With only twelve days until the Downton Abbey Christmas Special hits our screens, OTB was lucky enough to be invited to a preview screening of the two-hour episode this afternoon. Of course we wouldn’t spoil any of the surprises for you here, but we can confirm three things about Julian Fellowes’ two-hour yuletide offering. There is a Christmas Tree, there is snow and it’s very very good.
Rejoining the cast in December 1919, we find things are very much the same as when we left this lot a month or so ago. Lady Mary is still carrying on with Sir Richard, Lord Grantham still doesn’t have a clue why she’s hanging around with a man she doesn’t really fancy and Carson still hasn’t made his move on Mrs Hughes. But there are a couple of new faces for us to get a look at. Nigel Havers (who probably lives at Highclere Castle) plays a charming middle-aged gentleman on the prowl for a lady (he’s come to the right place) and Lady Rosamund Painswick’s lady’s maid Marigold Shore (played by Sharon Small). The latter is a devious woman who doesn’t mind shattering Carson’s sensibilities and branding Bates a ‘murderer’ before his trial has even taken place. You certainly get the feeling that she might be Ethel mark 2.
There’s also the novelty of seeing the staff enjoy a Christmas party in the kitchen – although needless to say Carson refuses to wear a party hat – held while the Crawley family are ‘fending for themselves’ upstairs. After some initial confusion Maggie Smith eventually gets the hang of her Christmas present. It’s a pair of nut-crackers. Japes! If you’ve been reading the papers recently, you’ll have also noticed that the cast can’t stop talking about the New Year’s Eve Ball, in which we see Thomas (Boo!) dancing with the Dowager Countess, Carson with Lady Crawley etc etc. But it’s during the New Year’s Day shoot that things start to wind-up for a big crescendo and more often than not Maggie Smith is on hand to offer one of her withering put-downs, indeed she delivers an absolute cracker at the climax.
The whole effect of a whirlwind final hour is that this Christmas Special ends up serving a as a fine bridge between the second series and next year’s highly anticipated 1920s romp. While still excellent, the second series seemed to distract itself at times, but this is a real return to form that should will crown ITV’s Christmas Day programming perfectly. As such, this almost stands up against the two previous series as a Downton chapter all of its very own. Just don’t mention the adverts.
DOWNTON ABBEY’S CHRISTMAS SPECIAL WILL BE ON ITV1 AT 9PM ON CHRISTMAS DAY