Sunday, 17 November 2013

A downer on Downton

When I'm feeling depressed by worldy affairs, I find that a quick burst of Petula Clark singing Downtown soon perks me up. Hard to believe that the clip comes from 1964, around about the first time my IWC accepted my offer of a trip to the pictures in Newport. Perhaps we should make Downtown 'our' song?

Downtown I like but Downton me no like. And I'm not the only one. Here's what Rachel Cook, TV critic for the New Statesman, writes in the latest issue of that excellent magazine. Lovely stuff and I've just added a few photographs that seemed appropriate.

A sad week, should your tastes extend to dotty costume dramas. At Downton Abbey, the big house of ridiculousness and anachronisms where this column begins, Julian Fellowes' cheap little rape plot line reached a feeble denouement in the final episode of the series (10 November, 9pm) when Bates (Brendan Coyle) pushed the valet who'd attacked Mrs Bates in front of a bus and killed him - an excellent use of his precious day off, one has to admit.

Meanwhile, Violet, the dowager duchess (Maggie Smith), having somehow intuited that her unwed grand-daughter Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is up the duff by her bounder of a newspaper editor boyfriend, decided that the best solution all round - pass the smelling salts! - would be an all-expenses-paid, five-month-long trip to Switzerland. At least there, she'll be able to blame her swollen belly on too much Toblerone.

Most unexcitingly of all, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) now has two hot-ish chaps dancing her attendance: Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake, both of whom must first have appeared in an episode I missed (that is, all of them) and both of whom look like Thunderbirds puppets, only with fob watches instead of strings. Dullards, the pair of them; Lord "Tony" Gillingham's only claim to fame is that it was his valet whom Bates so swiftly despatched. Some viewers will perhaps be hoping for a threesome in series five, though how Dockery's acting skills would cope with such a scenario, one can only imagine. Would a sex troika in the king-size she once shared with the ineffably boring Matthew Crawley render her any the less plank-like? I fear not. I've seen walnut commodes more animated than Lady Mary.
Lady Mary? Walnut commode?

What is to be done about Downton Abbey? I don't know! ITV will, I fear, keep flogging this particular dead horse - "I'm sorry to have to tell you, Lord Grantham, but your favourite hunter was knocked down early this morning by Tom Branson, who was in a particular rush to get to a political meeting where he hoped to meet Miss Bunting, who had promised to show him her red bloomers; yes, I'm afraid these socialist girls are terribly easy, m'lord" - until such a time as the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (one of the groups that hand out the Emmys) begins to ignore it. So let us hope that is soon.

Or that ITV grasps just how bad a writer Julian Fellowes is and locks him in a room for a month with only Chris Morris and some classic Coronation Street on TV for company. Or until Maggie Smith storms off (I don't believe the show could survive without her). Or that Fellowes is made the new presenter of Daybreak, which would leave him too knackered to worry about butlers at a Time of Great Social Upheaval.

As for all of you people who still watch it, what is wrong with you? Seriously. Are you gripped in an ironic, postmodern, sneery, let' s-count-the-extras-at-Lady-Sarah's- village-bazaar, tee-hee kind of a way? (On this point, I spotted two: one in a sack race, the other manning the test-your-strength attraction.) Or are you simply waiting to see if Lady Mary's expression is ever going to change?

Confession time. In truth, all my negativity towards Downton Abbey is just sour grapes. Not many people know that I did once audition for a part but didn't get it. Bates and I just didn't get on. He wanted to be called Mister but I couldn't stop myself from calling him Master and sniggering in a very schoolboy-ish way. However, they did give me one of the auditions stills as a momento.

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