Downton Abbey: even in the season of excess the Christmas special was too long

On paper it should have been a corker, but the feature-length special fell flat, says Ellie Walker-Arnott

On paper the Downton Abbey Christmas special should have been a corker. There were stolen letters, gold diggers and royalty. Mary, Rose and Blake practically became cat-burglars, for crying out loud. But somehow the feature-length festive episode still fell flat. 


For starters, moving on eight months from the end of series four left us out of the loop. It robbed good story lines of their drama and left us detached from the characters we’d felt an affinity with when we last saw them. Edith went from being in the early stages of pregnancy to having already had Gregson’s baby and come back from Europe. It seems a shame to have rushed forward and wasted the plot possibilities – especially when critics are concerned about where the drama will go if it gets too close to WWII…

Talking of rushing, though, there is no way Downton could be accused of speeding through plotlines in the episode itself.

I’m a stalwart supporter of Downton, there’s no denying that, but even I’m not sure we need two whole hours of it in one helping (even in this traditional season of excess). Sitting down to over 100 minutes of Cora, Robert, Carson and co makes you realise just how little actually happens. It feels a little self-indulgent, lazy even. Just because it’s Christmas Day and Downton’s got a dedicated fan base, doesn’t mean the show should rely on the fact that people will sit down in front of it.

Yes, the episode was peppered with moments of brilliance and quote-worthy one-liners. But those occasions felt stretched thinly over the two-hour running time. 

You could argue that our expectations for TV on Christmas Day are set too high. But when the show is given such a big block of prime-time telly, it should be doing it justice. By the evening, we are already bloated and weighed down with too much food and too much drink. With the carpet covered in wrapping paper and dirty dishes thigh-high in the kitchen, we need a pick-me-up.

And this wasn’t that. Instead, it was a bit of a let down.