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Downton Abbey: The Final Episode - Christmas 2015 review

Downton Abbey, Christmas Special

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DOWNTON Abbey delivered the happiest of happy endings on Christmas night to ensure that it concluded its run on a real high.

As contrived as things were (and, yes, schmaltzy too), this rounded things off in style by recapturing the feel-good elements of that memorable first season and reminding fans why the show was able to become so popular in the first place.

That’s not to say there weren’t things to frustrate along the way. For every character that has shown real progression, there are one or two that have taken a step backwards in our affection (most notably, in this episode, . And in Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary, there is still someone that is difficult to warm to no matter how hard she strove to compensate for past misdeeds.

But in the main, this finale existed to reward every single character in some small or large way.

Primary among those, of course, was the long-suffering Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), whose path to happiness has been blocked on so many occasions but never more so than by her own sister in the episode preceding this festive send-off. Seemingly destined to become a spinster, Edith was lured [by Mary] to an unlikely reunion with her beloved Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) in the plush surrounds of The Ritz.

Bertie was the first of many to tug at the heart-strings as he pleaded to get Edith back, almost breaking down into tears as he recounted how his life had been adversely affected by his own decision to walk away. But even then, once Edith had agreed to return, there was a further potential obstacle to overcome in the form of Bertie’s mum (a formidable Patricia Hodge), for whom honesty and integrity finally won over the perception of moral perfection and impeccable social standing.

Few – if any – Downton fans could begrudge Edith her fairytale ending. And few could not have been moved by her touching pre-wedding moment with proud as punch dad, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), who has rediscovered his capacity for wisdom and compassion in recent times. He probably spoke for the whole audience when he told Edith just how proud and happy he was of and for her.

Of note, too, was the conclusion of Rob James Collier’s Barrow journey. Once the most reviled character on the show, seemingly incapable of committing a good deed, Barrow has become one of the most likeable and intriguingly complex characters on the show. His mid-episode farewells to former colleagues, employers and children was another that toyed with the tear ducts.

But his eventual return as successor to Carson (Jim Carter) was a real highlight and as richly deserved as Robert Crawley suggested. Collier has, of late, been a shining light of the show and, by golly, you wanted to applaud the guts it has taken to get to where he stands now.

If Edith and Barrow represented the icing on this particular Downton cake, then the filling was just as rich. Another of the show’s decent but long-suffering characters, Mrs Crawley (impeccably played by Penelope Wilton) finally found married bliss with Dickie (Douglas Reith), whose dramatic diagnosis of pernicious anaemia, was eventually proved to be incorrect.

Nevertheless, it provided the opportunity for Isobel and her long-time friend (and occasional sparring partner) Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith, superb as ever) to stage a rousing rescue of Dickie from the clutches of his scheming daughter-in-law.

Further cheer came from the resolution of Anna and Bates’ journey, in the form of the inevitable birth of their baby in – of all places – Lady Mary’s bedroom. While Kevin Doyle’s winning Molesley got the send-off he deserved by becoming a full-time teacher. He is another character whose progression through the series has been thoroughly enjoyable. And romance surely now beckons with Baxter (Raquel Cassidy, yet another of the show’s sustained successes).

The first seeds of romance were also sewn for Tom Branson (Allen Leech), whose wedding day hook-up with Lady Edith’s editor surely bodes well for his future (she did, after all, catch Edith’s bouquet), while even Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) seemed destined to get a man of her own come the final moments.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Downton without the odd bittersweet element, which was served up via the resolution of Carson’s story. For, having found happiness in the arms of Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) at the start of the final series, he was now forced to step down from his duties as head of the servants by the onset of the shakes (or palsy), which also provided room for a couple of poignant scenes with both Mrs Hughes and Robert Crawley.

Carson may have tested the patience at several points during this last series, in particular, with his outdated and – quite frankly – sexist views but this was a sad end for him… albeit one afforded a safe retirement by Robert Crawley’s inherent decency.

Of the elements that grated, meanwhile, the contrived storyline involving Sophie McShera’s tiresome cook Daisy was surely the most frustrating… not least in the way that the writing seemed to go out of its way to make you dislike her before ‘rewarding’ her with another of the episode’s romantic happy endings. You almost felt sorry for Michael Fox’s Andy for getting the booby prize given her snobbish attitude towards him.

That said, this was an episode designed to fill you with cheer… and it largely did. Series writer and creator Julian Fellowes did an admirable job of neatly concluding the many storylines in ways that were as rewarding for the characters as they were for the fans. This was a Christmas cracker of an episode that sent you to bed with a warm glow.