No surprises as 'Downton' decamps, but what about some good cheer?
Ones to watch: Grim gothic and jubilant Donegal
Filmed in Dublin, the eight-part Ripper Street (BBC One, Sunday) set in the last decade of the 19th century and starring Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn, is gothic in its grimness. You have been warned.
It’s impossible to get the catchy supporters’ song out of your head, and not to find the story of the rise and rise of Donegal Gaelic Football under the inspiring coach Jim McGuinness, in Jimmy’s Winnin’ Matches, (RTÉ One, Thursday).
In this year’s Downton Abbey Christmas special (Christmas Day, UTV; St Stephen’s Day, TV3) it was summer, which made it slightly discombobulating, and the family decamped to Scotland.
They had not previously expressed any interest in going there, but it became an option when the plot replacement for the dead Sybil, the wayward cousin Rose, whose family had a castle in the Highlands, appeared rather hastily in the last series. So Doonton it was, then, for the Crawleys and their top servants, kitted out with fetching tweeds, a kilted chap with bagpipes and a trunk full of quips for Maggie Smith’s dowager.
Meanwhile, back at Downton, the remaining servants were having a rare old time at a country fair, so, to give the writer Julian Fellowes his due, although there wasn’t much compelling drama, there was plenty of activity.
Also left behind at Downton was Branson (Allen Leech), manfully enduring one of the more curious storylines, in which a maid (MyAnna Buring), whose actions and language were from an entirely different era, set about snaring him. He was, as Mrs Hughes reminded him in one of the many clunky verbal anachronisms, “on a learning curve”.
And after several characters mentioned bumpy roads, rattling train journeys and the dangers of pregnant women doing a jig, Mary gave birth prematurely. Fellowes likes to give viewers plenty of warning when anything significant is about to happen, so when we saw the new dad Matthew (Dan Stevens) barrelling along in his car and smiling broadly as he contemplated his good fortune, we knew – and not just because we’d read that Stevens wanted out of the costume soap – that he was about to meet his end. Not a festive closing moment but, as it wasn’t exactly unexpected, not too shocking either. A Christmas Day drama that was enjoyable in its peculiarly silly Downtonish way.
But what a mistake to watch Call the Midwife (BBC One) on Christmas Day. It was like being plunged in a cold bucket of reality when all you want is a bit of cheap sentiment and the warm fuzzies. The drama about a team of nun-led midwives in London’s East End in the 1950s was the surprise hit for the BBC this year, pulling in millions of viewers.
Miranda Hart, who had her own hilarious Christmas special, Miranda (BBC One, St Stephen’s Day), stars as Chummy, a posh midwife, and there’s generally a heartwarming story about Blitz spirit and cor-blimey East End pluckiness. But this Call the Midwife piled on the misery with a vagrant elderly woman pining for her dead children, a teenager giving birth in a derelict building and abandoning the baby and a woman giving birth in a filthy toilet. Seasonal cheer it wasn’t.