Downturned Downton? Shirley you can't be serious
TV REVIEW:LOSING A FORTUNE on shares, unemployment, the house at risk, a shouty Sinn Féin bloke arguing his listeners into demented submission. No, not your average current-affairs programme but Downton Abbey (UTV, Sunday), which returned laden with doom, gloom and endless exposition for the two or three people in the telly-watching world who don’t know what’s been happening.
Time has moved on. It’s 1920, so there are a lot of bicycles and cars pootering around, and Marcel wave hairstyles and shift dresses, but things are pretty much the same. Actually, they’re weirdly the same in the big house.
Money magnet Matthew has once again been bequeathed a fortune that might just save Downton – just like at the start of the first series, although this time Lord Grantham has lost his wife Cora’s fortune (“don’t worry, dear,” she soothed in her peculiar remote way, like a woman tranquillised up to her eyeballs) and there’s a new character, a big lump of a blond footman, to replace the big lump of a blond footman who died. But Edith is still making eyes at Lord Drippy Whatshisname, who’s proving so resistant to her brazen advances (Julian Fellowes, Downton’s writer, must be keeping him for some shenanigans with Thomas the butler).
The beauty of the family, Sybil, has come back from Ireland for Matthew and Mary’s wedding with her husband, the chauffeur turned journalist (and shouty republican) Branson. “He’s still dressed like the man from the Prudential,” said Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith), who had more than her share of clunky dialogue.
The below-stairs action centred on Bates, who is still in prison. I wish they’d leave him there. There are far too many repetitive, boring scenes of Anna visiting him, her little eyes shining, and swearing she’ll have him sprung before the series ends. She didn’t actually put it like that, but you can see it’s coming.
It was a feature-length opener, which just meant a long wait – worth it, though – for the arrival of Shirley MacLaine, as Cora’s American mother. Her smooth little Hollywood-old face peeked out from between swathes of fur, and in the most enjoyable scenes in the episode she and Maggie Smith batted some highly improbable dialogue back and forth on how tradition-bound the English are compared with the thrusting, modern New World.
As long as these two are in it, and Fellowes can come up with a decent plot to carry this series through to the end – though there wasn’t a whiff of one in the first episode – it’ll be worth watching. The posh soap is still ideal Sunday-night fare.
MORE POSH FOLKin Antiques to the Rescue (BBC Two, Wednesday): the Kavanaghs, in their huge stately home, Borris House, in Co Carlow, which needs lashings of cash to maintain. These are people whose concerns are not like yours and mine: they’ve had to abandon the crumbling nursery wing of their 50-room house, and their chapel has been giving them problems.
It costs €200,000 just to keep Borris House ticking over every year. The idea for this new series is an uneasy mix of all those big-house restoration programmes and (the pleasantly addictive) Cash in the Attic, a BBC programme you probably won’t admit to having seen, because it’ll mean owning up to lounging in front of the TV in the afternoon even when there’s no medical reason for it. In it, an antiques expert rummages around someone’s house, usually a bungalow in Clacton or somewhere similar, finding bits and bobs that will fetch cash at auction. The homeowners are usually thrilled to make a couple of hundred quid to realise their dream of a weekend in Bognor or a new tuba for their grandson. In this series the affable Antiques Roadshow expert John Foster does the same sort of rummaging but this time in a big house, with money going towards a restoration project.