söndag 30 december 2012

Matthewgate – the fallout

Well. So he did it after all – Dan Stevens opted out of Downton Abbey. Leaving Fellowes no choice but to kill Matthew off, in an unexotic car accident, and in the Christmas special too. This was almost the unkindest cut of all: couldn’t the blasted man have agreed to be bumped off in episode one of the new series at least, so the otherwise peace-and-goodwill-full special didn’t have to end on a tragic note?

So, one of my wishes for the new year is blown already. I am still concerned how the series will go on without the hero, but the rest of the Downton crew used the special to persuade us that they will do their level best to keep the show on the road, and I’m more hopeful than I was that the hero vacuum will  be filled somehow (probably by Branson, tamest revolutionary on the planet). And at least an heir is born, so there will be no Heir from Outside Mk II coming in – this, I believe, the fans would not have stood for. As for Stevens, I do understand why he may have a yearning to play something else than the decent, somewhat priggish Matthew. But I wonder if it was a wise career move. It’s not as if he was a household name before Downton, so his fans will for the most part be Downton fans, and they will be put out with him for some time to come for jumping ship.

I’m almost starting to feel that there’s a jinx on my Downton blogs. I praise the villain alliance between Miss O’Brien and Thomas – and they fall out. I dare to hope that Matthew won’t be written out – and he is written out. On the upside, it works in a positive way as well. Thomas has braved the Errol Flynn curse and came out of his latest misadventure surprisingly well at the end of series three. In my opinion, Rob James-Collier would have deserved a Golden Globe nod for so believably making the transition from arrogant prat to poor little black baa-lamb. Taking full responsibility  for his latest disaster with quiet dignity; sobbing vulnerably in the rain; in a word, Thomas  completely floored me, and I’m now more than ready to give this particular baddie a dispensation for his lack of brains. At least the ridiculously easily-suggestible darling isn’t thick the way Alfred is: you couldn’t suggest anything to Alfred, as he wouldn’t be able to take the hint.

As for Miss O’Brien, her plots achieved a black grandeur far from petty shirt-pilfering, so we can expect more high-quality villainy in the future. There was a suggestion in the Christmas special that she was longing for a change: well, she can keep on longing. Her talents are needed in Downton. Her nephew, though, should feel free to pursue his dreamed-of career in food.

Scripting a hit show like this must be frustrating, as the characters who leave are not necessarily the ones who would, normally, be the most likely to. Not only the actors, but also the (real or perceived) wishes of the viewers, are far more important than the characters’ own wants. Why Thomas would choose to stay, even as under-butler, in a house where his relationship to just about all the male staff is problematic to say the least is a mystery. Also, you’d expect Daisy to jump at the chance of taking over her father-in-law’s farm rather than stay on slaving in the castle kitchen. Branson wanted to get away, but was hauled back (even at the price of killing off Sybil rather than keeping her on as an invisible off-shore family member). I suspect (though I hesitate to say it and jinx it) these characters are not going anywhere. As long as the actors don’t quit, Downton fans will keep them exactly where they are.