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Downton Abbey: Christmas at Downton Abbey

“You’ve lived your life and I’ve lived mine. And, now it’s time we live them together.”

Christmas has come to Downton Abbey. It is the holiday season that spans from late 1919 to early 1920, so eight months or so have passed since the house was hit so badly by the Spanish Flu. In case we have any doubts that this extended episode is going to be different from the series, the usual opening credits are missing. Instead of the wagging tail, we have the household members preparing Downton for the holiday and all the relatives turning up.

Everyone, that is, except Sybil and Tom. Through various conversations, we learn that they did marry in Dublin. There is some tension remaining between Sybil and her parents as they did not go to the wedding, nor did they invite the new couple for Christmas. But, Cora gets the ultimate Christmas gift in a letter from Sybil. Robert is less than overjoyed at the news of the pregnancy; it takes Cora to remind him that this child is their grandchild, whatever his or her parentage.

Overshadowing the entire episode is Bates’ trial, which ends up being quite a train wreck. O’Brien, Mrs. Hughes and Robert all testify in such a way that any juror would have convicted him. Mr. Murray did a lousy job preparing these three for the witness stand, but especially Robert. The answer to any question posed by the prosecution is very simple, “I do not recall.” During the questioning, however, it becomes clear that Bates himself has been far too honest with the police and the prosecution. That damn honor of his very nearly gets him hanged.

Leave it to Thomas to keep an eye on the main chance. With Bates now facing life in prison, all Thomas can think of himself and how much he wants the valet job. He goes so far as to hide Isis away (the cad -- anyone who uses a dog as manipulation belongs in the bottom circle of hell). Just when we think that it is all going to backfire on him, Robert sees that Thomas has been looking for the dog and softens towards him. No wonder Thomas continues to act as he does; it seems to work out well for him.

There is a fair amount of romance in the air and Lady Violet plays a part in them all. Although it is not a romantic love, Daisy’s new relationship with Mr. Mason is simply wonderful to watch. The poor girl has been suffering since William died, believing that she didn’t love William and marrying William was the same as being false to him. It is Lady Violet who allows Daisy to see that marrying William was an act of love, whether she was in love with the boy or not.

It is, however, Mrs. Patmore’s delightful manipulation of the planchette that finally sends Daisy to the Mason farm. Mr. Mason, having lost five children as well as his wife, is desperate to have someone to worry about and pray for. In his gentle way, he shows Daisy that she can be his daughter and that, by doing so, she is doing what William would have wanted. Supported by this man, Daisy comes home and tells Mrs. Patmore what has been bothering her and, as a result, gets what she wanted all along. It makes me so happy that Daisy now has both a father and a mother figure.

Speaking of mothers, Lord Hepworth has come to meet the family and to court Rosamund. While it may be all right for her one of her children to marry into money, Lady Violet is not going to sit still for the opposite happening. She forces Hepworth to tell Rosamund the truth, but in such a way that is respectful towards her daughter. If Rosamund knows the truth and still wants to go through with it, Lady Violet will respect her wishes. Of course, in the end we learn that Rosamund was being manipulated and that her mother was right. As she herself says, “Damn!”

Lady Violet plays matchmaker for her middle granddaughter and sets up a tea for Edith and Anthony. Unfortunately, Anthony has been hurt in the war and, unlike Matthew’s, it is a permanent injury. Like Matthew, Anthony has far too much honor for his own good. Edith comes calling, using a drive as an excuse, and Anthony tells her that he is a cripple and that he is too old for her. Although I groan at the nursemaid issue raising its head again, I cheer Edith’s response. Of the three girls, she is the one who has most changed since we met her all those years ago.

The Pamuk secret finally comes out. It is astonishing how long this secret was kept from Robert and Matthew. The incident occurred in late 1912, so for seven years Cora and Mary have been living with this on their consciences. Robert’s reaction is unexpectedly understanding and I think some of that comes from his brush with adultery earlier this year. It also doesn’t hurt that he loves both Matthew and Mary and abhors Richard. The conversation he has with Mary is the most honest we have ever seen him with one of his daughters; and, unlike the threats he hurled at Sybil, he has seen enough now to want his daughter to be with the man she loves. Mary’s reaction is typical of her; placid and calm on the outside, but watch her eyes. She can’t believe what she is hearing. All kudos to Dockery who plays this scene beautifully.

Mary takes her father’s advice and decides to leave Downton to avoid the scandal. I like the juxtaposition of both Mary and Anna being in a position where they feel they need to leave to avoid further talk about the house. These two have been each other’s staunchest supporter for as long as we have known them. It somehow feels right that they should now have each other as they leave. As it turns out, luckily neither of them has to go.

Through the first half of this episode, Matthew is clinging to his guilt about Lavinia and even tells his mother that both he and Mary deserve to be unhappy. Isobel’s retort is sharp, but correct -- Matthew needs to get over it. Similar to Mary’s conversation with her father, it is Matthew’s conversation with his mother that finally sets these two on the right path. It couldn’t have been easy for Mary to tell Matthew the truth, but to his credit, he takes the news as well as Robert did. Yes, he is shocked, but he never judges Mary.

It is Matthew’s lack of judgment, along with her father’s, that finally gives Mary the courage to break up with Richard. As usual when he is thwarted, Richard comes back with threats and bluster. This time, however, the family rallies behind Mary and the man is sent packing. Not to mention, we get to see the two men who have been figuratively fighting over Mary for two years finally fight literally. I always cheer when Matthew throws that first punch. Mary, to her credit, is very kind to Richard the next morning. She accepts the blame and she allows them to part on civil terms. While Richard is far from my favorite character and I hope that we have seen the last of him, I do believe him when he tells Mary how much he loved her and it’s easy to imagine how hurt he has been through the whole ordeal.

A direct echo of the end of the last episode, Matthew and Mary dance together again at the Servants’ Ball. The usual conversation filled with subtext, but now there is no Lavinia to catch them out. Even Cora mentions to Robert that they should be allowed to just get on with it without interference. And, get on with it they finally, finally do.

A more romantic way to end this series it is difficult to imagine. Snow falling in the dark, Matthew and Mary stop dancing around each other (literally) and stop the subtext, although even now the two of them struggle to finally accept that all of the obstacles have been removed and they can be together. Mary, who has had very little real romance in her life, asks Matthew to “do it properly.” He does and Mary’s heartfelt “yes” always brings a tear to my eye. I just love a happy ending.

Bits and Bobs:

— “Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?” translates as “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” Taken from a poem by Francois Villon, the phrase has come to signify the belief that the past was better than the present.

— A Planchette is very similar to an Ouija board.

— It took me quite a search, but I think I’ve finally discovered the difference between ‘The Game’ and ‘Charades.’ The former originally meant guessing the title of a book, play or song simply using gestures and no words. The latter originally meant performing a book, play or song using costumes. So, the book title that Mary acts out is “The Game.’ If they were all to dress in costumes and act out the plot of the book, that would be ‘Charades.’

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is Anne Bronte’s second novel. It is much, much better than Agnes Grey, her first.

— The Rubicon is a river in Italy. ‘To cross the Rubicon,’ as those of us who have seen Rome know, refers to Julius Caesar’s army crossing the river which was considered an act of civil war. The phrase has now come to mean the point of no return.

— A Fenian is a supporter of Irish nationalism.

— Methuselah, according to Biblical tradition, was the oldest person ever to live.

— The English shoot is still highly formal, filled with etiquette and rules. I spent a total of one day on a shoot. Mary’s right when she says that she doesn’t know if it’s worse to hit the bird or miss it. I spent the day missing and took a lot of grief for it from the others; but, I was very glad I didn’t actually kill anything.

— Capital punishment was abolished in Britain in 1965 for all crimes except high treason and piracy. The last execution, however, was carried out in 1964. Until the end, hanging was the means by which the death penalty was carried out in the UK.

— “A consummation devoutly to be wish’d” is from Hamlet’s ‘To Be or Not To Be’ soliloquy. “Smile, and smile, and be a villain” is also spoken by Hamlet, but in a different soliloquy.

— The Home Secretary is the minister responsible for internal affairs within England and Wales and for immigration and citizenship for the whole of the UK. Edward Shortt held the post from 1919 to 1922. A Liberal (gasp!), he commuted a fair number of death sentences during his tenure, most around the mental health of the person condemned.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a novel by Thomas Hardy, is the story of a young woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night. Angel Clare is the man she falls in love with and marries. Unlike Matthew, Angel is not able to forgive Tess and the story ends badly. A wonderful novel. If you’ve never read it, give it a try.

Well Said:

Lady Violet: “Oh, this is nice. This is… what is it?”
Isobel: “What does it look like?”
Lady Violet: “Something for getting stones out of horses’ hooves?”
Isobel: “It’s a nutcracker. We thought you’d like it. To crack your nuts.”

Lady Violet: “Lawyers are always confident before the verdict. It’s only afterwards they share their doubts.”

Daisy: “Don’t you believe in spirits, then?”
Mrs. Hughes: “Well, I don’t believe they play board games.”

Lady Violet: “Sir Richard, life is a game in which the player must appear ridiculous.”

Edith: “I don’t accept a single word of that speech. If you think I’m going to give up on someone who calls me lovely…"

Lady Violet: “No fortune? He’s lucky not to playing the violin in Leicester Square.”

Thomas: “There’ll have to be a new valet now, won’t there?”
O’Brien: “I don’t often feel selfless; but, when I listen to you, I do.”

Mary: “He’ll keep my secret if I marry him.”
Robert: “Once, I would have thought that a good thing, but I’ve been through a war and a murder trial since then, to say nothing of your sister’s choice of husband. I don’t want my daughter to be married to a man who threatens her with ruin. I want a good man for you, a brave man.”

Matthew: “I deserve to be unhappy. So does Mary.”
Isobel: “Nobody your age deserves that. And, if you are, and you can do something about it and don’t, well, the war has taught you nothing.”

Lady Violet: “Oh, so you married him to keep his spirits up at the end?”
Daisy: “I suppose I did, yes.”
Lady Violet: “Well, forgive me, but that doesn’t sound unloving. To me that sounds as if you loved him a great deal.”

Shore: “Is it usually so specific?”
O’Brien: “Not usually, no.”

Matthew: “You were wrong about one thing.”
Mary: “Only one? And what it that, pray?”
Matthew: “I never would, I never could despise you.”

Daisy: “I’ve never been special to anyone.”
Mr. Mason: “Except William.”
Daisy: “That’s right. I were only ever special to William. I never thought of it like that before.”

Richard: “I’m leaving in the morning, Lady Grantham. I doubt we’ll meet again.”
Lady Violet: “Do you promise?”

Matthew: “Lady Mary Crawley, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Mary: “Yes!”

Behind the Drama:

This is an hour long special that aired between the end of the second series and the Christmas special. Narrated by Hugh Bonneville, it is a behind the scenes look at the filming of the series. If you are as fanatical about the show as I am, it is great fun. Filled with anecdotes and interviews with Julian Fellowes (who tells us which of the story lines are true -- you will shocked!) and the cast (who tell us what they think of their characters). Unfortunately, I can only find it on iTunes, so you will have to pay to download it. I’ve already watched it twice, so it was worth the price to me.

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


  1. I quite like Richard. But I think that 99% of that is because he's Iain Glen, and seeing Iain play an un-Jorah Mormont role is fascinating. I got the most angry looks whenever I shouted "KHALEESI!" at the screen during his stint on DA.

    I think I am in the minority here, but I adore Thomas.

    For a Christmas special, I liked this episode.

  2. Morgan India - I just love Iain Glen's voice! I could listen to him talk forever. Richard's disgruntlement at having to (gasp!) serve himself at Christmas infuriated me. Let the servants have a couple hours off, twice a year! Jeez.

    I loved the Lady Violet / Daisy scene. It was so, so sweet. Lady Violet finally helped Daisy realize what the audience has known all along. :) D'awwww!

    When Thomas took the dog, i immediately took to the internet to find a spoiler ensuring that the dog would not be harmed. Poor Isis! I lost my dog once and it was hell. Granted, I found him fifteen minutes later under my dresser, but those fifteen minutes were still terrible.

    Love Tess of the d'Ubervilles. I should read it again. It's been years....

  3. Oh, Thomas. I don't know if I want him to be redeemed or to stay despicable.

    I think William's father and Daisy finding each other is the most beautiful story of all the beautiful stories ever told on this show. No wonder Daisy couldn't recognize that she loved William, if no one ever loved her before.

    Funniest moment: Matthew's face when Robert told him he should dance with O'Brien :)

  4. The planchette is the thing that is pushed around over the Ouija board.


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