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Still very pretty, ...but you've seen it before.....
on December 19, 2011
Julian Fellowes has once again proven he is absolutely shameless when it comes to pinching plot lines or re-hashing the cliched storylines that have gone before.
Yes, Downton Abbey is back with series two, ....oh, and don't worry, there's a definite lead-in to a third series at the end of this one. After all there must be at least two more cliches Fellowes hasn't rehashed just yet, but they'll pop up I'm sure.
Okay, so what's it like?
Well its still very lush in its set dressing , but the photography with its over use of steadycam zooming and circling about in very long takes will make those of you who suffer vertigo more than a little dizzy at times.
We are still largely confined to Downton Abbey, with very brief scenes in the "designer" trenches with some very obvious photoshopping to provide the shattered landscape that is supposedly The Somme.
There's a little blood, but one never really gets the feeling that it's anything but a set piece.
The acting is once again good, with the VERY noticeable exception of Elizabeth McGovern, who gives the most bizarre performance as the wife. Now she's an American actress playing an American, which shouldn't be all that hard a stretch you would imagine, ....BUT her "style", (if I may call it that), seems to consist of constantly cocking her head at an odd angle, gazing intensely just off to the side of camera and going cross-eyed!
I kid you not! AND she does it all the time, in just about every situation other than when she is supposed to be dying of the Spanish 'flu.
(Aside: Spanish 'flu was VERY contagious and yet despite all the cast being shown in very close contact with the designated victims, no one else ever seems to catch it!)
I can only suggest McGovern normally wears glasses in life, but has removed them to play her character and now has to squint to read her lines off a cue card held just off camera? You will not miss this strange affectation I assure you, ......she looks like a myopic beagle at times.
There are deaths of some characters, ...but they are the "disposable" ones, .....or those whose demise creates a very convenient advantage for the plot, .....AND you'll see all of them coming long before the last dying gasp. As I said above, the writing is FAR from being full of any surprises. It's strictly "paint-by-number" as far as plot goes.
There are also some noticeable gaps where a quite interesting sub-plot is begun, then just abandoned completely without any resolution or further mention. The re-appearance of an extremely facially disfigured "true" heir who supposedly perished on the Titanic at the beginning of series one is a point in question. Is he an impostor or the real deal? He just leaves and is written out and we never find out. Maybe it's left for the proposed third season?
The "villain" Thomas once again turns up like the proverbial bad penny and lords it over everyone when he is appointed to army staff in charge of Downton Abbey's military hospital and is no longer a servant, ......yes, the Abbey becomes a hospital, but really more of a "designer rest home" so don't expect any severe war wounds or dying soldiers. Most of 'em look like they are smart young chaps at a house party, leaping about playing ping-pong rather than suffering any of the vicissitudes of war!
Our arrogant Thomas also makes a disastrous foray into the black market, but rather than suffer any disgrace, despite palming off adulterated foodstuffs to the Downton kitchens, again manages to land on his feet and remain at the Abbey rather than be dismissed for his many crimes. They are obviously very sympathetic employers, considering there were no unfair dismissal laws in force at the time! There is a most convenient plotline for Thomas, which has most of the serving staff get sick and the Abbey become short-staffed. Well, down to it's last ten or so servants to look after five people anyway! Positively a skeleton staff.....
It must also be mentioned that several of the cast have certainly "tubbed-up" in the break between the two series. Perhaps the actors have been spending their unaccustomed regular paychecks on some seriously long lunches?
Fellowes seems incapable of deciding whether Her Ladyship's maid O'Brian is still a nasty piece of business or has undergone redemption after she deliberately caused Her Ladyship to miscarry the unexpected true heir. Her character vacillates between Mother Theresa and Cruella de Ville.
(Come to think of it, ...if miscarriages are so easily procurred with just a simple cake of soap, ...why were so many troubled heroines fooling around with coathangers, or those sleazy backyard butchers?)
Loose ends? There are many, including the "cliff-hanger" in the final shot, which is also telegraphed for about two episodes before it happens and you too will go "Ho-hum;...yeah, like I didn't see THAT coming!".
Now considering all the above, did I enjoy it?
Well for me it was rather a guilty pleasure I have to confess, as despite it's VERY obvious plot-line failings and not being anywhere near as good as the first series, the characters are familiar and there is some interest in watching them once again. I just wish someone else had written the script. Fellowes really struggles to maintain credibility at times, ....and constanly finding oneself about three pages ahead of his script really holds no surprises or unexpected revelations. You ALWAYS know where it's going, which will either diminish your enjoyment as it does for me, ....or you'll enjoy feeling clairvoyant.
The costumes are nice, the scenery great, most of the performances are very good to most adequate, ....(exception being Ms. McGovern's crook-necked gazings at nothing in particular), and all in all it's still a quite enjoyable Sunday night fare.
Mention must be made to those who tsk-tsked about the rather chaste male/male kiss in the first series making it unsuitable for their sheltered little sprogs, that there is.....shock horror, ...wait for it, ......a pre-marital sex scene which results in an.....please understand I can hardly bring myself to type this; ....an illegitimate child and an unmarried mother! There! I've said it! Oh the shocking obscenity of it all! So it's send the little brats off to bed, take bible in hand for protection and brace yourself yet again for the unbridled depravity of the inmates of Downton Abbey!