers" to the new season. "There's a dustiness and a mustiness about the place, a sense of same-old, same-old. Downton Drabbey."
Downton Abbey: what can we expect from series four? 14/08/13
DOWNTON ABBEY is back. With 120 million viewers and 39 Emmy nominations since its launch in 2010, the period drama is under increasing pressure to impress with its fourth series. Fans will have to wait until September for the first episode but the British press were given a sneak preview last night. So what can we expect?
Famous guest stars: Set in 1922, six months after the car crash that killed Matthew Crawley, the family is still in mourning. But as characters depart, new ones appear, including some famous faces. Hollywood actor Paul Giamatti, who starred in Sideways, will play Lady Cora's wayward brother, while Maori soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will appear as opera singer Dame Nellie Melba.
Surprises: If there's one thing Downton producers can do it's keep a secret, says Julia Raeside in The Guardian. Details of storylines have remained hush-hush but producers have promised some surprises. Viewers can expect a secret love interest, new rivalries upstairs and down, and the reappearance of an old flame. Financial conflict following Matthew's death also threatens the family's harmony.
Suitors for Lady Mary: Lady Mary has no interest in other men as she faces life as a widow, but producer Gareth Neame reveals that "other men are certainly interested in her". Three new male characters could make potential suitors, says Digital Spy. Gary Carr will play the first black character in the show, jazz singer Jack Ross, who impresses Lady Mary with his musical talents, while Tom Cullen is cast as an old family friend, Lord Anthony Gillingham. Another suitor is "dashing aristocrat" Charles Blake, played by former Diet Coke pin-up Julian Ovenden.
New technology: Following the arrival of the telephone and motor car, Downton is abuzz with the sound of a new-fangled electric whisk. In episode one, kitchen maids Ivy and Daisy are keen to try it – while traditionalist cook Mrs Patmore is sceptical. "On your own head be it," she warns.
Return to magic of first series: With no immediate political upheaval or war on the horizon, the fourth season "recaptures the magic of the glorious first season", says Neil Midgley in the Daily Telegraph. The breakneck pace of progress has slowed down and there's no sign that we're in for a hurtling ride through several full years in one series like season two, he says.
Glamorous locations: Downton has entered the roaring Twenties, and with a new decade come more glamorous locations. "Clever photography sees St Pancras station and the Criterion restaurant splashed across the screen with not a single yellow line or satellite dish in sight," says Midgley. Meanwhile, Downton's windswept outbuildings are also featured "gloriously" in the first episode.
More Dowager wit: Dame Maggie Smith, up for a hat-trick of Emmys next month, continues to deliver imperious put-downs, say critics, offering moment after moment of comic satisfaction. At one point she delivers her verdict with a sniff that is more eloquent than any speech, says Christopher Stevens in the Daily Mail. "Quite simply, she's splendid."
Downton Abbey casts Gary Carr as first black character
DOWNTON Abbey is "no longer the whitest TV show on earth", says Jezebel. Why? The show has announced its first ever black character, a "charismatic and charming" jazz singer called Jack Ross. Former Death in paradise actor Gary Carr will play Ross in the show's fourth series, which will arrive on screens in Autumn 2013.
His casting comes after hit ITV drama's creator Julian Fellowes said he wanted to "open up the show ethnically". But for Filipa Jodelka in The Guardian, the news makes "uneasy reading". "Downton Abbey haven't introduced a character who is black. They have introduced a Black Character, which apparently warrants a press release", she writes. "By making his inclusion a talking point, the makers of Downton Abbey have placed a hundredweight of pressure on Gary Carr's shoulders".
As the New York Times notes, Downton Abbey has been criticised for its lack of diversity, even though it is a "series about white aristocrats and their servants in the early 20th century". But producer Gareth Neame tells the paper's arts blog that the use of a black character in a show about 1920s England has nothing to do with "box-ticking". "We tried to reflect something that was accurate and that was going on at the time, while always thinking of ways to surprise and entertain, with all the twists and turns that we have."
Not everyone is so certain. One fan, commenting on the Radio Times website, argues that the introduction of Ross "follows the trend (stereotype?) of making prominent black characters in period dramas performing artists or sportspeople, to the exclusion of most other roles and professions".
Carr, 26, is one of many new faces in the ITV period drama's fourth series, which will feature opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, along with Tom Cullen, Julian Ovenden, Nigel Harman, Joanna David and Dame Harriet Walter.
Julian Fellowes to write an American Downton Abbey
JULIAN FELLOWES, the creator of ITV's Downton Abbey, is hoping to parlay the American success of the upstairs-downstairs drama into a lavish new series set in New York in the 1880s.
Downton has been a smash hit in the US and the aristocratic British actor-turned-writer will hope The Gilded Age - an NBC drama about the boom and bust world of American millionaires in turn-of-the-century New York - will repeat that success.
The Times says the new drama is billed as "an epic tale of the princes of the American Renaissance, and the vast fortunes they made – and spent." The cast has not been announced, but Mad Men star Christina Hendricks is just one of the US actors who says she wants to work with the British peer.
Lord Fellowes told Variety the drama would depict a "vivid time, with dizzying, brilliant ascents and calamitous falls", a time when "money was king".
He will continue to work on Downton Abbey which has been renewed for a fourth season while writing and executive producing The Gilded Age.
The new series will cover a period "before the days of a federal tax" when aristocratic American families such as the Astors, Rockerfellers and Carnegies held sway," says historian Greg King in The Independent. The decadent period is chronicled by Edith Wharton in novels such as The House of Mirth.
The Daily Telegraph points out that Fellowes did not enjoy much success when he first went to the US as a struggling actor in the 1980s. He thought he'd made a breakthrough when he was considered to replace Herve Villechaize as the butler in Fantasy Island, but was pipped to the post by another actor and promptly caught a plane home to England .
Dan Stevens to leave Downton Abbey at start of Series 4
MONTHS after the shock death in childbirth of Lady Sybil in the ITV blockbuster Downton Abbey, Matthew Crawley is set to make his own terminal exit from the country pile.
Crawley, played by Dan Stevens, is one of Downton’s principal characters and his love affair and marriage to Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery, has been the plotline around which the rest of the show has revolved for its three seasons.
The manner of Crawley’s departure from the show is yet to be decided, but a “well-placed production source” told the Sunday Express: “Dan Stevens isn’t returning to the series. He will probably do the first episode of the fourth series, but that will be it.”
Stevens, 30, will also appear in a two-hour Christmas special in which the aristocrats leave Downton Abbey, and most of their servants, for a summer holiday at Duneagle Castle in Scotland.
The Highland pile is the home of Lady Rose (Lily James), who was sent home in disgrace in the final episode of Series 3 after her dalliance with a married man.
Stevens is the second major star to leave Downton Abbey in months. Lady Sybil, played by Jessica Brown Findlay, quit the show in the middle of the most recent series to pursue a career in Hollywood. There are now questions over whether Dockery will remain in the series without her on-screen husband.
The news comes days after the fourth series of the ITV blockbuster was announced. According to ITV News, filming of eight new episodes and a 2013 Christmas special will begin at Highclere Castle and Ealing Studios in February 2013. It will be broadcast next autumn.
ITV reveals who dies in final episode of Downton Abbey
IN THE SAME breath as it triumphantly announced that there will be a third series of the highly successful period drama Downton Abbey, ITV made a rookie error yesterday by inadvertently indicating who would not be making it past this Sunday's final episode by producing a cast list for Series Three.
Subtract this season's cast from next season's and you can see who dies on Sunday.
Picking up on the "unwitting" error, The Daily Telegraph, reports that the "bungle is likely to anger Downton Abbey fans" who have been left "on the edge of their seats" after the episode preview for Sunday's finale showed several characters becoming ill and Maggie Smith's Lady Grantham standing by a grave.
In the preview, Cora the American Countess of Grantham, Matthew's fiance Lavinia Swire and Carson the butler are all shown falling prey to the deadly Spanish flu outbreak that swept across Europe in the wake of World War One.
So who fails to survive the flu in Sunday's episode of Downton Abbey? For the sake of fans, The Daily Telegraph declined to reveal the names.
The fact is, it's not that easy to work it out. It means finding ITV's full press release about Series Three (not printed by most papers) and cross-referencing the list of actors mentioned with a cast list from Series Two.
You can put away the smelling salts, M'Lady. It's not quite the terrible bungle the Telegraph is suggesting.
Downton dramas: Maggie Smith heart scare, Lady Edith heckled
DOWNTON ABBEY matriarch Dame Maggie Smith might not feature in the fourth series of the award-winning show after she suffered a heart scare on Friday, while one of her co-stars, Laura Carmichael, suffered the indignity of being heckled on her West End debut as she appeared in a new production of Unc 2 le Vanya.
Dame Maggie, who plays Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, was taken to a specialist cardiac unit after suffering severe chest pains. The Sunday Mirror says she underwent emergency tests at the private Wellington Hospital on Friday. She was discharged the same day after her condition was stabilised by medics.
"The health scare will add to fears that she will not return for the show's fourth series," reports the Mirror. "She will have to consider advice from doctors before deciding whether she should sign up to the next series following the climax of the third season tonight."
Dame Maggie, 77, who won an Emmy for her role in the popular ITV drama in September, has previously overcome breast cancer.
Another Downton Abbey favourite, Laura Carmichael, who plays Smith's grand daughter Lady Edith in the show, also endured a scare on Friday, when she was heckled on the first night of a new West End production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya by theatre "colossus" Sir Peter Hall.
Carmichael was delivering the final lines of the play, which also stars Anna Friel and Ken Stott, when, according to The Sunday Telegraph, Hall interrupted. "Stop, stop, stop," he cried. "It doesn't work and you don't work. It's not good enough. I could be at home watching television."
The outburst did not go unnoticed by the critics. Michael Billington of The Guardian wrote that the first night had been "all but ruined... by some disturbance in the auditorium".
The Telegraph says Hall's interruption has become the "talk of theatreland", and opinion seems to be split on whether it was a deliberate heckle.
One eyewitness said he was "muttering loudly" rather than heckling, although others accused the 82-year-old of rudeness.
The former director of the National Theatre, who has twice overseen productions of Uncle Vanya, appeared to have changed his mind about the play when approached by the Telegraph afterwards.
Hall told the paper: "I thought it was a simply marvellous evening, a fine production with a superb company of actors." ·