Monthly Archives: November 2013

Can anyone smell pastry? (Picture: ITV)

Downton Abbey, ITV1

Review of last week’s finale, published in Varsity today. Online here.

“All life is a series of problems which we must try and solve,” pondered Violet to a melancholic Edith in this final episode. “First one, then the next, and the next, until – at last – we die. Why don’t you get us an ice cream?” And thus she summed up the raison d’etre of Downton Abbey in one neat little nugget of wisdom: endless drama, but never without cosy traditions.

This time, the cosy tradition was the annual bazaar. Cora – who was apparently in charge – sighed a lot and faffed around with lists whilst everyone else did all the work. As Downton’s least developed character, Cora appears to exist only to lie in bed with a tea tray making comments about other people’s business – except, of course when it’s her own pregnant daughter’s business, in which case she breezes around completely ignorant. Thank God for Rosamund and her newfound passion for French.

The resolution of the whole footman-kitchen maid love triangle/square/indeterminate polygon that has been inducing yawns all over the country since episode one, was fairly underwhelming. In the end, Ivy wasn’t interested in Jimmy or Alfred, Alfred regretted not being interested in Daisy, Daisy regretted Alfred not being interested in her earlier, and Jimmy was interested in nothing but downing punch at the bazaar. So having sat through all those squabbles week after week, in the end no one even got engaged or died. Downton, you disappoint. It did, however, leave room for a touching moment between Daisy and Mrs Patmore that revealed a maternal side to the perennially no-nonsense cook, and it was lovely to see Daisy do something other than mope behind potato peelings for once.

But lets talk about Bates and Mr Green. This week, Bates took a trip to ‘York’.

“What were you up to?” asked Anna, knowing full well that ‘York’ meant ‘London’.

“This and that,” replied Bates casually, but his eyes told a different story. “Nothing major,” they glinted. “Went shopping. Bought some hair wax. Murdered a valet. Y’know, this and that.” No one can do murderous nonchalance like Bates.

Of course, we didn’t know he’d murdered Green. Not until the end of the episode when it turned out Green had been run over by a bus. Then we were pretty sure he probably had. To be honest, I’m still 100% convinced that Bates murdered his first wife, so it wouldn’t surprise me if said bus was constructed from pastry and laced with arsenic (see series 3).

Dramatic death aside, it was a fairly tame end to a series that, in every aspect, has been a huge improvement on the last. Primarily, it’s been nice to see a different side to Mary. Bitchy Mary had got a bit dull, likewise Sappy Wife Mary. It was touch-and-go whether we were going to have to endure a whole series of Mourning Mary, but luckily she transformed fairly quickly into Kick-ass Businesswoman Mary, who rejected doting suitors, rescued pigs, had mud fights, and suddenly inexplicably knew how to scramble an egg. By the time the final episode ended, she’d already rejected another two advances from Gillingham and Blake. I think we can guarantee they’ll both be back for Christmas dinner.

Picture: BBC

The Escape Artist, BBC One

Another Varsity review. Original here.

I spent the first two episodes of The Escape Artist wondering a) why characters in crime dramas always live in houses with floor to ceiling windows and b) why these characters never bother to furnish these windows with curtains. There were countless instances where shadowy figures lurked threateningly outside houses that could have been avoided with a quick trip to John Lewis. The final episode of the trilogy presented fewer jumpy moments, but tension levels were still high.

Not least because early on Liam Foyle, the man who murdered defence lawyer Will Burton’s (David Tennant) wife, walks free, assisted by Burton’s professional rival, hard-line lawyer Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo). What follows is clever, because we automatically construct our own version of the story before anything happens on screen. What would we do in Will’s position? Get away, probably, to somewhere remote. Cut to an exposed beach. Under a steely grey sky, Will and his son fish for limpets in a rocky stream. They cook the limpets in battered saucepans, outside a grey and white stone cottage. It’s peaceful. Will appears to have done as expected.

An interview with a law firm up in Scotland is followed by a drive into the remote countryside, bringing Will to an isolated pub where he asks to use the toilet. So far so ordinary. But then suddenly there he is: Liam Foyle (a chilling Toby Kebbell) slowly exiting a cubicle and washing his hands in the basin. It’s a heart-in-mouth moment. As he surveys Foyle through the bathroom mirror, Burton’s fear is palpable – Tennant’s ability to project every kind of emotion entirely authentically is never in doubt, and this scene is a prime example.

For a while we think it’s some horrible coincidence, or that Foyle is still bent on terrorising Will. Only when Will begins to follow Foyle’s car through the forest to a dilapidated cabin does it become clear that this meeting may have been planned.

But the true sequence of events isn’t revealed until the final scene, in an Agatha Christie-esque breakdown of events by a meticulous Maggie. Will’s formerly gallant-seeming bid to save Foyle’s life after an allergic reaction takes on a whole new significance in light of Maggie’s revelations. It was a satisfying ending, which was welcome given that these kinds of dramas so often end ambiguously. Nonetheless, I found myself wondering what Maggie would have done had Foyle’s body not been cremated. Her delight in having rumbled Will was evident. Would she have kept his secret quiet? And what about Will himself? He won the ‘not proven’ verdict, but could he ever truly escape from his ordeal? Probably not.

I was unsure of what to make of The Escape Artist at first. It seemed to begin as a subtle psychological piece, quickly developing into a pacey thriller. This final instalment proved it to be a cleverly constructed piece of drama, choc full of twists and turns up until the very end. Enjoyable, if not that believable – and distinctly lacking in curtains.