Monday, November 7, 2011

There Is A War On, You Know!

The second series of the hugely successful period drama Downton Abbey, which finished last night on ITV, strove earnestly to depict the horrors and hardship of life in Britain and on the battlefields during the Great War of 1914 to 1918. The most conspicuous wartime struggle was, however, that of series creator and writer Julian Fellowes and the creative team behind Downton who never quite managed to achieve the balance between being informative about a fascinating period of history and being hugely entertaining, a balance which greatly contributed to the resounding success of series one.

This year's episodes were so cluttered with white feathers, court marshals, shell shock, food rationing, conscription, convalescence, disfigurements, bereavements, widows' pensions and ladies working the land that few stories had sufficient time to develop satisfactorily and many remained unengaging. And although the trenches were impressively re-created, the scenes on the Somme ultimately seemed rather redundant as the most effective moments were those back at the Abbey with the various much-loved characters coming to terms with what the war had done to them.

All in all, the second series of Downton Abbey was afflicted with such a bad case of Difficult Second Season Syndrome that not even the collective powers of Major Clarkson, Nurse Crawley Mrs Crawley and Corporal Barrow could have seen it right. Much like poor traumatised Mr Lang, it tried to do too much too soon and unable to cope with the weight of responsibility, bungled about rather hopelessly allowing only occasional glimpses of its vast capabilities. Some many have sniggered in the corner, as above. Thanks heavens for the millions of Lavinia Swires the world over who were willing to patiently and lovingly see it through its worst bouts of incompetent pacing, jarring characterisation and tedious predictability to something resembling its past glory.

Promisingly, last night's series finale was rather excellent and satisfying viewing for those who have been kept waiting a great deal too long for the resolution of will-they-won't-they romances between Bates and Anna, Sybil and Branson and Cousin Matthew and Lady Mary. Much was left to be settled and here's hoping it will be settled not with more plot developments that lack conviction (did anyone buy into the supposed estrangement between Lord and Lady Grantham?) but with more beautifully judged moments of heartbreak and loss (deathbeds become Downton, they really do!) and many more moments with the Dowager Countess grappling to come to terms with modern technology.

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