Downton Abbey: A Journey to the Highlands (2012)

The Crawleys go to Duneagle Castle to celebrate Christmas with the MacClares. Unfortunately, when the Crawleys return, tragedy strikes.

This was a feature length Christmas special episode that wrapped up series 3 back in 2012 and was also Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens)’s final episode. Watching this show back again after seeing the original run feels weird primarily because I remember how popular the show was and looking back with hindsight helps most of the time.

While this was 1.5 hrs rather than the standard hour or 45 minutes, it really felt like it was recycling old plots such as master-servant romances which get annoying and really stupid.

The scenery here and in other episodes really feels like it’s trying to feed you a pseudo grandeur but it just feels overdone at this point in the story. There is plenty packed into a 1.5hr runtime such as servants debating what to call their employers and lots of squabbles between “Shrimpie” (Peter Egan) and his wife Susan (Phoebe Nicholls). Riveting stuff, clearly.

I also noticed a story blip where Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern) tells Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) that she started reading The Sketch for his column but in S1E1 she’s seen reading The Sketch when she finds out the Titanic has sunk, taking Downton’s heir with it. Polite conversation or Julian Fellowes’s lazy writing? You decide, audience!

To be honest, by this point the show had become very soapy and with the audience knowing of Stevens’s departure anything less than going out with a bang wouldn’t satisfy the author’s pen. At this point it just felt like Fellowes was throwing anything and everything at the wall hoping something would stick.

Like the other episodes before it, this hadn’t abated it’s rose tinted view of the world. Escapist, yes, but also very annoying. In the world of costume drama, significant conversations happen over dinner, empty pool tables or during archery, fishing or similar gentlemanly pursuit. Hushed whispering optional.

There was a sweet scene between Carson (Jim Carter) and baby Sybil as if to recall earlier interactions her mother Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) had had with the wise old butler. That was a singular good scene in a sea of mediocrity.

Within this show it really felt like any character who questioned the status quo was immediately obliterated. Sybil tries to make a difference in the world and dies in a mismanaged childbirth with no bodily autonomy while formerly middle class lawyer Matthew drives into a ditch while distracted by happy thoughts of his newly strong lineage. Getting car insurance must be tricky. The world outside Downton is dangerous!

Seriously though, as much as I jest I feel like it could have ended here without car wrecks and ensuing misery. It could have ended with a shot of the three of them, and while domesticity doesn’t make for malleable writing, it still could have been rounded off because an ending is still an ending without descending into soapish unreality. I’m very surprised Fellowes didn’t resort to using the “it was all a dream” trope.

MY RATING: **.5 / *****

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