There is one word which perfectly sums up the Downton Abbey Christmas special, one word which entirely captures the experience of two supposedly drama-filled hours of Lady Mary and the rest of the gang. That word is meh. I’m sorry to use an internet-derived colloquialism, but it really was just so very, very meh. It was bland, boring, and completely underwhelming. Yet to be fair to dear old Downton, while this isn’t glowing praise, perhaps it isn’t the worst thing in the world either.
The Christmas special this year saw our favourite bunch of over-privileged, well-dressed and slightly dippy English gentry come to London for Lady Rose’s coming-out and presentation as a debutante, set once again, very glaringly, not at Christmas. Effort was made to tidy up one or two story lines (most notably the possibility that Mr Bates might have committed murder) but on the whole the aim seems to have been to create drama in all other areas, maintaining interest for Season 5. The attempt was not exactly successful.
Lady Cora’s family come over from America on the flimsiest of pretexts, in the hope of injecting some ‘sass’ into proceedings (and some new money/old money conflict) and while Shirley Mclaine was on fine form when sparring with the ever excellent Maggie Smith, one fails to care even slightly about the American contingent. The one good thing to come out of the Christmas special was that, for the first time in ages, Daisy got a storyline which actually resulted in her smiling, for which we are all thankful.
I failed to maintain interest in any of the other story lines, including some shenanigans with a philandering royal (I assume the soon-to-abdicate Prince Edward), Lady Mary’s endless revolving door of suitors, Mrs Hughes’ attempts to prevent Carson from dragging the entire staff round a London museum, and Lady Edith’s illegitimate child. Part of my problem with the special was that my patience for Downton has been sapped by the overall tiresomeness of Season 4 – TV which has been at times really bad, and at others downright offensive. These storylines were wrapped up about eight weeks ago, and dragging them on seems cruel to all parties, not least the exceptionally talented cast who look increasingly like they might envy the dear departed Dan Stevens.
So in a way, for the Christmas Special to be merely ‘meh’ is an improvement; at least it didn’t have me throwing things at my screen, and there were some rather fun moments. But when you consider the former glories of Christmas specials gone by, kisses in the snow, genuinely tense courtroom drama, and lashings of festive cheer, you know that Downton can, and should, do better. The dresses are still very pretty, but this has undeniably become a show which is all style, and very little substance.