‘My being there won’t make any difference,’ he observes, stopping short of adding, ‘And in any case, if brother Harold is so important, why do we only talk about him once a series?’ But it is Lady Mary who sees the benefit of a Transatlantic voyage if not to darling Papa, then at least to Thomas, who will be able to admire ‘all those handsome stewards strutting down the boat deck.’
Sadly, this being Downton, there’s not much chance that we’ll ever get to see Thomas re-enact the video to ‘In The Navy’. He hasn’t had so much as a sniff of action since he tried to hit on Jimmy in Series 3. But it is a thing of wonder that Mary is such an advocate of man-on-man love. Possibly marriage has changed her, as she suggests, or possibly the rate of social change at Downton is such that they’ll all be celebrating Thomas’s civil partnership in Series 8, by which point we might reasonably expect Daisy to have got over Alfred.
Still, Lady Mary isn’t the only woman of Downton to embrace thoughts of transgressional love, Rose having taken rather a shine to band leader, Jack Ross – although whether this is genuine love, the skittishness of youth or merely the desire to shock her elders, it’s unclear. She’s a charming girl is Rose, but for all her cheeky waywardness, she’s far more conventional than she believes herself to be, taking the traditional approach to courtship of spouting some cod-French and smooching on a boating lake.
The DVD player being one technical innovation that has yet to arrive at Downton and appal Mrs Patmore, we can be reasonably certain that Rose has never seen Titanic, but for the rest of us, the combination of a Jack, a Rose and plenty of water can only trigger alarm bells. Sweet as Jack and Rose are together, they can’t last the course, and not because Rose is too ahead of her time. On the contrary, if you really want to succeed in courtship at Downton, you need to be prepared to be even more subversive – and there’s no one more subversive than secret gay rights advocate and occasional pig fancier, Lady Mary.
Lady Mary may know the benefits of cultivating an aloof, Elizabeth Bennet persona, but beneath the brittle humour and – to borrow a phrase – spoiled brows lurks the beating heart of a woman who is more than prepared to indulge in a little pig farmer role play. She can scramble eggs, give as good as she gets in a mud fight and has a winning way with a hoary old pun about saving bacon. Little wonder, then, that no fewer than three men are currently after her hand in marriage.
At the moment, the smart money may be on Charles Blake to thaw Mary’s affections – he being the most Darcyish of the three – but he’d be wise to tread a little carefully, given Mary’s history with men. This is a woman, let’s not forget, who succeeded in shagging a Turkish gentleman to death and who survived to refer, occasionally and obliquely, to the tale.
Compare this with the misfortunes of poor Edith who hasn’t yet had the plot-resolving assurance that her extra-marital lover has died, and has been left, moreover, with a most unfortunate consequence of their one night together.
Edith tries to imply a little of her sadness to Mama, but Lady Cora, alas, is one of those women who mistakes empathy for sing-song simpering, offering only squishy cuddles and glassy-eyed smiles. One can only fear for the bedroom talk between her and Lord Grantham.
Far better, then, that Edith takes her troubles to Aunt Rosamund, who resolutely refuses to be shocked and offers practical support when it’s needed most.
It is as we always knew: when the going gets tough, it’s to the Crawleys not the Levisons you must turn. Any family that has Violet, the Dowager Countess, as its matriarch, isn’t going to let the small matter of an illegitimate pregnancy derail the family enterprise. Even when feverish with borderline pneumonia, Lady Grantham still speaks the truth. ‘This one talks too much,’ she says of Cousin Isobel, ‘She’s like a drunken vicar.’
Now if only we could let the Dowager Countess loose in the kitchen. Perhaps she’d be the one to bash Ivy and Daisy’s heads together.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 3 November 2013 on ITV.
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