VOD TV review: Downton Abbey – 2013 Christmas special
Neil Brazier | On 28, Dec 2013
In what has to be the most pointless, uninspiring and complete dearth of entertainment available this Christmas, Downton Abbey returns to make absolutely no strides in any manner. Continuing what little story was left over from the end of Season Four, we jump forward around nine months to the presentation ceremony of Rose, her actual parents still nowhere to be seen. The Christmas special introduces us to Cora’s brother Harold – played by Paul Giamatti – but despite his best efforts, this new face does little to inspire.
After last year’s Christmas episode, which saw Matthew Crawley bumped off, it’s unsurprising that it’s all frolics and niceties this year; alas, none of it has any substance at all. Rose gets the family mixed up in a royal scandal – the Prince of Wales, no less, writes a love letter, which is then stolen, so Rose and the family plan to get it back. It’s rather pathetic that the plot to retrieve the letter involves such a contrived plan including so many people, instead of just sending the toughies around.
When we left Season Four, Anna’s attacker had mysteriously fallen in front of a bus. Only now, months later, has a clue been found to link Bates to the death, after Anna donates his coat to Mrs. Hughes, who finds a train ticket to London in the pocket. This raises the question of why Bates still had the ticket in that coat pocket months later, and why Mrs. Hughes even bothers to give it to Lady Mary when she says she is firmly on his side. Mary then spends the episode dithering over whether she should turn Bates in but is reminded of his loyalty to the family, so she burns the ticket.
Mary can be forgiven for not doing it straight away because her mind must be elsewhere; she is, of course, still being courted by two suitors, one of whom she had all but written off until she found out he has money. Oh, Mary.
Elsewhere, things are just as moribund when Tom’s hold over Mrs. Baxter appears relinquished, after she finds happiness in Mosley, who has given her confidence to not be afraid of her past – sure to ride again in the future. Tom then decides to tell on Branson for having a lady back at the house. Is there really nothing better he could be doing?
Having jumped forward in time, we also don’t have to worry about Lady Edith’s pregnancy, for she’s already had the child and given it up. That’s not sitting right with her, though, so she decides she’s going to get the baby back and let the local farmers look after it. Does she think she’ll just be able to look on and not get involved? Her beau, Gregson, is still missing, but the news is that he was last seen involved in a fracas with the “brownshirts” – the Nazi’s are coming to Downton!
The little saviour this “special” has to offer outside of the possibility of more Giamatti was the final scenes of the staff at the beach. We are treated to a brilliant bit of dialogue between Anna and Bates: “Is there anything I can do for you?” she asks. “You can buy me a penny lick,” comes the reply, saucy subtext, to be ignored. This is followed by the one genuine bit of emotion in the entire episode as Carson and Mrs. Hughes share a paddle in the sea.
Deciding to skip what could have been a series-length story line in the pregnancy and the did-he/didn’t-he Bates murder, this year’s underwhelming Downton Christmas special feels like an episode for episode’s sake. Why hasn’t this show been cancelled yet?
Downton Abbey Season Four is available to watch on ITV Player or to buy on blinkbox and iTunes. Downton Abbey Seasons One through Three are available to stream on Netflix.