Written by Julia Raeside

Arts

Julia Raeside’s Digital Watch: Downton Time

The long goodbye to Downton Abbey has begun. Julia Raeside prepares to say farewell to the nobs and those who tend them.

Downton Abbey cast shot

The Crawleys and their help prepare to bid us goodbye. Photo © Carnival Film & Television Ltd.

It is the end. Well, the beginning of the end, as the Crawley family and their attendant menials prepare to bow out for the last time. (Until the inevitable Downton movie, obviously.)

“Your lot’s finished,” spits the nasty, working-class blackmail lady who visits Downton in order to extort money from Lady Mary. She’s threatening to spill the beans over that Liverpool hotel romp with the drippy Lord Gillingham, during which Mary decided he was not nearly dynamic enough to be her next husband and cruelly dumped him.

The blackmailer, a maid from said hotel, is sent packing with a meagre payoff and a flea in her ear from Lord Crawley, who is surprisingly lenient with his scandalously randy daughter.

But this does bring us to the main theme of the final series – the decline of the nobs. That is to say, the dying days of the aristocracy. It is foreshadowed in every other scene because writer Julian Fellowes doesn’t believe in leaving the important things unsaid.

It’s all change downstairs too as several of the female servants are leaving to get married or “work in shops”. Expect to see some of the background kitchen staff popping up in Mr Selfridge next series. Well, it is 1925 you know, as at least one person reminds us in this opening episode. Context is so important.

Meanwhile, Lord and Lady Crawley go to the closing-down sale of their friend’s estate and make a lot of pointed remarks about it being their turn next possibly maybe. See what I mean? The gamblers among you may like to bet the farm on the final scene of the final episode featuring the echoing, empty corridors, furniture covered in dust sheets and removal vans trundling up the gravel drive to a sad piano lament. It’s exactly what happened in the old (and rather brilliant) ITV series Upstairs, Downstairs in the 70s.

downton2

Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley, Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley. Photo © Carnival Film & Television Ltd.

The warm heart of this first episode is the tentative betrothal of Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes, the beautifully matched Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan. And the hilarious attempts by Mrs Patmore to act as their blushing go-between when it comes to matters pertaining to – how can I put this – ‘it’.

The scene in which the faltering pair finally declare their undying affection for one another (and Mrs Hughes realises she won’t have to physically swing from the chandelier to impress him in bed) was so delightful I actually warmed my hands on it. This is largely due to Carter and Logan being superb actors and having such a gorgeous on-screen chemistry.

“The main theme of the final series: the decline of the nobs. That is to say, the dying days of the aristocracy. It is foreshadowed in every other scene because writer Julian Fellowes doesn’t believe in leaving the important things unsaid.”

The other big laughs come from Sue Johnston as Denker and Jeremy Swift as Spratt, servants to the ever-waspish Dowager, as they vie for prominence in her diminished household. The minute Denker gets wind of possible budget cuts, she’s off to the big house, taunting the kitchen staff about their sudden job insecurity, and is soon paying the price when the Dowager finds out. She’s a proper shit-stirrer and no mistake, long may she reign.

Despite the ridiculous “I’m going upstairs to take orf my het” dialogue and the crackers plot twists with Anna and Bates (just put them both in prison and be done with it), Downton’s final outing looks like being just the sort of guff we need as the weather dampens and the nights draw in.

@JNRaeside

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Written by Julia Raeside

Julia loves TV and writes about it for the Guardian and other people. She also enjoys talking on the radio which she mostly does for the BBC.