Downton Abbey Christmas Special (ITV) Review

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The now-yearly Downton Abbey Christmas special is a strange beast if not just for the fact that, though it’s native UK audience are forced to enjoy it late on the eve of December 25th, surrounded by abandoned mince pies, sweet wrappers and bottles of Babycham, there’s a whole section of the world who will instead view it with a clear head in the spring. The interpretation and enjoyment level of these two groups will then be very different and, it must be said, the latter will have the benefit of distance and perspective that I wasn’t able to bring with me.

That said, this was simply another boring instalment of Downton’s fourth series, and the fact that it was two-hours long and positioned far too late in the schedules (to avoid a clash with Doctor Who over on the BBC, no doubt) just meant that it was almost unbearable not just to stay interested and engaged, but to stay awake at all. I don’t know what happened between series three and four but, aside from the now infamous incident with Anna and Green, Downton Abbey seems to have strategically abandoned its search for drama and opted instead for delivering ‘cosy blanket’ telly each week.

For example, the end to the aforementioned rape storyline in the November series finale was so lacklustre and unsatisfying that most viewers still believing in the power of Julian Fellowes were sure that we would get another, more fitting, ending to the affair on Christmas Day. But Bates and Anna barely featured, and we were instead treated to an elaborate plot regarding a letter, the Prince of Wales and a visiting Paul Giamatti. Giamatti, it has to be said, is the highlight of the episode, and provides a welcome lift from the familiar right when it was needed most.

Maybe it was assumed that viewers wouldn’t want anything heavy when watching with their Gran, their children and all manner of other family members, but that seems awfully mean when we’ll all have to wait until the Autumn to find out if Bates really killed Green, who Mary will choose as her suitor and whether Tom’s new lady-friend will offend the family enough to get him reprimanded. With nothing of note to sink our teeth into, the tediousness of Rose’s coming out and subsequent schemes were almost too much to bear. There will be those who enjoy a slow episode of Downton as much as any other, but my suspicion is that those viewers wouldn’t care enough to be reading a review right now.

The only thing that effected me at all was the ultimate resolution of Edith’s storyline, which was very moving and provided enough for us to wait until next year to see her visiting her daughter at the nearby farm on which she will be raised. This one scene brought more festive spirit to our living room than the rest of the two-hour running time combined and, if it wasn’t for this and the final frames of Carson and Hughes walking out into the water hand-in-hand, the episode would have been an utter, complete disappointment and enough to confirm my suspicions that Downton might be past its prime.

What did you think of the episode? Did you enjoy its cosy festive offerings? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.