Downton Abbey Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Downton Abbey
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes:  8, plus “Christmas at Downton Abbey” special
  • Discs:  3 (and special features disc for set)
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jessica Brown Findlay, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Sophie Mcshera, Lesley Nicol, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Siobhan Finneran, Amy Nuttall, Iain Glen, Zoe Boyle, Samantha Bond
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC) (set is seasons 1-3)

Season 2 of Downton Abbey covers 1914 to 1920 and is mostly concerned with World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic that followed. However, rather than focus on the events on the war both at home and abroad, much of season 2 of Downton Abbey revolves around the loves and losses of the people at Downton as well as the changes that war brings to everyone. Lady Mary and Matthew have formerly split up. Matthew becomes a captain, serving in France, and also falls in love and becomes engaged to Lavinia Swire. Lady Mary is engaged to Sir Richard Carlisle, a newspaper owner, and businessman. At first, Lady Mary likes his unconventional nature, but over time he shows himself to be a bit of brute – treating her with profound disrespect and even threatening violence. Mary, however, stays with him because he knows the entire story of her “encounter” with Mr. Pamuk – the Turkish diplomat gentleman who died in her bed the previous season. Matthew is joined by William, the footman, as his batman. They are lost and reported Missing in Action once, are found, and are later blown-up in battle. Both are severely injured and sent to the local hospital in Downton and then to Downton Abbey itself, which by this time has become a convalescent hospital. William dies from his injuries, but not before marrying his sweetheart, the kitchen maid, Daisy. Matthew looks to be paralyzed permanently, but he recovers the use of his legs.

The youngest daughter, Lady Sybil, immediately takes a course and becomes a volunteer nurse at the local hospital. Tom Branson, the chauffeur, pursues her. They had formed a friendship last season, and that becomes love in season 2. The two plan on eloping but are stopped by Lady Mary and Lady Edith. Lord Grantham hits the roof when he finds out, but when Lady Sybil indicates she plans on moving to Ireland with or without her father’s blessing, he eventually gives in. We are told Tom has a job on a paper in Dublin and Sybil plans on getting a job as a nurse. Later, Countess Grantham (Cora) gets a letter from her daughter saying she is pregnant. Cora insists she wants to see her grandchild.

Lady Edith learns to drive from Tom Branson and helps one of the local farming families by driving their tractor and helping out around the farm. When Downton becomes a convalescent hospital, Edith takes charge of the non-medical needs of the soldiers in their care. She gets books, picks up the mail, reads letters to blinded soldiers, writes letters for soldiers who have lost their hands, etc. Lady Edith is quite good at this and also good at organizing things at Downton to help the soldiers.

Anna and John Bates are openly in love, and John tries to get a divorce from his wife. He gets evidence proving she was unfaithful and offers her money from his inheritance from his dead mother. However, somehow Vera Bates is able to reverse the divorce decree, stopping the marriage between John Bates and Anna. When Vera is found dead, at first assumed to be a suicide, Bates is finally free and he and Anna marry at the registry office (an inexpensive option, similar to getting married by a Justice of the Peace or at a courthouse in the US). However, even dead, Vera messes up when a letter she wrote to a friend shows up in which she claims she was “in fear of her life” from her husband. She had also asked John to buy rat poison for her months ago. Bates is put on trial and found guilty. Lord Grantham finds out that Bates had taken action to prevent Vera from going to the papers with the story of Lady Mary and Mr. Pamuk. Lord Grantham takes up Bates’ cause and gets his lawyer involved to save Bates. They get as far as having the automatic death sentence commuted to life in prison, and plan on trying to prove his innocence.

After the war ends, at a disastrous dinner party, several people take ill – both servants and lords and ladies, including Cora, Carson, and Lavinia. Everyone recovers but Lavinia – who conveniently dies. Lady Mary also reveals to her father and to Matthew just what Sir Richard is holding over her to force her to marry him. Everyone decides she must not marry him and Mary breaks off her engagement. She plans on riding out the storm with relatives in New York when she and the newly-free Matthew have a moment – or several. In the end, he proposes and she accepts.

Much of season 2 of Downton Abbey is devoted to romantic games, but they end more successfully than the previous season. The other theme is of the aristocratic women trying to make themselves useful during the war. Lady Sybil starts this by becoming a nurse, but she had shown sympathies with others outside her class before, so it’s no surprise. Lady Edith also tries to become useful and shows herself to be rather good at it – both doing farm labor and organizing help for the soldiers at Downton doing little but kind and thoughtful things. Cora also ends up running Downton’s hospital, organizing schedules, planning meals, etc. This means that Matthew’s mother, Isobel is pushed out a bit. She eventually travels to France to help with the office that takes inquires into the missing. She quickly returns when Matthew is injured. Cora and Violet (the Dowager Countess) give her another project, working to help refugees.

Overall, Downton Abbey is an enjoyable series. At times it can be a bit of a soap opera, but the characters are consistent, interesting, and fun to watch. I recommend it.

Read my Review of Season 1 of Downton Abbey.

ANZAC Girls Review

  • Title: ANZAC Girls (mini-series)
  • Episodes: 6
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: ABC (Austrailia Broadcasting Corp.)
  • Cast: Georgia Flood, Antonia Prebble, Laura Brent, Anna McGahan, Caroline Craig, Honey Debelle
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

ANZAC Girls is based on a historical book about real nurses from Australia and New Zealand in World War I. As the final episode tells you: these are real women, who made a difference in the most trying of circumstances. ANZAC refers to the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps in the First World War, and the “girls” are the nurses, specifically of the Australia Army Nurses Corps. Some New Zealand women joined with the Australian nurses before the New Zealand nurses organization was formed. As Army nurses, they must have three years of prior experience – and be unmarried. This becomes quite the crux of the miniseries – because, for many of these very young women, they end up having to choose between love and duty and many choose love.

The first episode introduces the main characters: young women who want a little adventure, some who want to find love, and all who are very devoted to their duty as nurses. The nurses arrive in Cairo, and very quickly the disastrous Gallipoli campaign happens. Some of the nurses volunteer for duty on Lemnos, a Greek island that is home to the Australian hospital. But when they arrive with their matron, Grace Wilson, they find they have no quarters, and they must sleep on the open ground. There are no showers, no bathing facilities, and the latrines are disgusting. The women soldier on, despite an army colonel who believes “nurses have no bearing” on the survival of patients. Olive is a dedicated nurse who starts to fall for Pat Dooley, a medical orderly, but she chooses duty over love and is even cruel to him (because Olive, like the rest of the nurses, knows she will be forced to resign if she marries). Lemnos receives the worse cases from Gallipoli.

Meanwhile, back in Cairo, the nurses left behind think they face the worse cases, and the most pain and death. One nurse, Elsie, is mostly there to find her husband, who happens to be the son of the former Australian prime minister. She is discovered to be married, but the forward theater is so desperate for medical personnel she gets special consideration. Her husband is shot in the leg, and Elsie nurses him to health – he’s wounded again, and Elsie gets permission to transfer to the British hospital where he’s convalescing. He’s sent back to the war, and Elsie returns to Cairo and then goes with the rest of the nurses to France after the close of the Gallipoli campaign. When her husband is wounded again, she goes with him back to Australia and is forced to resign from the Australian Army Nursing Corps because: rules. She joins the Red Cross volunteer nurses and returns to France.

Olive and the rest return to Cairo briefly, then go on to France. For a few weeks, the nurses serve at a British hospital where they face the scorn of the British nurses. Matron Grace Wilson, to her credit, doesn’t let her nurses be mistreated, stands up for them, and gets them transferred to the Australian Hospital as soon as possible. The next three episodes take place in France, near the Somme. First Olive goes to the Casualty Clearing Station near the front lines. She returns and two of the other nurses go there. At the CCS, during an air raid, Alice comes into her own, helping wounded in one of the wards that are hit by German bombs. She’s awarded a military medal.

Another nurse, during extraordinary circumstances, has to administer anesthesia for a surgery when the anesthesiologist passes out from exhaustion. The surgeon talks her through it, and the patient recovers. She and two other Australian nurses are put forth for a nurse-anesthesiologist training program. She makes it with flying colors and a perfect score. Day by day she works in surgery, administering local and general anesthetic. That is until the Australian Army gets wind of the program and decides it’s not a suitable job for a woman. After receiving the news (which comes on the same day that Alice finds out her finance’s been killed), she returns to the wards and gets into a conversation with a New Zealand soldier. The two talk about being from New Zealand – and the lightbulb goes off: she’s a New Zealander! She goes to talk to the matron in charge, discovers her matron, Grace Wilson has just returned, and says that as a New Zealander she’s not subject to the new rule. She returns to life as a surgical nurse.

ANZAC Girls is a good program, but it could have been a great program! I felt that the program was a little cold – we didn’t really know what motivated these women, as they dealt with an awful lot: blood, death, horrific injuries, being bombed, disease (including typhoid and dysentery), long hours, mud, and unsanitary conditions, especially for nursing. Instead, the miniseries focuses more on their loves, the losses of those loves, and finding new love. The final episode, which features the Armistice, did make me cry, as it told of the remainder of these extraordinary women’s lives (many also served in World War II). But somehow, although I thought this series was good, I expected more. I wanted to see less of women falling in love and more about how they came to and served in a difficult profession in extraordinary circumstances.

Still, ANZAC Girls is definitely worth watching and recommended.