Sunday, February 23, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 4 finale: "Is that American for hello?" / "British peerage is a fountain of variety."

As Cora's brother Harold, visiting Europe whilst the Teapot Dome scandal dies down, Paul Giamatti got glowing reviews from the English press—which mitigated somewhat the buffoonish portrayal by writer Julian Fellowes of him and his mother. Do they really need to be quite so crude and unmannerly??
"Giamatti filled out the spaces round an underwritten part to bring both delectable humour and bathos to his role" wrote the +Telegraph+. "When his mother asked an aristocrat what kind of lord he was, the mystified incredulity Harold brought to the question, 'There are different kinds?' was killing. When he bumbled up to the Prince of Wales and introduced himself in the American way so that the Prince thought he was being addressed as Harold Levinson, the bedraggled expression with which Giamatti came away, his eyes great pools of confusion, made him look the spit of an affable bulldog. If only this excellent comedian could move to England, and into the Abbey."  Right on!
As Harold and Cora's mother, Shirley MacLaine was ill-served throughout by her dialogue; like a sledgehammer, it had no subtlety. Ultimately, Fellowes handed Violet (whom he portrays three-dimensionally) the coup de grace:
Martha Levinson: "I have no wish to be a great lady." Countess Violet: "A decision that must be reenforced whenever you look in the glass."
While Lord Ainsgarth tries to cozy up to Martha, Harold dallies with the Lord’s daughter, the straightforward (and lovely) Madeline. Lord A. proposes to Martha but she declines, with the sop that she'll set him up with some wealthy widows at her "cottage" in Newport.
Amidst abundant pomp and circumstance, Lady Rose is presented by her aunt to the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace (filmed, actually, in Clarence House). As usual, she creates a huge kerfuffle by instigating a chain of events resulting in an intimate letter from the Prince of Wales to his mistress being stolen, by that bounder and cad Sampson. All kinds of convolutions have to be gone through to get it back, amongst which Lady Mary becomes a midnight burglar and Bates's forging skills are pressed into service. (As Granny pithily observes, "I feel as if I have spent the whole night trapped in the cast of a whodunnit.")
 Lady Rose is ultimately rewarded for the letter's retrieval by a surprise appearance and a dance with the prince to open the Grantham House ball. (How does she do it!?) The mistress (Freda Dudley Ward, who is married) tells Rose that the Prince remains ignorant of the theft and the peril for potential scandal he was in had Sampson sold the letter to those horrid American papers.
Lord Merton shows up at the ball as promised because he's googly (as much as a peer can be) about Isobel Crawley and can't wait to dance with her. Violet is bemused, befuddled—and, methinks, a tad jealous!
Isobel: "Oh, heavens. It's Lord Merton and he seems to be headed in this direction."
Violet: "No doubt to lead you down the primrose path of dalliance [giggles].

Violet: "Cora insisted I come without a maid. I can't believe she understood the implications." Isobel: "Which are?" Violet: "How do I get a guard to take my luggage? And when we arrive in London, what happens then?" Isobel: "Fear not. I've never traveled with a maid, you can share my knowledge of the jungle."
During a chat with Tony, Mary learns that Mr Blake (seen with her here, at the National Gallery, perchance?) has a title and a none too shabby inheritance. Tony is sportingly leveling the playing field. Hmmm.
As for sister Edith, we learn that she stayed long enough in Geneva to wean (and presumably bond with) her baby girl. Not a good idea. Sure enough, she reverts to her plan of having tenant farmer Mr. Drew raise the baby under the pretense that a friend who died had asked he and his wife to care for her. Michael Gregson is still missing, but another tidbit of news comes to light: he got into a fight with a "gang of toughs" in Munich, obviously proto-Nazis. The saddest line in the show is spoken by Mary, as the sleeping arrangements for the London house party are being worked out: "I’d rather sleep on the roof than share with Edith."
Phyllis Logan as Mrs Hughes, a linchpin in the world of Downton and in the series.
We turn with relief to the downstairs lot. Daisy nixes Harold's attempt to lure her to America as his cook, but Ivy takes him up on it. Molesley gives Baxter the support to stand up to Thomas, despite the potentially damaging secret he perpetually dangles over her. The worm has turned, Mr Barrow, so watch out!
Mr Carson wants to take the staff to the science museum or similar as a reward outing for working their tushies off during Rose's coming-out celebrations, but the wise Mrs Hughes bides her time and posts a photograph of the seaside on their bulletin board. When a notable lack of enthusiasm for his improving suggestions is felt, he tells Mrs. H that a seaside jaunt would be the ticket. She just smiles and says that that would be swell. The last scenes of the episode are some lovely dialogues by the ocean, culminating in Mrs H and Carson wading in together, hand in hand. ("We’re getting on Mr Carson you and I, we can afford to live a little." Amen to that!)
Molesley/Baxter and Mrs Hughes/Mr Carson were the most popular the last time I checked our Downton Abbey couples quiz!! Do head over and weigh in! I kind of go for Harold and Madeline ... what about you?
Maggie Smith's one-liners were topping in this episode, as usual. She could definitely take a one-woman show on the road!
Here are a few to chortle over:
"British peerage is a fountain of variety."
Can’t you even offer help without sounding like a trumpeter on the peak of the moral high ground?
Martha Levinson: "Well the gang’s all here I see." Countess Violet: "Is that American for hello?"
"A card game? Here? What are the ladies supposed to do? Put feathers in their hair and serve the gentlemen with cigars?"
"The combination of open air picnics and after dinner poker make me feel as though I’ve fallen through a looking glass into the Dejeuner sur l’Herbe."
What did you think of the finale? Do you agree with The Guardian's Viv Groskop?
"What could be more revolting than to rummage through a strange man's socks?" Er, I don't know. Maybe the suggestion that two respectable ladies should break into a man's rooms and go through his things in a misguided attempt to protect the reputation of the Prince of Wales, a character we absolutely don't care about anyway? Never mind all that, though. It was what Downton always is. Utterly beautiful and mesmerising to watch. Packed to the gills with sumptuous costumes and gorgeous locations. And superbly acted." 
 Goodbye, Downton, until next year! (sniff). Meanwhile, you can avail yourself of the series on DVD and other related items by visiting our "Roaring Downton" Forum!

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