‘Downton Abbey’: Series 2 Episode 5 review

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What a difference a week makes! This time last week we were bemoaning the lack of incident (and, no, the pregnancy of the maid doesn’t count), but this week it’s all kicking off.

One person has finally carked it, albeit the house member most likely to do so; meanwhile, poor Matthew Crawley has come over all Lord Chatterley, obliging writer Julian Fellowes to scour his Big Book of Blighty Slang for period euphemisms for ‘impotent’. That’s right – the King is in his castle, but the drawbridge won’t be opening, or, as Lavinia understands it, she will be condemned to ‘the life of a childless nun’.

Well, steady on, love! There are other things a girl can do – but, granted, it does make the whole business of The Entail rather more problematic, with no lineage guaranteed, and Iain Glen’s moustache-twirling press baron sniffing around with his damnable new money.

Last year, scarcely a scene went by without some mention of The Entail – a force so big and patriarchal, it could divide families and destroy true love. This year, the War has overshadowed even the dynastic workings of the aristocracy.

But, hold on a minute! Who’s that burns victim in the next time trailer, and why does Matthew comment, ‘If he is alive, then I am no longer the future Earl of Grantham’? Prior to this, we’d been all up for imagining a third series of Downton, with Lady Mary doing her best Lady Chatterley – possibly, by way of a sororal love triangle, with Irish Chauffer Guy, with whom she could have re-enacted the back-of-the-car scene from Titanic. But now – colour us confused…

Still, the story of Matthew’s loins wasn’t the only one this episode. Since Episode 1, when William went around trilling about a man’s duty to his country, he may as well have had ‘Dead man walking’ tattooed on his forehead – and thus, Downton Abbey found another opportunity to go for the potboiler staple, by giving us the deathbed wedding scene. Think Pat Phoenix and Tony Booth, only with dodgier moustaches and Dame Maggie Smith.

William looked remarkably beautiful for someone with only 5% of his lungs working – a fact which prompted several characters to remark, ‘Are you sure they’ve got it right?’ – but, in Downton Abbey, all the war wounded look beautiful, except when they are obliged to look raffish and caddish. In Downton’s world, the good die young and the virtuous must stoically suffer, while Thomas and O‘Brien sit around like vultures, picking over the corpses.

When the Great Revolution comes (they shot the Tsar, did you hear?), it won‘t be Those Who Know Their Place who survive. It will be the crooks and the connivers. This being the case, Lady Mary may do very well to attach herself to a powerful media baron, after all. Whisper it quietly, but I hear they make quite the impact in the Twentieth Century…

Aired at 9pm on Sunday 16th October 2011 on ITV1.

> Order the Series 2 boxset on Amazon.

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