Downton Abbey Christmas special review: stolen letters, gold diggers and criminal activities

Memory a little fuzzy after that last mulled wine? Never fear, here's Ellie Walker-Arnott's incredibly extensive recap of the Downton Abbey Christmas special


It may be winter outside but in Downton Abbey it’s spring…


Or more accurately, summer. Yes, that’s right. For the second year in a row Downton Abbey eschewed the festivities in favour of a sunny setting (and probably the promise of appealing to an American audience in a few month’s time.) And it was a shame really – a few snowflakes and couple of bunches of mistletoe could have livened up what turned out to be quite a slow special.

The Crawleys were down in London to celebrate Rose’s “coming out”. And staying at the grand Grantham House. Curious how this abode has barely been mentioned before, especially because of all that money trouble in series three, but thankfully Edith and Branson were on hand to clear up any confusion.

“Why wasn’t Grantham House sold when Downton was in trouble?” asked Branson.

“It would have been, eventually,” replied Edith, helpfully. “But not for nearly enough to save us. “

With that tied up it was down to London meet the rest of the gang.  And plenty others as endless introductions were made to society somebodies, who we may never meet again.

The Levinsons, played by brilliant Downton newcomer Paul Giamatti and Shirely MacLaine, made their appearance too. As always, Martha Levinson set about riling Violet, but the American heiress had more than sparring to keep her amused during this summer holiday. They’d barely set foot on dry land when they were being pursued by aristocratic gold-diggers Lord Aysgarth and his daughter Madeline. Yacht-loving playboy Harold, played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti, showcased his softer side with lovely Madeline while Martha enjoyed turning down the opportunity to become a fancy English lady and refused Aysgarth’s hasty marriage proposal.

Martha’s wasn’t the only proposal made in this Christmas special. Down-in-the-dumps Daisy finally got a look in with the opposite sex when Harold’s valet Ethan offered her the chance to leave Downton and head across the pond. Daisy refused, just pleased for a bit of male attention – “I’m that chuffed it’ll take me through to next summer” – but Ivy was keen to go to pastures new, so that could very well be the last we see of her…

Romance was in the air for Isobel and her persistent gentleman caller too, while Mary continued to play off her love interests, flitting between dates with Blake and Gillingham (it seems Napier has put himself out of the competition by scarpering to the continent. He’s a wise man, if you ask us). She dreamily declared that there was little chance she’d make a decision anytime soon – “I feel so cruel dangling you and Charles, and even Evelyn, on the end of a string” – before managing to push all thoughts of callousness away and declaring: “Let battle commence.” Anyone else think she’s enjoying this all a bit too much?

Someone who wasn’t enjoying anything too much was Edith. Returned from Europe, the middle Crawley sister was struggling after giving Gregson’s sprogg to Mr and Mrs Schroder. After two hours of wobbly bottom lips and some stern words from Branson – “We need to stand up to them, you and I” – Edith settled on secretly bringing her little one back from Geneva and paying the pig man to bring up her baby. Sounds like a great plan to us. What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile Rose fussed around in the run up to her royal debut, getting tipsy at jazz clubs and rubbing shoulders with none other than famous socialite Freda Dudley Ward, the mistress of the Prince of Wales. Her fun and frolics soon turned sinister though when Sampson (remember that poker-playing scoundrel from series three?) stole a saucy letter (which sadly we were never allowed to read) from The Prince of Wales to Freda.

Somehow everyone decided it was Rose’s fault, poor lamb. And never one to let something lie, or keep his nose out of something else’s business, Robert decided that the only thing the Crawley’s could do was set up a fake poker party as a guise while Rose, Mary and Blake broke into Sampson’s flat. Obviously. 

Naturally, Robert called for Bates to lend a hand. The valet forged some handwriting and then, when the break-in failed, stole the letter back from Samson himself with some incredibly stealthy pick pocketing. It’s moments like that when it’s worth keeping an ex-con in your employment, right, Robert?

Talking of Bates, it looked as though someone had been a naughty boy after all, when Anna donated one of Bates’ old coats to charity and it just happened to be the coat where he was keeping a railway ticket proving that he was indeed in London on the day Green died. Dun, dun, dun…

Luckily, it looks as though Bates won’t be back behind bars anytime soon though, as Lady Mary decided to burn the evidence after the valet helped with the retrieval of the Prince’s naughty note. A wise (if slightly illegal – pretty sure that’s technically perverting the course of justice) move there, Mary. You never know when you might need a criminal on your side.

As the episode drew to a close, the Prince of Wales decided to make an appearance at Rose’s coming out ball as a thank you for saving the royal reputation. “If she isn’t a darling of London society after this kick off, it won’t be his fault,” said Robert, gritting his teeth. 

In other news, Branson got himself in a pickle when Sarah Bunting asked to be shown around the Abbey and Thomas caught them hanging around near a  bedroom. Shock horror. And Carson was tasked with organising a day trip for the staff. After bandying around some incredibly boring options, the Butler settled on a crowd-pleasing trip to the seaside, where Carson and Mrs Hughes held hands on the beach – “We’re getting on Mr Carson, you and I. We can afford to live a little,” giggled the housekeeper. Is romance on the horizon? You’ll have to wait at least half a year to find out. 

So there you have it. A slightly slow episode, but at least no one died, eh?