Posted on 23.9.15 by David Walton
It was with mixed feelings that I settled down to watch the first episode of the last series ever of Downton. On the one hand, it’s felt like a long time since the previous series finished but, on the other, I’m just not ready for it all to end despite a formula that’s, well, in danger of getting a bit tired.
The demise of this fine period drama was hinted at very early in episode one of series six as the rumour-mongers whispered about staff being laid off. Carson, the head butler, fended off direct queries from kitchen maids as to what was happening to their roles but one suspects the issue will be an ever-present running up to Christmas. As ever, Maggie Smith had all the best lines and put it best with Sunday’s unanswered question “Who needs an under-butler these days”. While other big houses have been selling up to “new money”, the Downton estate is trying to get with the times, selling off land, building houses and even buying a refrigerator. The times they are a-changing.
The sad thing is I don’t think there are even enough employees left at Downton to trigger collective consultation requirements. I bet you can’t count 20 of them anymore. The headcount was at least preserved by the news that Anna will not be prosecuted for the murder of erstwhile valet and assailant, Mr Green. Indeed, and some would say commendably, the house has permitted her to remain at work whilst being investigated by the police for pushing a former colleague under a horse and carriage to meet his maker.
Meanwhile, the thorny issue of relationships at work was brought out in deliberately excruciating fashion by the pre-nuptial “dynamic” between Carson and Mrs Hughes, in which head of kitchen Mrs Patmore was sent out by Mrs Hughes as emissary to negotiate what was to be expected of her on the wedding night. Fortunately, the issue was resolved and there was no need for the family to arbitrate a relationship breakdown between two senior employees who, let’s face it, keep the show going. However much personal relationships at work can be disruptive, nothing can be as bad as when those relationships go wrong.
One suspects Carson and Mrs Hughes, with their old-school sense of duty, might have been able to carry on regardless but in a close-knit office, let alone in a boardroom, such a breakdown can spell disaster. Other colleagues become disaffected and their performance plummets along with their morale. As an employer how do you deal with it? It may be that you have to choose from between them as to which one has to go – despite it not necessarily being their fault. It could be a classic “some other substantial reason” dismissal, although when the legislators coined that phrase, it’s unlikely they foresaw its use as a euphemism for a fallout among lovers.
The other subplot worthy of comment was the Spratt and Denker one (is it just me or does that sound like an upmarket line in 1920’s bathroom accessories?). The ever-squabbling servants down the road at Cousin Violet’s house are now vying against each other to avoid being selected for the rumoured redundancies. A word of warning to both of them – where an employer is initially looking at one redundancy, they can quite easily extend the exercise to cover both of them when they become surplus to requirements due to their tiresome antics. Anyway, and to answer Maggie Smith’s pertinent question, it does sometimes get cold on the moral high ground, so I’ll get off it for this week.