Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Downton Abbey S3, E4: So That's Why Sybil Hasn't Had Much Character Development Since Series Two...

Oh man.  A few posts ago, I mentioned that I read a major spoiler for the series.  Yep, it was for this.  I started having suspicions that this would be the episode when the previews didn't feature anything heavy.  Edith gets offered a newspaper column!  Ethel burns the souffle!  That meant they were hiding something.  Hmm.

I was never as attached to Sybil as many people, mainly because I never felt that the thing that made her most popular -- her total ease with shedding class conventions -- was terribly realistic.  However, she was still a likable character, and her death was a shock that has sent the Internet world reeling.  In reality, Jessica Brown Findlay wanted to leave to pursue a movie career, while Allen Leech (Branson) wanted to stay, so it makes sense that Fellowes couldn't just send the Bransons to Ireland to disappear forever.  Still, it does feel as though Sybil left behind so much unfinished business... not the least of which was her newborn daughter.  Farewell, Sybil.  I'm sure you're still breaking down social barriers in heaven.      

Plot Synopsis 

Sybil's delivery date is drawing near (she has been pregnant since the Series Two Christmas special).  Rightfully suspicious -- for a change -- of the local doctor, Dr. Clarkson, after he misdiagnosed Matthew's paralysis in Series Two, Lord Grantham decides to call in a specialist, Sir Philip Tapsell.  I would say that the "Sir" influenced him more than anything else, but then again, the man was knighted supposedly because of his good reputation.  He keeps saying that Sybil is completely healthy and normal, which of course, should be cause for immediate concern.  If I hadn't been spoiled for this episode, I would have been able to tell that Something Wasn't Right by the fact Sir Phillip kept saying it was.  Oh, and the fact that Sybil's face was pale and she had dark circles under her eyes.

Dr. Clarkson disagrees strongly.  He notes that Sybil seems confused and her ankles are swollen, possible signs of pre-eclampsia.  His concern progresses to alarm, and he says that Sybil needs to be taken to a hospital to have a Caesarian, or she and the baby could die.  There is a lot of back-and-forth between him and Sir "Everything's Fine" Philip -- too much back-and-forth.  Lord Grantham sides with the one with the title, while Cora favors Dr. Clarkson.  Then everyone remembers that Branson exists, but before he can make the final decision, Sybil goes into labor.

Before this, she has a conversation with Mary about the baby's baptism.  Sybil doesn't care whether the baby is baptized Catholic or Anglican, but is willing to have the baby baptized Catholic because she loves Tom so much.

The baby is born, and it's a girl!  Everything seems fine, with mother and father and baby all together, and weary happy music playing.  But you know that something is wrong when the happy music isn't happier, and it disappears quickly as Sybil tells her mother that she needs to sleep.  She also gasps out what would be her final wishes: that Cora help fight to prevent Branson from becoming an auto mechanic in Liverpool, which would be a step backwards.  From what, though?  Branson is supposed to be a journalist, but for which newspaper?  Does he cover every violent struggle, or does he just write op-ed pieces pontificating?  He obviously can't resume his journalism career any time soon, now that he can't even set foot in Ireland.  Why couldn't he be a mechanic and a columnist?  Damn show and its poorly thought-out characters.

So Sybil goes to bed, and all seems normal, until in the middle of the night, everyone is awakened by the sounds of her screaming.  Sybil is having seizures and is completely out of it, and Branson is trying to get her to calm down.  But what's really disturbing is how strained her neck is, as if her head could snap off at any moment.  Branson and the rest of the family note that Sybil isn't breathing, and both doctors just stand there, and it's pretty terrible.  Then all at once, Sybil's skin turns grey.  She's gone.  Lord Grantham, slow as ever, mutters that it can't be.  "She's only 24 years old."

After her death, everything at Downton is heavy and dark.  The servants are depressed now that the only Crawley they ever really liked is gone.  Thomas weeps in the outside yard, remembering how he and Sybil worked together during the war.  Cora blames Lord Grantham for Sybil's death, since he was the one who brought in Sir Philip, and who sided with him.  You could argue that the situation was too murky for any blame -- except for Sir Philip, that is -- but this has been SO long in coming.  I'm glad Cora blames her husband.  I want her to blame him, and for everything to come out about how she's tired of caring about his stupid ancestral estate, how she resents that he lost her fortune, how angry she is about the contempt he has for her family and where she comes from.  Then I want her to take Edith on an extended trip across the Atlantic, where Edith meets and marries a rich bootlegger.

In the meantime, Cora has a touching moment with Sybil after her death, where she says that Sybil will always be her baby.  Mary and Edith have a semi-touching scene as well, where Edith asks Mary whether Sybil's death will bring them closer together, and Mary answers honestly that it probably won't -- but that doesn't mean they can't share a moment now, since this is the last time the three sisters will be together.  And poor Branson, whom I never really liked until this episode, just seems lost.

Believe it or not, there are other plot lines in this episode, some with humor.  Isobel -- strangely missing in action during the dramatic scenes -- has taken Ethel on as her new cook and general housekeeper, and Ethel keeps making a mess in an attempt to impress her new mistress.  Meanwhile, Daisy treats Ivy, the new kitchen maid, rudely because she is jealous that Alfred likes her.  Mrs. Patmore finally takes her aside and tells her that being rude won't make Alfred like Daisy, and it doesn't matter if Alfred likes Ivy anyway, because Ivy prefers Jimmy.  Who, by the way, is busy getting touched inappropriately by Thomas.  Er, not quite how it sounds.  O'Brien decides to set up Thomas by telling Jimmy to stay close to him and submit to whatever caresses Thomas forces upon him.  I assume that she knows Thomas is gay, but don't recall when she first found out.    

In the never-ending Bates prison plot line, the Prison Conspiracy takes action to prevent Bates from getting released.  Bates and Anna realize that Vera cleaning dough off her hands meant that she baked the very pie that poisoned her to set him up.  Why would anyone think Bates baked her a pie?  Never mind.  Anna wants to get a sworn statement from Vera's friend about the matter before she learns that it could help Bates, or she might refuse to talk -- though I'm pretty sure they had subpoenas back then.  The Prison Conspiracy overhears Bates talking to Lord Grantham's lawyer and decides to get to Vera's friend first.

Meanwhile, Edith gets an invitation to write a weekly newspaper column.  Matthew supports her, but Lord Grantham nastily tells her that they only want her for her title.  Is it me, or do Edith and Matthew have greater chemistry than Mary and Matthew?  I guess it would be impossible to have less.  In this episode, Mary manages to understand Matthew's reasons for modernizing the estate for about two minutes before she turns against him.  She overhears Matthew discussing his plans with Lord Grantham's lawyer on the day after Sybil's death and is outraged.  I could support her outrage if her point was that on the day after her sister's death, no business of any kind should be discussed.  Instead, she frames it as a betrayal of Lord Grantham.  Daddy's girl to the end.

Other Observations

Paging Martha Levinson...  So it made sense for Cora's mother to travel across the Atlantic for Mary and Matthew's wedding, but not for Edith's wedding or Sybil's funeral?  I know it was quite a trip in those days, and her treatment at Downton Abbey was pretty insulting, but it seems like at the very least, she would have returned for the funeral.

And Where Was Isobel?  At one point in the episode, when Carson found out that Isobel had hired a former prostitute, he forbade any of the servants from visiting her house.  Had this prevented Isobel from learning about Sybil until it was too late, that would have been an almost genius move by Fellowes.  Because no way would Isobel Crawley stand there and let a bunch of men bicker over what to do when someone's life hung in the balance.  She would have stood chest-to-chest with Sir Philip and told him that he was being a huge ass, then made immediate arrangements to turn the sitting room into an operating theatre.  This would be after she visited Sybil and examined her herself, and was able to confirm Dr. Clarkson's findings.  No doubt Dr. Crawley had a case exactly like this one, so Isobel would know what to do.  She might have even guided the doctors in the proper way of performing a Caesarian.  And everyone's life would have been saved, yay!  Okay, maybe that wouldn't have all happened, but no way would Isobel have stood by passively while the doctors fought.  The reason she didn't come, as one forum member noted, was because Julian Fellowes wanted to make sure that there was no possibility that Sybil would be saved.

However, I doubt that Isobel was kept in ignorance due to the servants' prejudice.  Sybil's pregnancy problems stretched over more than one day.  Even if no servant had alerted her, I would have thought Isobel would be curious enough to visit.  I imagine Matthew might have told her at some point what was happening.  Not only was Isobel not present for the pregnancy crisis, but bizarrely enough, I don't even remember seeing her on the day of the funeral.  

If You Want to Stay Unspoiled, Don't Do Google Searches, Either.  If you want to, say, find out a little more about what movies Jessica Brown Findlay will be in or her thoughts about leaving the series, resist the temptation to Google if you live anywhere outside of the UK.  You will end up learning far more than you ever wanted to know about where the series is headed.  Damn our delayed start date.

Next Time: Branson wants his daughter to be baptized Catholic and Lord Grantham erupts.  Mary actually tells her father he's wrong!  Seas part and animals start speaking.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Downton Abbey S3, E3: The Episode Where Lord Grantham Became Completely Hateful

I briefly thought of entitling this "Men Are Stupid," but that didn't seem quite fair, since at least Matthew was intelligent in this episode.

What to say about Lord Grantham.  I haven't begun to dip into all of the supplemental reading for Downton Abbey, so I don't know whether Julian Fellowes meant for Lord Grantham to come across as a useless tool.  But surely some of it must be intentional.  He can't have made him that way without thinking, could he?  Could he?

Plot Synopsis

Despite having a staff far too small to support Downton Abbey even during the best of times, it turns out that Lord Grantham is a wastrel.  Matthew takes a hard look at the books and discovers that the estate is being woefully mismanaged.  Yet when he tries to bring it up to Lord Grantham, the latter manages to dodge the issue.  You almost get the feeling this has happened before.  Maybe that's why Downton apparently has no estate manager -- because he left in a huff, no longer willing to deal with his master's shit.

It turns out that Lord Grantham also hates Catholics.  He tells the Archbishop of York that there's always a bit of "Johnny Foreigner" about them, even the ones born in England, presumably.  That, of course, is the cue for Branson to rush to the house in the pouring rain.  Branson must have taken the "tame revolutionary" comment as a sort of challenge, because now he belongs to an Irish revolutionary group that commits violence against Anglo-Irish and their property.  Well, he doesn't really belong, so much as attend meetings.  Where he voices his disagreement, although not very strenuously.  And he only believes in the destruction of property -- or at least he did, until he saw that it made the owners sad.  Anyway, it wasn't like he destroyed the property himself.  He just kept the explosives warm in his hands until someone else tossed them through a window.

So Branson managed to escape Ireland before the authorities could reach him, but left Sybil behind to fend for herself.  They both determined that if Sybil were the one detained, she would have an easier time than Branson would.  Sybil arrives at Downton the next day, so all of the drama about what could happen to her is for naught.  Still, that leaves plenty of time for Lord Grantham to huff and puff about Branson daring to destroy private property.  Doesn't he realize that private property is everything, and generations must commit to defending it?  It's all fine and good if the Irish want to rise up against their oppressors, but leave their estates out of it!  Lord Grantham visits the Home Secretary, but all he can promise is that Branson won't get into trouble so long as he remains at Downton.

Besides hating Catholics, Lord Grantham also apparently hates women.  Or at least he doesn't want them to vote.  After being spurred by Violet, of all people, to do something positive with her singlehood, Edith decides to write a letter to the editor demanding voting rights for all women.  Matthew and Branson support her endeavor, but Lord Grantham froths at the mere idea of Edith writing such a letter and embarrassing the family.  Too bad -- the letter gets written and published.  Women 1, Lord Grantham 0.

In the upstairs/downstairs plot line of the week, Isobel has finally managed to corral Ethel.  Ethel believes that it was a mistake to cut off ties to her son's grandparents, who could give him every chance to succeed in life.  Isobel keeps trying to convince Ethel to just take a lump sum from them and give them visiting rights, but in the end, Ethel gives them full custody of her son.  And there is much crying and drama, although the little boy doesn't seem too troubled.  Isobel decides to hire Ethel to be her new housekeeper.

Meanwhile, both Anna and Bates wonder why the other isn't writing.  Bates thinks that Anna is trying to forget him, and Anna thinks that Bates is trying to make her forget him.  Finally we learn that Bates hasn't been getting Anna's letters because half of the prison hates him, so it seems.  Honestly, I couldn't quite follow.  I doubt even real prison conspiracies are this complicated.  The only thing I wonder is how half the prison can't at least overhear Bates and a fellow prisoner as they discuss the situation.  Worst whisperers ever.

Downstairs, Matthew's money has allowed Carson to not only hire new staff, but also to perform an upgrade.  The new footman is a handsome rake to whom Thomas is instantly attracted.  In a classic case of Be Careful What You Wish For, Daisy finally gets the kitchen maid she's been wanting, so she no longer has to do so much menial work.  But the new maid is quite the looker, and she comes in just as Daisy is about to tell Alfred how much she likes him.  Alfred seems instantly intrigued by the newcomer, and rather than finish her confession right then and there, Daisy just folds.

Other Observations

Everyone Hates Ethel.  From the message boards, I've gathered that Ethel's plight has not garnered much sympathy.  Many people found her to be extremely unlikeable in Series Two, between bragging about her aspirations and then hooking up with an officer without considering the consequences.  However, I'm a little more sympathetic, I guess because I see it as part of Ethel's larger character arc.  She went from being proud and wanting to cut corners to understanding what real sacrifice is about.  I hope as part of her arc, she regains some of her ambitions.  Only instead of going about it in a reckless manner, she is more sober minded and realistic.  I hope that the end of Ethel's arc isn't her discovery that she can never be anything more than a housekeeper.  But with Julian Fellowes, you never know.

Branson, the Limp Revolutionary.  Another criticism I've seen is that Downton Abbey is really wrecking the chance to portray the struggles in Ireland with any complexity.  Part of that is no doubt because of Fellowes's sympathy for the upper classes, and part of it is because the action almost always centers around Downton Abbey.  It has the effect of making Branson seem like a giant hypocrite, always criticizing Downton, but never leaving it, always talking of Ireland's struggles, but rarely lifting a finger to fight for the cause.  At least this episode showed Branson doing something, but it would have been nice to see what he was struggling against.      

Sybil, the Disappearing Freedom Fighter.  It struck me that in past series, Edith's plot line might have gone to Sybil.  That is, before Sybil lost all sense of personality and free will by becoming Mrs. Branson.  I'm just as glad for Edith -- hopefully she will make the most of her opportunity, and in 10 years' time, look back and wonder why she made such a fuss about Sir What's His Name.

Trouble in the Bedroom?  Despite the fact that Sybil and Branson as a couple irritate me to no end, I do believe them as a couple in love.  The spinning camera as they embraced, the hand holding, the looks.  Not so with Mary and Matthew.  I can't recall a more Arctic relationship.  The latest example was when Mary wanted to convert a nursery room, and Matthew suggested that it remain a nursery room.  He then tried to subtly ask whether Mary learned that she was pregnant during her recent doctor's visit, and Mary rudely denied it.  It's possible that Mary was having trouble conceiving and didn't want to tell Matthew, but still, their interactions were so cold.  They're going to get tired of each other really quickly if this keeps up.  If they're not already.

Will Anyone Ever Call Lord Grantham On His Shit?  If there is one person who has Mary's open, uncritical, unearned adoration, it's her father.  Everything "papa" has done, whether lose the family fortune or run the estate into the ground, has Mary's seal of approval.  Nor has anyone else ever stood up to Lord Grantham and pointed out his specific flaws.  When he told Cora about losing her inheritance, all she did was smile and say: "I'm an American.  Have gun, will travel."  Oh those sweet, sweet opiates.  Edith has probably come the closest to calling out Lord Grantham, specifically over his meddling with Sir Anthony Strallen, and Matthew seems to be inching closer.  But that happy day has yet to arrive.

Next Time: Edith is asked to write a newspaper column, and all hell breaks loose.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Downton Abbey S3, E2: Edith Must Wear the Cone of Spinsterhood

Will Edith never catch a break?  Did Julian Fellowes model her after someone who once ran over his cat?  Because seriously, what the hell?

Plot Synopsis

The first red flag in this episode is that Edith is happy.  It is now a May 1920, and Downton is busy preparing for her wedding.  "Something in this house is finally about me!" she gushes.  Of course that won't go unpunished.

Edith is really excited about the wedding, but her fiance, Sir Anthony Strallan, is still having doubts about their age difference.  Edith tells him repeatedly that she doesn't care that he's older and disabled, that she intends to make him her life's work.  Still, as the wedding day approaches, Sir Anthony's face keeps getting sicker and sicker, which is the second red flag.  Finally he stops the wedding just as it's begun, and tells Edith not to throw her life away tending to him.  Edith is devastated, but Violet tells her not to fight it.  All at once, carpets are being unrolled, glasses are being put away, and fancy wedding food is being smuggled to the servants.  Edith decides that she is going to be a spinster forever, so she might as well learn to be useful.    

In another plot line -- that is, believe it or not, more preposterous than the one above -- Matthew receives a post-mortem letter from Lavinia's father.  Despite the fact that the letter could save the Crawley family from having to spend the rest of their days in a slightly less overwhelmingly luxurious chateau than Downton, Matthew refuses to read it.  He thinks that the letter will be stuffed with Reggie Swire's unreserved praise, making him feel even guiltier about inheriting his money.  Mary finally gets tired of his nonsense and opens the letter behind his back.  It turns out that Reggie Swire says exactly what Matthew needs to hear to let go of his guilt.  Yet instead of expressing relief, Matthew accuses Mary of forgery!  Trust issues?

Matthew is so unwilling to climb off of his cross that Mary has to hunt down the servant who sent a letter from Lavinia to her father.  Lavinia supposedly wrote it post-breakup with Matthew, but before she was felled by Spanish flu.  If Mary can find the servant who sent it, she can prove that Reggie Swire left Matthew the money despite knowing that he was no longer Lavinia's true love.  Mary is out of luck until Daisy suddenly appears and is like, yeah, I did it.  Surprisingly, Matthew believes Mary when she tells him, and does not make her produce Daisy, who is then subjected to a two-hour grilling.  He vows to use his inheritance to save Downton.  Lord Grantham refuses to accept the money as a gift, and says that Matthew can invest the money in Downton as a part owner.  Given Lord Grantham's talent for managing money, that is probably the smartest decision he has ever made.  

Oh, and in a plot line I forgot to mention last week, Isobel has decided to start a reform institution for "fallen" women.  The goal is to train them in a useful trade, so they can start their lives over.  One of the "fallen" women who keeps showing up is Ethel, the servant from Series Two who had a baby with an officer from a higher class.  She left Downton to raise him herself, rather than give him over to the soldier's parents, who would probably tell him that she died in childbirth.  However, there were likely not many options for a single mother who was a former maid.  So Ethel is now a prostitute, and even though she makes the long trip to see Isobel, each time, she ends up running away, while Isobel calls after her in futility.  This happens three times -- really, Fellowes, we get the idea.

Finally, downstairs, there is a classic "misunderstanding" where Molesley (tricked by Thomas) makes Cora believe that O'Brien is planning to leave Downton.  Thomas did it to get even with O'Brien for allegedly stealing Lord Grantham's dress shirts last episode.  O'Brien sets things straight with the upstairs, but now she's out for revenge.

Meanwhile, Bates is getting darker and surlier in prison.  He gets tipped off that his bunk mate has planted drugs in his bed, and manages to smuggle them away before the "random" bunk check.  Anna goes on her eightieth trip to London, where she meets with the friend of Bates's first wife, who mentions that Vera was afraid of him, and also drops the seemingly trivial detail that she was scrubbing her hands after baking something for Bates.  Hmmm.

And Mrs. Hughes doesn't have cancer!  Yay!  Or does she?

Other Observations

Please Stop, Laura Linney.  For those who didn't know, in the United States, Downton Abbey is shown on PBS through Masterpiece Theatre.  On Masterpiece Theatre, every new installment -- usually yet another Jane Austen adaptation -- gets introduced by the host, Laura Linney.  That makes sense when each week, you are watching a different story, but not so much when it is the same story and cast of characters.  Nor does it help that Linney speaks about each new episode in hushed, reverent tones, as if to say: "We are about to share a very special present with you!"  No thanks.  I don't need you to introduce Downton Abbey every week, or to explain the significance of the series as if I'm incapable of understanding otherwise.  Shouldn't you be filming a movie?  Do you still do that?    

Wasn't It Kind of a "Thing"?  It was somewhat refreshing to see Lord Grantham and Violet so concerned about Edith marrying a man much older than she, but I don't know how realistic it was.  In the novels I've read -- granted, from the nineteenth century -- it is usually the girl who is frustrated with the situation, while the parents keep reminding her of the advantages.  See, for example, The Way We Live Now.  It was not unusual in those days for a girl to marry someone a good 10 years older, so 20 years would have been less of a problem than today.  Yet if there were a problem, it seems more likely that Edith would be the one to express it, not her father.  Maybe the fact that Lord Grantham was now concerned, whereas 30 years before he would have been pushing the match, is... progress?

Good Boy, Branson.  How things change.  In the first episode, I thought that Branson was too dictatorial in his beliefs.  Now he has gone completely the other way.  Enough so that Lord Grantham had the nerve to call him "our tame revolutionary" and Branson didn't even blink.  Then again, maybe that is keeping with the idea of him being like a college student.  A college student might have the revolutionary fervor, but how many really take risks for their beliefs?  At least Branson was the only one with the perspective to note that "Downton Place," the mini palace that almost became the Crawleys' new home, was hardly a dump to 99% of the population.   

Not All Happy Fun.  I criticized Downton Abbey for its idealized portrayal of the servants' lives. I still think they're overly idealized, but this week delivered some nice reminders that not everything is "We Are Family" with the upstairs and downstairs.  When Anna asked for more time off to clear her husband's good name, Mary snapped "Again?" before relenting.  I know it's not as worthy an endeavor as spending all day driving to another country estate for a picnic, but...  Then when Mary came downstairs while the servants were at breakfast, the way they all shot up in unison, you'd have thought joy buzzers were on their seats.  Finally, Mrs. Hughes said to Carson something like "I don't worship them as you do."  I love Mrs. Hughes.  

Which Reminds Me... Who's Cleaning Downton?!  Of course, maybe Mary had a right to be irritated with Anna, since with her gone, there was virtually no one around to clean Downton Abbey.  Even before, at "full" staff, it never seemed realistic that just Anna, with the help of one other maid, could keep that fortress clean, do the laundry, and serve as a lady's maid to Mary and her sisters.  Now there is literally no one to pick up the slack.  Mary might have to do her own hair, or dust a lamp.  No, we must not contemplate the unspeakable.

Some Actual Nice Cora Moments.  I'm usually pretty meh toward Cora.  She seems to exist to be nice and congenial and to draw in an American audience.  However, she did have some good moments this week.  (And last week, too, when she reminded Mary that the Crawleys weren't "going down the mines" if they had to leave Downton.  If only she could be a little angrier that her idiot husband squandered her entire fortune.  Ah, those sweet, sweet opiates.)  One moment took place after she learned about Mrs. Hughes's possible cancer.  She told Mrs. Hughes not to worry about where she would stay and who would care for her -- "Here, and we will."  Aww.  The other moment took place after the nightmare end of Edith's wedding.  While Edith sobbed as if the world were ending, Cora embraced her tightly and said that moments like these would only make Edith stronger.  Let's hope she's right.              

Next Time: Episode Three.  It looks as though Sybil has run away.  Lord Grantham yells at Branson.  This could be interesting.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Downton Abbey S3, E1: Americans, They So Craaaaz-ee!

So Shirley MacLaine didn't appear in the first episode until the very end.  Or rather, the very middle, because in the U.S., Episodes 1 and 2 were merged together in a two-hour premiere.  Let's just say her appearance did not live up to the billing.

Welcome back, Downton Abbey!  This is the first time I've been able to watch a series as it unfolds.  Since it had been over a year since I last watched the show, I had forgotten many of its positives.  The opening credits, with the urgent "Something important is happening within these walls!" music.  The smooth cutting between the "upstairs" plot lines and the "downstairs" plot lines.  The generally swift pacing.  Of course the weaknesses were also on display, which I will get to in a bit.  

Plot Synopsis 

In the first "half" of the episode, Matthew and Mary are preparing for their wedding.  Since Sybil and Branson can't afford to travel from Ireland, Violet secretly slips them money so that they can attend.  This leads to a happy reunion, but also much friction between Branson, who hates the privileged pigs so much that he won't even dress for dinner, and Lord Grantham.  Fortunately he bonds with Matthew, who says that as future brothers-in-law, they need to stick together.  Then the rest of the family rises up in Branson's defense when Sybil's former suitor plays a cruel prank and drugs his drink.  Then Branson comes to the rescue and saves the wedding by reminding Matthew how much he loves Mary, after --

Mary gets really pissed off when she learns that Matthew was left a huge sum of money by his dead fiance's father, but he doesn't want to accept it because he thinks it was left under the misimpression that Matthew was Lavinia's one true love.  Matthew believes that he broke Lavinia's heart (by loving Mary), which is why she died -- not because she had the Spanish flu, which killed millions.  Mary is pissed off because she just learned that Downton is broke, because Lord Grantham invested all of his wife's money in shares for a railway company that went under.  But Mary isn't pissed off at her father, oh no.  She's only pissed off at Matthew.  Matthew doesn't want to use the money to save Downton, and therefore isn't on Downton's side!  Fortunately, Mary and Matthew resolve their differences -- with just enough lingering tension for future episodes -- and a surprisingly brief wedding is had!

Downstairs, O'Brien's nephew Alfred has started work as the new footman, and O'Brien has ambitions for him to rise up the servant chain.  That puts her in contention with her former ally, Thomas, now Lord Grantham's valet.  Daisy goes on strike in the kitchen because even with a kitchen "promotion," she still needs to perform a lot of servile labor.  I barely noticed it, but it will probably lay the groundwork for her eventual departure to start her own restaurant, or something.  Meanwhile, for both halves of the episode, Anna visits Bates in prison and tells him about her investigations into Bates's former wife.  She is trying to dig up information that shows the first wife killed herself.  Bates shows enough dangerousness in prison to make you doubt (but I don't, really).

In the second "half," Mary and Violet scheme to bilk Shirley MacLaine -- here, known as Martha Levinson -- out of the rest of the Levinson family fortune, because the massive sum her husband gave as part of Cora's dowry just wasn't enough.  Don't worry, we totally won't squander the money this time!  Their brilliant scheme consists of throwing a fancy party to show how important Downton is... or something.  As if that would convince Martha, with her egalitarian American values.  Then the oven breaks down, and Martha suggests a picnic, and it's so shocking, the way propriety is breaking down!  Then of course, Martha refuses to give Downton more money because she's no fool.  In the meantime, Edith is in love with a neighbor old enough to be her father, but despite this, they are very compatible.  Still, Lord Grantham nixes the relationship, until Edith reminds him that all of the men her age were killed in the war.  So Lord Grantham comes to his senses, and Edith and the neighbor get engaged.  Go Edith!

Downstairs, Martha's American maid, Reed, is showing those stuffy English servants what Americans are all about.  Americans are free and open and say whatever they feel like!  Reed demonstrates this by kissing Alfred because she thinks he's cute.  Outrageous!  In the darker plot line, it looks as though Mrs. Hughes has breast cancer.  I've always liked her character, though she tends to remain more in the background.  I hope she's not the rumored "death" of Series Three.

Other Observations

I Want My Money Back.  The Maggie Smith-Shirley MacLaine meeting was billed as a heavyweight fight between two champions.  Instead, it was more like a heavyweight fighting a middleweight.  There was no contest -- Maggie Smith's Violet clearly had the upper hand.  Shirley MacLaine just seemed bored with the cliches she had to spout.  "I'm an American, so I believe in freedom and equality and have clearly never read an Edith Wharton novel in my life!"  While Maggie Smith was sharp, Shirley MacLaine sounded tired and mumbly.  If I had paid for the fight, I would want my money back.  That said, I don't know if Stockard Channing would have been a better choice to play Cora's mother, as some suggested.  Channing definitely has a physical resemblance, and would have been more aggressive, but she just looks too young.  Then again, it's not exactly unheard of for Hollywood to cast women 10 to 15 years (or 17 in Channing's case) older to play the "parent."

Opposite of the Intended Effect.  If we were supposed to find Martha so outrageous! and out-of-control, it didn't work.  Instead, I actually felt sorry for her.  This woman went to the trouble of travelling across the Atlantic to see her granddaughter's wedding, and for her efforts, all she got was disdain.  No one at Downton, save Edith, acted like she was even related to them.  Mary wouldn't touch her with a 10-foot pole.  Cora never stood up for her or defended her beliefs.  No, we were just supposed to laugh at the eccentric old woman and then be mad for Mary's sake that she wouldn't just fork over more money.  Go home, Martha.  You're better than these people.

Thank God for Isobel.  Isobel Crawley irritated me quite a bit in Series Two, the way she acted so dictatorial after Downton Abbey was transformed into a hospital.  But so far I've found her to be a breath of fresh air in Series Three, reminding the viewer that not everything is English Traditional versus American Crazy and New!  She approved of Branson not dressing for dinner, and thought that Martha's statements about simplifying the Downton lifestyle actually made sense.

Branson, On the Other Hand...  I should be on Branson's side, given that I agree with most of the things he says.  Why should he be expected to dress up for every meal?  Why respect traditions that are antiquated, lavish, and ridiculous?  Why not remind the Crawleys that their privilege comes with a price?  And yet I find Branson to be insufferable.  He has absolutely no ability to modulate his tone -- everything is loud and abrasive with him.  He's like a college student who thinks he is the first to discover injustice.  Worst of all, he is disrespectful toward Sybil.  After Sybil's suggestion that he try to moderate his behavior a little, he demands: "Don't disappoint me!"  How about being on your wife's side?  Do you really want to divide her from her family?  She wanted freedom, not to be an orphan.  Hopefully this is just the beginning of a story arc where Branson learns to talk to, instead of at, his in-laws.  If so, I hope he realizes that he needs to do it for his wife's sake, instead of expecting her to prove time and again that she is "worthy" of him.      

Matthew and Mary Are Surprisingly Meh.  After spending two series "will they? or won't they?", I thought their wedding and the after "spice" would be a more significant part of the episode, but both were almost an afterthought.  I suppose it's a sign of good taste that we didn't get a scene with Mary and Matthew rolling around in bed?  Or maybe the writers just wanted to preserve the mystery of whether Pamuk deflowered Mary by omitting the moment where Matthew observes: "You're really not a virgin, are you?"  Regardless, when they finally did tie the knot, there was a sense of "What was all the fuss about, again?"     

Beware of Message Boards...  This is the first time I've been able to go to message boards and participate in discussions as they happen.  In doing so, I've learned that many viewers are perfectly aware that Downton Abbey is little more than a lavish soap opera.  Part of their enjoyment in watching the show is knowing that they are smarter than the show -- and they usually are.  I've read a lot of enlightened and interesting discussion.  But beware of the message boards you go on.  Make sure that they're spoiler-free, unless you really don't care.  I went on to a spoiler board, which was a mistake, because I read a major spoiler about this season that I really wish I hadn't seen.  I won't hint at it here.  But if you get enjoyment from being surprised, beware.

Next Time:  Episode Two.  I don't remember from the previews, but I think there's more Matthew-Mary money angst.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Downton Abbey: Lord Grantham, Where Is Your Facial Hair?!

Seriously, it bothers me.  At the beginning of Series One, Lord Grantham was 42 years old.  That means he was born in 1870.  Men of that generation tended to grow moustaches and beards when they reached adulthood, like this guy.  Or this guy.  Or these guys.  Once they grew older, they tended to keep their facial hair.  While men of the younger generation, like Matthew or Thomas or Branson, might be clean-shaven, it stretches plausibility that Lord Grantham, Carson, or Bates wouldn't at least have a moustache.

There, I said it.  Just had to get it off of my chest.

While Downton Abbey has sometimes been criticized for historical inaccuracies, I doubt many people thought of the male characters' facial hair.  Although it's small and unimportant, to me, it's another sign that while Downton Abbey is history, it's history designed to prevent us from being too uncomfortable.  It's uncommon for grown men in the 21st Century to have facial hair, you say?  Well men in 1912 didn't have facial hair, either!  Women of the 21st Century don't usually become social pariahs after having casual unmarried sex, you say?  Well women of 1912 were made to feel bad for a little while, to think that their reputation might be ruined forever, but in the end, their sex had no consequences, either!  And people of 1912 believed in equality just as much as people of the 21st Century!  See how often the aristocrats and servants spend time together like they're the best of friends?

Downton Abbey is grounded in history... sort of.  But it's not an accurate view of history, and anyone who thinks that watching it will make them smarter (or seem smarter) is mistaken.  Just because it looks like the descendant of a Jane Austen novel does not mean it is.  To me, watching Downton Abbey is like eating a giant cupcake with elaborately decorated frosting -- it feels satisfying at the time, but you won't be any better for it.

That said, being a cupcake is not a bad thing.  A Downton Abbey marathon got me through a very difficult time last year.  There is so much on television that is plain inedible that being one of the few edible things is not bad.  So for the uninitiated, what is Downton Abbey about?

The series revolves around Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, and his family.  They all reside at Downton Abbey, the family seat in Yorkshire -- "they" being Lord Grantham; his American wife, Cora; their three daughters, Mary, Edith, and Sybil; and Lord Grantham's mother, Violet, the Dowager Countess.  Since Lord Grantham and his wife have no sons, archaic inheritance rules dictate that when Lord Grantham dies, the title and estate go to the next male heir.  The next heir was supposed to be Lord Grantham's first cousin, James, but he and his son became casualties of the Titanic.  So Series One involved the Crawleys of Downton Abbey getting acquainted with the next male heir: third cousin Matthew Crawley, a solicitor, who lived with his mother, Isobel.  Matthew and his mother were determined to hold on to their middle class values, until they gradually became seduced by wealth porn -- I mean, tradition.  Then there was the perpetual "will they? won't they?" between Matthew and Mary, which lasted two series, until the Series Two Christmas special confirmed "they will."  Meanwhile, Edith the middle daughter was scheming and resentful, and Sybil the youngest was so down-to-earth, she didn't even seem to come from the same era, let alone the same family.  Now and then, Violet would pop in to say something witty, or to clash with Isobel.

That was the "upstairs."  Downstairs are the servants, led by Mr. Carson, the butler, and Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper.  In the first two series, the core of their "family" consisted of the two footmen, "good twin" William and "evil twin" Thomas; O'Brien, the lady's maid and Thomas's frequent partner-in-crime; Anna, the head housemaid; Daisy, the kitchen maid; Mrs. Patmore, the cook; Branson, the chauffer; and Bates, Lord Grantham's valet and former batman in the Boer Wars.  Despite the fact that the staff did not seem large enough to serve such an enormous house (at most, Anna had the help of one other maid), they seemed to have a lot of time to go to festivals and scheme behind one another's back.  The most significant story lines involved Bates and Anna.  In Series One, Bates had to figure out how to perform his job with a disability caused by a war injury.  He eventually fell in love with Anna, and they married in Series Two, only for Bates's crazy first wife to kill herself and frame him for murder.  I still don't get that one.  Less significant story lines involved Thomas scheming and stealing, Branson declaring to the world that he was a socialist, and O'Brien causing Lady Grantham to suffer a miscarriage of what would have been the male heir.  Maybe "less significant" wouldn't describe that last story line...        

Series One took place between the sinking of the Titanic and the start of World War I.  Series Two jumped ahead two years and took place between 1916 and 1918 (with the Christmas special around 1920).  In Series Two, Matthew and both of the footmen went to war.  Aside from Matthew's mysterious bout of paralysis, the only one worse for wear was William, who was mortally wounded and died.  Matthew briefly had a love interest besides Mary, but she conveniently died of Spanish flu.  And Sybil married Branson, earning temporary exile from her family.

Series Three is supposed to take place in the early 1920s.  What will it bring?  Judging from the fact that Dan Stevens will not be in Series Four, I'm going to guess more angst for Matthew and Mary fans.

Wild Blogger, I'm Getting the Sense That You're Not Too Keen On the Show.  What's Going On?  It's not that I'm not into the show at all.  If I weren't, I wouldn't be reviewing it.  It's just that when I first heard of Downton Abbey, the first series had just aired and it was winning all of these Emmys in the miniseries category, and people were talking about it like it was the Best Thing Ever.  So when I started watching it, I was prepared for a series with the production values of, well, Downton Abbey and the writing of Mad Men.  And it's really not.  Everything looks really pretty and high end, but the characters and writing are frequently flat.  Characters are usually good or bad, with not much in between.  For instance, there is one scene where bad boy Thomas leans back and slowly exhales from his cigarette, needing only a moustache to twirl to complete his "I am evil!" portrait.  Now and then, the "bad" character gets humanized a little, to prevent us from thinking he or she is a monster -- like O'Brien having a last-minute regret about causing the accident that leads to the miscarriage -- but then that character is back to being bad again an episode later.  So the bad characters tend to be pretty boring and meh, and the good characters are even more meh.  I liked Bates during the first series, when he was struggling with his disability, but he became flat and boring and long-suffering in Series Two, dealing with his hopelessly cartoonish first wife.  I think the only "downstairs" conflict that really rang true to me in Series Two was Daisy's guilt over deceiving William.  A basically good character with a real moral dilemma that lasts more than one episode.  Who would have thought?

But I think the thing that grates on my most about Downton Abbey is its benign representation of the class system.  Lords and masters of the household are just loving fathers to their "downstairs" children, protecting them from all harm.  Servants occasionally have dreams for more, but for the most part, they are content with their lot.  Their biggest problems are not that they are forced to perform backbreaking labor for tiny amounts of pay and little to no time off, but that the other servants irritate them.

Thomas and O'Brien resent the class system, but their resentment is made to appear the product of their innate badness, rather than their badness being the product of their resentment.  No "good" servant could possibly want more, except for the extraneous maid or two.  And even then, there is a "good" way to do it and a "bad" way.  The "good" way is to have modest goals, like being a secretary, and timidly seek the support of the "upstairs."  The "bad" way is to act above your "station" and fool around with people who are clearly too good for you.  Then you get yours.  I suppose it's not really that clear-cut -- Ethel, the maid who does it the "bad" way, isn't completely condemned, and it appears she has an interesting role in Series Three.  But she is made to look wrong and foolish for daring to question how good she has it downstairs.

Yet I am reminded of a different representation of the class system, a reality show called Manor House that aired in 2002.  The premise was that modern people took over roles in an Edwardian great house, with some occupying the "upstairs" roles and some occupying the "downstairs."  In one episode, one of the downstairs servants sneaks upstairs and luxuriates in the opulent rooms, only to be chastised by the butler.  Kitchen maids belong downstairs.  They can never go upstairs.  Your lot is to stay and clean pots and pans from morning until night.

It's true that I was never a servant, and my ancestors were not servants in a great house, so I can't say that Downton Abbey's depiction is flat out wrong.  I just don't think it is right.  It is the way we wish aristocrats treated their servants, and probably the way they think that they do.  It is a simplistic fantasy meant to appeal to us in the modern world, with our blurred lines and complicated dilemmas.  Don't you wish that you could go back to a time when things were just easier, when someone else was there to take care of you?  Yet you don't have to be a servant, or to have been one, to know that when someone else has power over you, the result can be horrifying.  Think of that toxic boss you had, the one who thinks you can't do anything right, who screams at you in front of your coworkers, and who fills the office with misery -- then factor in a situation where you have few legal rights and cannot afford to leave.  I'm sure Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey's creator, would claim that the toxic boss is an anomaly, but then again, he has probably never had a boss, has he?

One scene in Series One, in particular, struck a nerve.  Up until this point, the storyline was pretty good: the extraneous maid, Gwen, was trying to become a secretary.  She kept trying and trying, but no one would give her a chance.  Finally, frustrated, Gwen broke down crying, telling Sybil that someone of her status could simply make her dreams come true, but that was hardly a given for "downstairs" people, no matter how hard they tried.  Then breakthrough!  In a scenario sadly true to life, Gwen finally got her chance to be a secretary only after Sybil pulled some strings.  Then comes the last scene: during a public garden party, Gwen breaks the news to Sybil and (I think) Branson, and they share a group hug.  In public, at an aristocratic garden party.  Sorry, I don't care how idealized the world of Downton Abbey is supposed to be.  That just would. not. happen.  

Yet that's just part of making history palatable for modern viewers.  Class divides weren't really that rigid.  No one would be at all shocked to see the daughter of an earl and a maid share a public embrace (complete with jumping around and squeeing).  Aristocrats and their children stood by willing to support their servants' dreams, so long as they did it the "right" way.  Sybil could just chuck aside the values system that had been ingrained in her since birth whenever she felt like it, with no regrets or consequences.

Okay, so maybe that did happen sometimes.  But I doubt it happened regularly, and certainly not as easily as it seems to happen here.  It may be Downton, but it doesn't feel true, and it definitely doesn't feel like history.

So What the Hell Do You Like About This Series?  I will confess that I am seduced by the pretty as much as anyone.  Also, despite the frequently flat writing, many of the performances are good, and I like several of the characters.  I'm strangely drawn to Edith -- poor Edith, the "Jan" of the family, never considered pretty enough or good enough.  She finally started to come into her own in Series Two, and I hope that continues.  I also like Daisy, and want to see if the show attempts to truly humanize Thomas.  And despite knowing that they would always end up together, I am drawn to the Matthew and Mary situation.  It will be interesting to see how they behave as a married couple.  If they get married.

Next Time: Episode One.  That Shirley MacLaine sure shakes things up, doesn't she?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Update: Blogging Downton Abbey

Just thought that I would give a brief update about my plans to blog Downton Abbey to those who are still interested in reading.  My intention is to have a general post about the show up sometime tomorrow, and then post a critique of each episode the same day the next episode airs.  I don't have enough speed or time, unfortunately, to post a critique soon after each episode airs.

That is my plan anyway.  The reality might end up being a little less organized, owing to two things: an unexpected spike in my work load, and the fact that I'm in the final important chapters of my novel and have had a difficult time writing them.  It is only a draft, but I want everything to be good and believable.  So both of these things might take me more time than expected, which means that I might not get my blog posts out like clockwork.  However, I still intend to critique every episode of Downton Abbey Series Three, and I still intend to post content at least once a week on this blog.

ETA: Of course, when I refer to episodes airing, I mean airing in the United States.  All of the episodes have already aired in the UK, at least.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Les Miserables the Movie: Five Things They Should Have Left Alone, and the Five Best Cuts

So now I've seen Les Miserables twice, and I should be seeing it once or twice more within the next couple of weeks.  I'm happy to report that things that bothered me the first time bothered me less the second time.  Mostly.  I still think that "The Attack on the Rue Plumet" is horribly butchered.  I also didn't warm to Russell Crowe's vocals, but the only parts where I would say he's really bad are the introduction scene with Valjean/Monsieur Madeleine and the "Runaway Cart" scene.  Both call for him to sing some notes that are really out of his range, and he ends up sounding whiny.

Even though I was less bothered overall, there are parts that I wish had stayed in:  

Parts of the Musical That Should Have Stayed In

1.  "And now I know how freedom feels..."  As I mentioned in the review, changing sung parts to dialogue does nothing to improve the Prologue.  The part where Valjean steals the silver and is caught is handled so clumsily: one second, Valjean is running away with the silver, and the next, some dorky police officer is handing it back to the Bishop.  "Here's yer silver.  This fool says you gave it to him!"  Boring.  I much prefer the sung version with its growing sense of foreboding.

And yet he trusted me.
The old fool trusted me!  He'd done his bit of good.
I played the grateful serf and thanked him like I should.
And when the house was still, I got up in the night.
Took the silver.  Took my... FLIGHT!

Would it have been so difficult to keep the sung version?  It's not as if the movie couldn't have cut or modified it the way it did every. other. song.  Were Hooper and company worried Hugh Jackman wouldn't be able to sing that last note?  Whatever the reason, the new version is a definite comedown from the original version, and has the added drawback of making the sung parts seem more jarring.           

2.  "And this I swear to you tonight..."  This part of "The Confrontation" was included in the screenplay, and it gave me chills when I read it.  Valjean was hiding out from Javert and was watching Fantine's body being dumped in a cart.  As if to dignify her end, Valjean sang: "And this I swear to you tonight..."  I know that part was filmed because Anne Hathaway mentioned doing the "stunt," but sadly, we probably won't get to see it except in an extended cut.      

3.  "Take care, young miss, you've got a lot to say..."  "The Attack on the Rue Plumet" is horribly butchered, no two ways about it.  It's almost impossible to tell what's going on.  Because of this, the tension of Thenardier's gang robbing Valjean's house and Eponine coming to the rescue is utterly missing.  I miss the fun dialogue between the characters, such as: "What a palaver, what an absolute treat, to see a cat and its father pick a bone in the street!"  Was Montparnasse even in the movie?

4.  "Her name was Eponine..."  Already in the movie version, Marius is much less attached to Eponine than in the stage version.  However, at least he gives her a dignified sendoff with these final words: "Her name was Eponine.  Her life was cold and dark, yet she was unafraid."  Or... would have.  The biggest problem with the cut is that it makes Marius seem as though he forgets Eponine a minute after she dies.  In this version, Eponine gives Marius the letter from Cosette, and I swear, I spent half of "A Little Fall of Rain" thinking that Marius was trying to read it.  Then, a moment after she is carried off, he goes to Gavroche and asks him to deliver a letter to Cosette.  Way to honor the girl who saved your life, Marius.    

5.  "Dog Eat Dog."  It's not as though the sewers scene failed without the song, but it gives great insight into Thenardier's character and philosophy.  It also would have given Sasha Baron Cohen the chance to be really dark.  Otherwise, his character tends to come across more as a buffoon.

Honorable Mention: "Could it be your death means nothing at all?"    

At the same time, there were parts of the musical that probably did not need to be there.  This list was hard to create because I adore the music, and every little cut is like a tiny sword in my heart.  However, if parts had to be cut, here are the cuts that worked best.

Parts of the Musical That They Were Wise to Cut

1.  The Rest of "Look Down."  I've always enjoyed the Paris "Look Down" sequence, but it was probably just as well the movie cut part of it.  We don't really need to see Gavroche sing: "Here's old man Thenardier!  The guy you just saw ten minutes ago.  Yep, he's back again!"  In a movie, it's enough just to see close-ups of the Thenardiers.  Besides, it's not as if the musical ever explained why they came to be in Paris.

2.  "Little People."  I'm not sure if the movie cut this song down any further, but I barely noticed it.  Good.

3.  "The rain that brings you here is heaven blessed!"  I love this part of "A Little Fall of Rain," but it never felt very realistic.  Eponine is dying of a massive wound to her chest or stomach, and her singing is a little shaky and faint.  But all of a sudden, she's sitting up and belting out: "The rain that brings you here is heaven blessed!  The sky begins to clear and I'm at rest!"  All the times I've seen Eponines of the stage, I had to suspend my disbelief, and it's even less realistic in the movie.  I suppose Barks could have sung that part faint and shaky as well, but quite frankly, it almost defies belief that she would be able to sing as much as she did.

4.  "Let all the women and fathers of children go from here!"  This was always a touching, sad moment in the musical, when Enjolras saw that all hope was lost and gave the other revolutionaries a chance to leave.  Originally, this moment was followed by a melancholy "Drink With Me" reprise: "If I die, I die with you."  The current version of the stage musical just has Enjolras sing the words, and then almost immediately after, the students are called to arms.  In the movie, Enjolras sings lines that are very similar, but then, instead of the "Drink With Me" reprise, the students (and Gavroche) sing a reprise of "Do You Hear the People Sing?".  I like this brief hopeful moment much better than the fatalism of the stage version.  As if the students are saying: for as long as we are alive, the revolution will live.

5.  The Rest of "Beggar at the Feast."  Yes, this song is amusing, but I've always found it to be so superfluous.  And while the Thenardiers are necessary comic relief, this song makes it seem as though they get away with all of their misdeeds.  Yes, they drove a woman to her death, abused her daughter, abused their daughter, and robbed people living and dead, but they can still crash a wedding!  Look, they just insulted someone for being gay!  Fabulous!  I like how, instead of the oh-so-clever Thenardiers taking over and reducing everyone else to slack-jawed bystanders, Marius intercepts them right away.  Nope -- you're gone.  He gets the necessary information about Valjean and gives Thenardier two punches for his trouble.  Then the Thenardiers are quickly carried off.

And finally, I can't end this post without praising some parts of the movie that were added:

Great New Additions

1.  Valjean lifts the flag.  An actual demonstration of Valjean's strength before the "Runaway Cart" scene?  So that it doesn't seem as though Javert's suspicions come from out of nowhere.  You don't say!

2.  Javert asks to be fired.  The reworking of the "Runaway Cart" sequence makes it much closer to the book, including the part where Javert writes to his superiors about his suspicions.  Not only does the change remove the randomness of the "Runaway Cart" ("You remind me of someone -- who by coincidence, is getting sentenced today!"), but it also enhances Javert's character.  Not only does he not have mercy for anyone else, but he also has no mercy for himself.

3.  "Suddenly"/Chase scene.  "Suddenly" is not a great song, and I think it would have been more effective as a montage, showing Cosette going from childhood to adulthood.  However, it is perfectly sweet as is (and I look forward to the inevitable Colm Wilkinson cover).  The best part, as I said, is that it gives Valjean and Cosette some necessary bonding time instead of Valjean taking Cosette from the Thenardiers and then, moments later, picking her up so that she is not hit by the Ten Years Later scenery. 

4.  General Lamarque's funeral procession.  Now that I've seen it, I can't believe the stage version didn't do something like this, instead of having people just march around in circles.

5.  Marius tells Cosette about Valjean leaving.  In the stage version, Cosette is such a plot device that she doesn't even react to her father and savior's sudden departure until the very end.  The movie permits her to actually respond and show that she's a person after all.   

Honorable Mention: Fantine gets her teeth pulled.

So that's it for my Les Mizing for a while.  Thank you everyone who has read the retrospective and my initial review.  I will keep doing Les Miz posts now and then, such as when the full soundtrack is released, or the DVD(s), but now it's time to move on to other things.  Hope to see you there.