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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Picture: The Telegraph

Downton Abbey, ITV1

It was Downton goes Monarch of the Glen yesterday, as the family headed up to the Highlands for a spot of deer-stalking and fishing. Random Rose From The Series Three Finale was back! I thought she’d just been invented by Julian Fellowes as a way to get some of the characters out of Downton and into the Jazz Age. It did almost feel like there was a big pointy finger above her head going THIS PROGRAMME HAS NOW REACHED THE 1920S, ALSO KNOWN AS THE JAZZ AGE. But no, Random Rose turned out to be more than a plot device, although she kept a bit of the JAZZ AGE referencing alive in her attire for the Gillie’s Ball.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Where do we find our beloved Downtonites, one year on from where we left them in their Sybil-grieving, fairly homophobic state? At the station, that’s where! They’re off to Scotland, on holiday! Well, Upstairs are. As O’Brien points out, it won’t be much of a holiday for the servants once they arrive. Really? Bates and Anna seemed to find lots of time for country picnics, dance lessons and eating peppermints whilst strolling in the grounds.

Meanwhile, back at the big house, the staff think they’re in for a holiday. But not on Carson’s watch! No siree, it’s silver polishing and house cleaning for all of them, including the new maid who, for someone born and bred in Yorkshire, is suspiciously bronzed…

Unusually Tanned Maid has designs on Branson. That’s clear from the start. In fact, Branson and Unusually Tanned Maid are one of four Blindingly Obvious Potential Couples that appear in the first ten minutes of the episode. Honestly, if there was ever subtlety in this show, it packed up and left a long time ago. Probably sometime during The War. Ah, The War. Just in case we’d forgotten it happened, we’re reminded of it ( the trenches, specifically) though a conversation between Matthew, and Edith’s editor – the Mr Rochester-type guy who has a mad wife he can’t divorce. Edith and Mr Editor-Rochester are another Blindingly Obvious Potential Couple (BOPC). The other two are Mrs Patmore and that food-loving delivery man, and Isobel Crawley and Dr Clarkson, whose pastimes include reading medical journals, and ‘going to bed with – a glass of whisky.’

But what of the Golden Couple, the two Ms? How are they faring? Well Mary is preggers! Hurrah! The secret operation worked! The six-week saga that took up all of ten minutes of the last episode is long forgotten. Matthew and Mary are still going to bed a lot though. Really, how many ‘Matthew and Mary are going to bed’ scenes is that now? They seem to have had a bedtime conversation ending with Matthew doing that weird head-wobbling advance towards Mary’s face to kiss her in pretty much every series three episode now. I wonder if they filmed them all at once. I’m not a fan of these scenes. Julian Fellowes appears to reserve all his cringiest lines for them. In fact, the cringe-per-minute rate rockets the moment there is any kind of situation where Mary is lying in a bed and Matthew is preparing to join her. I actually thought they couldn’t get any worse though, until last night when Matthew came out with his ‘I’ve seen you naked… I know the real you’ comment. Something along those lines anyway. Seriously? Matthew is basing his love of Mary on her hot bod? Fellowes – 1, Feminism – 0.

Bates was getting hot under the collar too. Anna had a suprpise for him. ‘Oh God,’ I thought as she explained this to Mary, ‘we’re not going to get another unbearable scene like that wedding night one are we?’ Luckily the answer was no.  But I still didn’t enjoy the sight of Bates gazing lovingly-but-creepily at Anna, while she was dancing her weird  seductive reel in slow-motion. ‘HE’S A MURDERER,’ I thought, ‘HE’S JUST THINKING ABOUT WHAT SHE’D LOOK LIKE EATING A NICE (POISONED) PIE.’ Honestly, I am still absolutely sure that Bates murdered his wife. He’s too overly-moral to be the real deal. I am convinced that in one episode in the near future, Mrs Patmore will burn a critical batch of apple pies, and Bates, unable to resist the opportunity to play the gallant hero, will step in and produce the perfect shortcrust. Someone will notice his skill in this area (I like to think it will be Thomas), put two and-two together, and Bates will be back in the gallows before you can say Jus-Rol.

Incidentally, what is Thomas up to now? Generally looking mysterious and hot in a new wide-brimmed hat, or with rolled-up-sleeves and wayward hair during the tug of war, that’s what. That is, until some thugs come along and ruin his beautiful, well-structured face. He seems less bitter now, maybe because he’s no longer (badly) hiding the fact that he’s gay from the rest of the house. Or maybe because he is still in love with Jimmy, the dull second footman. Jimmy’s made it clear he’s not interested though, so Thomas will just have to pine from the Friendzone. If Downton Abbey EVER ends (not looking likely at the moment) all I want is for Thomas to find a nice boyfriend. Julian can do whatever he likes with the rest of them, but I just want Thomas to be happy. More than I want Bates to be a murderer.

Dr Clarkson was also Friendzoned by Isobel, something he thanked her for later. What of the remaining BOPCs? Mrs Patmore shunned a life chained to the stove by Delivery Guy (Fellowes – 1, Feminism – 1), and Branson and Unusually Tanned Maid were an obvious no-go mainly because Branson is still desperately in love with the dead Sybil. (He was consoled in a lovely scene towards the end of the episode by a comforting Mrs Hughes. I think we all need a Mrs Hughes. She’s just so NICE). And Edith and Mr Editor-Rochester had a massive invisible sign bobbing above their heads, reading ‘TO BE CONTINUED’.

And then came the end of the episode. It was all going so well. Random Rose was coming to live at Downton, Mary had had her baby (a boy, conveniently) without doing a Sybil and dying, the family had caught the first train down from Scotland, and it wasn’t delayed. But then came the obviously-going-to-be-ironic-later, Matthew-centric comments, along the lines of ‘Downton will survive because of Matthew’s vision’ (Lord Grantham); ‘I feel as if I’m only half myself without Matthew’ (Mary); ‘Matthew is generally such a wonderful person’ (Everyone Else) et cetera. ‘That’s it, ‘ I thought. ‘He’s a goner’. At first I thought he was going to be killed in a shooting accident, maybe by a still-tipsy Molesley with the shotguns he’d been so keen to bring. But Matthew arrived back in Yorkshire apparently unscathed. I racked my brains for other plausible ways Matthew could be snuffed out (although as we’ve learnt from Pastrygate, deaths in Downton by no means have to be plausible). ‘Hah!’ I mused out loud to my family. ‘Maybe he’ll have a car accident!’ It was meant to be a joke, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than one car on a road in Downton ever. Then Anna came out with her prophetic ‘Mr Matthew can drive himself’ and that was that. His fate was sealed. We were forced to watch his agonisingly tender scene with the new baby and Mary (again involving her being in bed while he leant in to kiss her), and listen to his depressingly ironic line: ‘You’ll be my Mary always.’

And that was it. He ended up sprawled on the roadside with blood dripping out of his ear. Well cheers for that, Julian. That definitely filled me with Christmas cheer. Actually, even if you disregard the harrowing ending, the whole episode was not Christmassy in the least. We wanted the giant tree in the hall! We wanted Highclere Castle in the snow! Shooting in the mist! Fires in the hearth! Mrs Patmore’s Christmas dinner! Instead, we got a summer country fair, and provocatively pleasant weather, as if to tauntingly remind us that we are all currently festering under several feet of floodwater. And to top it all off, Matthew was killed off. I know he’s slightly dull, but could that not have waited until after Christmas?

Ah well. That’s it then. We’ll just have to wait till September to be cheered up again, maybe by an affair between Branson and Mary, or Branson and Rose, or Branson and Anna when it’s revealed that Bates is a murderer. Until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Gossip Girl, ITV2

So it’s all over. Gossip Girl has XOXO’d herself out of the Upper East Side, never to return.

Well, not quite. As we learnt at the end of last night’s final episode, she’ll always be around; it’s just that now she won’t be Dan Humphrey. Yep, that’s right. The figure behind Manhattan’s biggest badmouthing blog was none other than Lonely Boy. Cue hundreds of die-hard, reluctant-to-let-go fans hysterically ploughing through previous series, desperately looking for ironic Dan-gets-himself-in-the-shit moments to prove that it can’t possibly have been him. Personally, I think I’ll just accept it and move on. You have to hand it to Humphrey though. He’s a consistently good actor, on many occasions over the last six years exhibiting extremely convincing surprise at ‘unexpected’ posts on Gossip Girl even when he was alone in the Loft, with no one to hoodwink. ‘It’s called method-acting dahhling…’

In other news, Chuck and Blair finally ended their ‘we can never be together because we’re so deep and need to fulfil our destinies before being happy’ charade by at last tying the knot, to the collective sighs of thousands of fans (although whether this was over Blair’s Elie Saab dress, or just out of sheer relief remains to be determined). However, in classic ‘Chair’ style, this marital bliss only came about as part of a scheme to keep Chuck in the clear after Bart Bass’ shocking-but-actually-incredibly-convenient death last week. In the words of Jack: ‘it’s twisted, but it’s very you’. Thank God for the incentive, otherwise I could easily see Chuck and Blair continuing to live apart, wallowing in and Self-Punishment and Despondency.

I won’t dwell too much on the rest of the plot, only to say that it was the usual ‘Oh no a problem! Wait, the problem’s been solved! Wait, what’s this? Another problem? Nope, problem solved!’ format that it has always been. Serena was going to leave New York, then she wasn’t; Chuck was in trouble, then he wasn’t; Nate was finally doing some journalism instead of being handed stuff on a plate, then he wasn’t.

I did enjoy the ‘five years later’ epilogue, à la Desperate Housewives/Harry Potter, mainly because of the hipster glasses sported by Rufus, who was presumably looking to channel ‘arty-but-slightly-creepy Brooklyn Uncle’ when he chose them. The epilogue involved all of the characters we’ve grown to love, paired up into various tidy couples, all apparently assembled for the living room (?!) wedding of Ultimate Tidy Couple, Dan and Serena.

There was, of course, Chuck and Blair with their little boy, Henry (middle name sadly not Severus, or even Bart), Eleanor and Cyrus still going strong, Jack Bass and Georgina Sparks (who, last time I looked, had a husband and son, but never mind…), paired up in a moment of inspiration by the writers who quite rightly decided that their scheming personalities would compliment each other perfectly, and Rufus and a similarly-bespectacled lady, who were presumably brought together by their penchant for alternative eyewear. And Lily was back with Dr William van der Woodsen, the same guy who walked out on her, had a child with her sister, made sure she wasn’t completely cured from cancer a few seasons back just so he could stay in her life, and, most recently, had a fling with her arch-nemesis. That’s love, people.

Oh and look! Ivy’s written an autobiography! And it’s been made into a film! Coincidentally starring the only two actress characters that have ever featured in Gossip Girl’s not-contrived-at-all plots! Remind me to book a ticket.

Best-of-friends Jenny and Eric were there too, Little J not so little any more, but still going for the ‘emotional and rebellious teenager’ panda-eye look. So 2008, J. Dorota was present as well, but no Vanya? Surely Lily could’ve pulled some strings and got him off work, just for today?

And then there was Nate, apparently single. ‘Surely not!’ I hear you protest. ‘Serial-dater Nate – who has at one point or another been with at least three of the women present, including the bride herself – has ended the six-season epic single?’ Evidently so. Poor Nate. He does have a swanky private jet though, and is planning to fulfil his New-York-rich-boy stereotype by running for Mayor (Grandpa van der Bilt must be proud, if he’s still around). Guess you can’t have everything…

But look! Here’s Princess Serena gliding down the stairs towards spellbound Brooklyn peasant-made-good, Dan! Well, she would be gliding, if it weren’t for the excessive diameter of her dress which she presumably picked up from the Disney Store.

And that’s it. The end. The Actual End. It’s all over. Forever. I would say I can’t believe it, but I really can. The writers have been flogging an almost-dead horse for a while now, and for the horse’s sake I’m glad they kept the final season down to ten episodes, instead of the usual twenty four. Farewell, Gossip Girl. It’s been great – ridiculous, but great. Actually, mostly just ridiculous. But you know I love you.

XOXO

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The Hour, BBC2

Last Thursday was the final episode of the second series of 1950s newsroom drama The Hour. I have loved this programme ever since I watched episode one of the first series back in 2011. It’s the perfect escapist TV drama: hugely dynamic characters, an incredible cast, a gripping plot, humour and a bit of romance. Add to this the beauty of the sets, costumes and Ben Whishaw’s face, and not a lot is left to be desired.

Writer Abi Morgan knows how to write a cliffhanger. So when I emerged from the pacey and brilliant finale on Thursday, I found myself in a similar position to The Times‘ Caitlin Moran a few weeks ago: what I needed most was to squeal at someone else who’d watched it, something along the lines of ‘ahfbdjTHEHOURsehffhssfFREDDIEjhfhfWHATsdkjfsjfAHHHHHH’. Now, in the case of dramas like Sherlock and Downton Abbey this is usually completely doable in one trip to Facebook or Twitter, where countless others are uttering similar virtual cries of  ‘Sherlock/SybilNOOOOOOOO’ (delete as appropriate).

So off I went to Facebook. But there was no one there. I racked my brains: who do I know who watches The Hour? Just two people came to mind, and one only began watching it this series because I told her to – she didn’t know about it before.

My question is, why ever not? The Hour is one of the most enjoyable dramas I’ve watched in a while, and more people need to know about it. So I’ve compiled a list of reasons why it’s worth getting hooked on.

  1. It’s about spies. Well, the first series, anyway. Proper 1950s spies in long coats and fedoras (or is that a spy? What if it’s not, what if someone else is the spy? And how does this link to the aristocratic girl and the reporter? Hmmm… intriguing…). Spies not your thing? The second series is about seedy West End clubs and associated showgirls, backstreet crime, and 1950s porn. What more do you want?
  2. The plots are gripping. Ok, they can sometimes be a teensy bit implausible, but the pace is unfaltering and the tension high, which is ultimately what you want in a drama – an enthralling, fast-moving story.
  3. The characters are wonderful, and their portrayal flawless, whether it’s Romola Garai’s headstrong and gutsy producer, Bel, Dominic West’s smooth, spotlight-loving presenter, Hector, or Ben Whishaw’s flighty but brilliant reporter, Freddie. Then there’s Hector’s long-suffering wife Marnie played sublimely by Oona Chaplin, not to mention restrained and powerful performances by Anna Chancellor and Peter Capaldi (Lix and Randall respectively), whose scenes in series two were heartbreakingly beautiful. Honestly, the cast is stellar and in this sense especially The Hour is wasted on BBC2.
  4. It’s visually stunning, (and I promise this isn’t just because of Ben Whishaw). The offices, with messy, mismatched desks and photos and newspaper cuttings plastered over the walls, provide a stark contrast to the studio with it’s clean lines, cool-grey walls and bold clock, providing a visual reflection of the way the chaos of investigation is channelled into the smooth delivery of the news programme. Then there are the costumes – Bel’s vibrant, figure-hugging jewel-toned pencil skirts and jackets, Marnie’s soft-hued dresses and coats, Freddie’s shabby shirts and ties and, in series two, the feathered corsets of the El Paradis showgirls. And all of this shrouded in a constant cloud of cigarette smoke, adding to the murky atmosphere. It’s beautiful.
  5. What would a drama be without  will-they-won’t-they romantic tension? Bel and Freddie provide this in bucketloads, but the important thing is it’s not too contrived. Their relationship fizzes along, a combination of mutual irritation, fierce loyalty and a deep love that has the potential to be platonic or romantic. It’s compelling to watch. Additionally, this being a TV drama, they are both incredibly attractive, which also helps.
  6. It’s about actual real-life history, if that’s the sort of thing that floats your boat. The Suez Crisis, anti-nuclear protest, racial discrimination. It has to be said that it’s not the most historically accurate programme there’s ever been, though: a woman Bel’s age would probably not be producing a current affairs programme, but this room for artistic licence doesn’t really bother me. There are also a few sneaky parallels between then and now, namely suggestions of corruption in the police force, sex scandals at the BBC and a fair bit of political controversy.
  7. Did I mention Ben Whishaw?

Marnie

Outfit envy: Marnie (Oona Chaplin)

So there you have it. What are you waiting for? Put series one on your Christmas list and get watching. I’m not saying it’s perfect. The scripts have been criticised for containing more than a few anachronisms, the portrayal of the period is somewhat romanticised, and some plot points seem a little too convenient at times. But the acting and the aesthetics are both of an unbeatable standard, and The Hour on the whole deserves a load more recognition that it’s received thus far. I’m now left desperately hoping that, despite apparently low ratings, a third series will be commissioned, because I cannot cope with the unresolved trauma of Thursday’s episode. I am hanging on very tightly to an immeasurably large cliff, and really don’t want to let go.