This was great fun for a wet Sunday morning. Don’t be expecting anything too deep and meaningful – a lot of the plotlines were more Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew/ the Hardy Boys than serious period drama – but it was always entertaining. As everyone will know from all the adverts, it revolves around King George V and Queen Mary paying a visit to good old Downton. It involves various near-disasters, a lot of sitcom stuff involving feuding staff, a sub-plot with some long-lost relations, and one of the Downton family inadvertently sorting out some royal personal traumas! The Dowager Countess and Cousin Isobel play off each other brilliantly; and there’s also plenty of romance, with Mr Barrow finally finding a nice boyfriend, Tom finding a new girlfriend, Daisy deciding she definitely wants to marry Andy, and Miss Baxter growing closer to Mr Molesley. There is a bit of serious stuff about life both upstairs and downstairs in there too, and there’s a sad twist in the tale which I won’t give away. It won’t be winning any Oscars, but it’s certainly a must for Downton fans … and so, in case anyone’s reading this, I won’t put any major spoilers 🙂 .
Other than Lady Rose and Atticus, pretty much the whole cast is involved, with those who’d moved away from Downton Abbey coming to visit/coming out of retirement for the occasion. The King and Queen are going to be spending a night at Downton, en route from Raby Castle (which I sincerely hope did not have horse manure all over the car park, as it did when I went there) to Harewood House (which I must visit again some time). Cue all sorts of excitement in the village, where the local grocer declares that this is the pinnacle of not only his career but his life, and all sorts of panic at the house. Needless to say, things do not run entirely smoothly, as the boiler packs up, Edith’s new ballgown goes missing, Daisy makes republican remarks, Tom thinks he’s being suspected of being a terrorist, and everyone worries because one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting is a cousin of the Dowager Countess’s, with whom she’s long since fallen out.
Then the royal staff, including a comedy French chef who wouldn’t be out of place in ‘Allo ‘Allo, insist that they’ll be doing everything, putting the Downton lot’s noses completely out of joint. However, thanks to a sleeping draught, a hoax phone call, two people being locked in their bedrooms and the Queen’s dresser being caught pilfering (see what I mean about Enid Blyton?), the Downton staff get their moment of glory after all. Hooray!
Meanwhile, the cousin turns out to have a big secret. And, speaking of plots involving long-lost relations, I see that ITV are doing an adaptation of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia. I hope it’s better than the book! Tom unearths a dangerous plot which he bravely foils by running through the streets, with Mary chasing after him (see what I mean about Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys), and rugby-tackling the villain. It’s also suggested (inaccurately) that Princess Mary, who featured strongly in The Queen’s Lost Family , is having marital problems … which Tom also, albeit inadvertently, sorts out! And Edith is sad because she thinks that noblesse oblige means that too many demands are being made on her husband, but Cora gets the Queen to sort it out. As you do
On a more serious note, poor Mr Barrow is caught up in a police raid on a gay jazz club – having only just found out, to his sadly soon suppressed delight, that there are gay clubs. However, he’s rescued by one of the royal valets, and the two of them later get together. Yay! And share an off-screen night and an on-screen snog. Tom and one of the visiting maids, who is part of the cousin’s mysterious secret, also share an on-screen snog. Daisy and Andy do not snog, but agree to get married, after he proves his love by, er, vandalising a boiler pump. Miss Baxter and Mr Molesley do not snog either, but meaningful glances are exchanged.
There’s quite a bit of pageantry, with the King reviewing the Yorkshire Hussars, and there are some glamorous ballroom scenes. And a lot of food. And some absolutely glorious shots of Highclere Castle and its grounds. What a gorgeous place … although not as nice as Edith’s new home, filmed at Alnwick Castle!
It isn’t all escapism. Reference is made to the General Strike. The pilfering dresser talks about how unfair it is that there’s so much disparity between the lives of the haves and the lives of the have-nots. And, whilst Robert and Cora don’t seem very bothered about the future of Downton Abbey, Mary wonders whether it’s worth going on … when running a stately home and a country estate is all so stressful. Never having run either and never likely to be running either, I’ll have to take her word for that! But it’s a fair point – a lot of upper-class families did end up selling their homes, or handing them over to the National Trust.
Then, as I said, there’s a rather sad twist in the tale … but it all ends on a positive note, with Carson saying that Downton Abbey will still be standing in a hundred years’ time, and that the Crawleys will still be there in a hundred years’ time, even if Mrs Hughes/Mrs Carson isn’t entirely convinced. Who knows? I like to think that they’re still there, raising some of the money for the upkeep by opening up the gardens to members of the public, and, hey, maybe hosting pop concerts in the grounds! I don’t know if this is the last we’ll see of the Granthams, but they’ve given us a lot of entertainment over the years, and, nearly four years after the TV series ended, it was good to see them back.