Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Downton's on the up and up

Maybe it's true that it's all fuelled by misplaced nostalgia, less Who Do You Think You Are?, more Who Do You Wish You'd Been?, and given added impetus by these tough times where nothing seems as secure, predictable and comfy as The Past.

If so, there's no doubting how perfectly Downton Abbey has caught the mood of our age. Episode 5, series 3, and the catalogue of 'drama' thickens by the minute - a bride abandoned at the altar, a son-in-law burning houses in Ireland, freedom dangled in front of a felon in prison, a baby girl born, a daughter dead from convulsions after a mis-diagnosis ... the latter demise literally occurring in the time it takes for an ad break.

Nonetheless, the death of Sybil after the birth of her daughter was handled by both the cast and the script with the highest level of aplomb.

Yes, there may only have been 12 minutes allotted over the hour for Academy Award-grade emoting, and all those minutes came back to back, but the Misses McGovern, Findlay, Smith, Dockery and Carmichael wrung every hanky in the nation till it squeaked.

It's an extraordinary show and the writer, Julian Fellowes, is not only aware of the much-parodied set-pieces he revisits but actually seems to relish the challenge of reviving the tried-and-tested sure-bets of old-style melodrama.

In truth, the only real difference between the unlikely seizures that befall Downton and those in Albert Square or Weatherfield is the diction of the cast and the couture of the characters. The plausibility level is exactly the same.

Whether Downton will capture our decade of depression with the same endurance as a series like Dallas, now enjoying an unlikely revival on Channel Five, remains to be seen.

But there's nothing to compete with it for sheer high-volume drama, in the true sense of the word. Good on you, ITV.

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