Bethan Smith, 19, Essex, says…
After Matthew’s clumsily written death-via-driving-at-3mph, I was expecting the worst of ham from Downton Abbey – the sort of ham you find in the reduced section at a supermarket, days past its sell by date and growing mould pathetically next to a tub of cottage cheese. On the contrary, it turned out that Sunday’s episode was rather brilliant.
Michelle Dockery was compelling as the frozen-in-grief Lady Mary, Edith was surprisingly confident in a thigh-flashing dress, and Branson was endearing in his new role as counsellor/brother-in-law (though “hats”, apparently, are a great way to conquer grief).
Yes, Hugh Bonneville constantly pulled his best “mildly concerned” face, and a futuristic electric whisk almost entirely stole the show. But if confident, sensitive storytelling is the direction in which Julian Fellowes is taking Downton, then I’m willing to follow it, right up to the bitter end – as long as I’m not going in Matthew’s car.
Matthew Sheperd, 30, Halifax, says…
As a habitual viewer rather than ardent enthusiast, I felt obligation rather than excitement at the return of Grantham and co.
The generally interminable sentimentality (and it’s so much worse over 90 minutes) was admittedly somewhat relieved by Mary’s spectral beauty, but even her truthful disdain did little to rescue the season opener from the comfortably prosaic. There was the occasional comedic moment to relieve the tedium, e.g. butler-v-butler, the clatter with the platter, but mostly it seemed to be a series of mini plot reminders/ character reinforcements plus the laboured theme of ‘death is bad, but strong people can be helped to get over it’…
In sickly summary, it wasn’t all bad, just really rather soft, like chocolates left too long by a fire – you might eat one, or even two, but you’ll probably regret it.
Roll on Homeland.
Emma Harwood, 23, London, says…
Snuggling down to Downton Abbey signals the start of autumn, a season of revival but also reminiscence. Perhaps in comparison to the Christmas Day car crash, this episode feels largely undramatic; repercussions are being felt and earlier ghosts of series three haunt and herald series four. But as Daisy demonstrates this week with a whisk, out with the old, in with the new.
Plotlines are introduced rather heavily; Fellowes may as well have a servant holding a board with the words ‘this is going to end in disaster’ (Carson’s old friend/Rose not in Scotland). There is one genuinely scary moment with Nanny West. Some things remain; casual chemistry between Carson and Hughes, the kitchen love triangle and a neat scene of warring butlers with eternal loser Molesley, well, losing. Lady Mary’s story is central yet reassuringly much of the screen time focuses on Lady Edith, finally in the spotlight.
Tiffany Francis, 21, Bristol, says…
What a thrill to have Downton back! It’s been six months since Matthew Crawley’s motoring accident ruined Christmas, and the Abbey is starting to return to its usual, frisky self. The labradors are loping joyfully across the lawn, Lady Mary is rather drearily drifting from room to room, and the footmen are still toying with the hearts of ditsy kitchen maids. Thomas is now known as Barrow, and remains the same ambiguous character one can neither love nor hate.
The fourth series of Downton is already brimming with scandal, sumptuous feasts, love affairs and glittering costumes, but the real triumph of the show is rooted in its gripping storyline and subtle development of character. I am particularly intrigued to follow Mary, Edith, Branson and Anna as we leave behind the dark days of warfare, and step into the frenzy of the glorious 1920s!
Emma Chaplin, 48, Lewes, Sussex, says…
I welcome the return of Downton Abbey because expensively-made, enjoyable tosh is soothing to a shallow soul.
The new series kicked off with everyone running around screeching about the just-departed O’Brien like Henny-Penny shouting ‘The sky is falling!”. This seemed as panto as the sausages in Lord Grantham’s pockets (there to keep Isis looking adoringly at him).
It’s a shame O’Brien’s gone, but I didn’t grieve about the premature death of Matthew Crawley, perhaps because Julian Fellowes’ characters generally have the emotional depth of Cluedo figurines. Admittedly beautifully-attired ones – we saw Lady Mary in elegant widow’s weeds, and Lady Edith as if after a Barbie flapper makeover. The oddest storyline was Isobel taking in an impoverished theatrical type known to Carson. I’m not sure why the nanny was introduced only to be sacked at the end. And I reckon the biggest troublemaker could be Mrs Patmore’s nemesis, the new electric mixer.
Thank you to everyone who sent in a review – we really enjoyed reading them! If you’ve got a taste for sharing your opinion, or these clever Radio Times readers have inspired you to put pen to paper (or, more accurately, fingertips to keyboard) keep your eyes peeled for the next Radio Times Reader Review….