I can’t imagine there are many TV programmes that would have three generations of my family eagerly anticipating Christmas day. Admittedly, it’s not one of my most shouted about guilty pleasures, because at what point does a love for a period drama come into conversation? I am, of course, talking about Downton Abbey. Just over five years after the first episode aired, and six series later, the cast donned their corsets and dinner jackets for the final time. After the revelation that the Christmas special would be the last we would see of the Grantham’s and the Crawley’s, it was with baited breath that we waited to see the outcome of one of Britain’s most loved stately homes.
The first series of Downton Abbey was a scandalous insight into the upper classes. One of the first episodes included the esteemed Lady Mary sneaking the dead son of the Turkish ambassador out of her bedroom in the early hours, with the aid of her faithful lady’s maid Anna. Already, this set the programme up for something other than afternoon tea, dull conversation and other associations of a period drama. Although the romanticised relationship between the upstairs and downstairs of the house isn’t a true representation of an upper class family and their staff in the slightest, the superb writers and all-star cast had the country in tears, of sadness and joy, almost weekly.
In later series, Julian Fellowes still provided the storylines but they had lost their original edge. The death of Matthew, just minutes after the birth of his son, was heart wrenchingly shocking, and I can’t think of an event since which has stirred me to the same effect. The Christmas special was a fairly event heavy affair, with two weddings, a birth, a pregnancy announcement, a medical revelation, a retirement, a reinstatement and just about everything in between. An element I was especially pleased with was that finally, fifty-two episodes later, Lady Edith is granted happiness and is no longer the background noise of the family; her character has developed so much over the final series that she became the underdog that you so desperately wanted to prevail. Although a predictable advancement from the previous episode, the rekindling of the flame between Edith and the conveniently appointed 7th Marquess of Hexham Bertie is a welcome storyline nonetheless. Almost every single character was coupled off by the end, with Daisy finding a beau in fellow staff member Andy, the solemn Moseley coupling with Baxter, and even widowed Branson seemed to have sparked a romance with Edith’s editor, Miss Edmunds; it was essentially the 1920s version of Love Actually. The episode finished with a scene suited to the general feeling of Downton Abbey as a whole; the lady’s maid cuddles her new-born child, which she gave birth to in her lady’s bed, and nonchalantly sips champagne, whilst everyone downstairs gives a heartfelt rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
On reflection, and with a heavy heart I have to admit, nothing really happened. The scandal of earlier series was replaced with an air of caution; whether the writers no longer felt the need to push the boundaries, or if it was a fear of upsetting viewers, the finale fell flat. Of course it provided all of the elements loved by audiences, such as Fellowes’ fantastic one liners delivered by the ever wonderful Maggie Smith, but the ending was predictable from the start, leaving me wondering what was the point of a full hour and a half. It was sweet, it was nice, but it missed the dramatic and tear jerking moment we were all hoping for; but then again, at Christmas, maybe this is exactly the sprinkling of joy and spreading of festive cheer we all need. Either way, ITV will be hard pushed to produce anything that could even begin to compete with the true success that is Downton Abbey.