Monday, 19 September 2011


It was supposed to be a "battle": the return of ITV1's lavish period drama Downton Abbey against the tenth and final series of BBC One's spy drama Spooks. But who seriously thought MI-5 could resist to Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham?

The second series of Downton started with 9 million viewers yesterday night (34,6%), vs 4.62 million (17%) for Spooks (1).

« It's my lucky charm. I've had it always. So you must promise to bring it back, without a scratch. »

1916, the world is in war. The Crawley family and their servants at Downton Abbey, their Edwardian country house, must "keep up standards". Because, to quote Mr Carson (Jim Carter), it's « the only way to show the Germans that they will not beat us in the end ». Some men are away in the trenches, like heir apparent Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens). Robert (Hugh Bonneville) would like to fight but the Earl of Grantham is given other responsibilities. John Bates (Brendan Coyle) sees his efforts to build a future with Anna (Joanne Froggatt) threatened by the arrival of his wife Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy).

Written by its creator Julian Fellowes and produced by Carnival Films, ITV1's rating hit Downton Abbey is back in all its magnificence. Love, war, honour, intrigue, drama and even humour are there within a classy supersoap in costume. Some chats in the trenches may recall Blackadder Goes Forth but this premiere, directed by Ashley Pearce, remains at the top of its game. E.g. the superb scene when Mary (Michelle Dockery) sees Matthew and his new love, Lavinia Swire (Zoe Boyle), while the orchestra is playing. And God bless Maggie Smith as Violet.

« Buzzards are circling. »

In Spooks, it's another war which comes to haunt back Sir Harry (Peter Firth). One of his contacts of the past is executed after he tried to warn the boss of MI-5's Section D that a British "asset" - code name: Tourmeline - is in danger. Elena Gavrik (Alice Krige) is the wife of Ilya Gavrik (Jonathan Hyde), a senior Russian cabinet minister, and someone is "running" her using Harry Pearce's codes. Ilya is a former adversary of Harry and he's the target of an assassination plot intended to damage the beginning of a new Anglo-Russian "special relationship".

The hit spy drama from Kudos Film and Television exploded its expiry date some time ago and the ninth series was simply laughable. The premiere of this six-episode final run could well be the first step to an exit with all the dignity Spooks should deserve given its past sophisticated quality. A dignified exit Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) and Harry deserve too, as the possibility they retire in the countryside is thin. The rest of the team deserve nothing, they look like they were refused at a CTU job interview (hello, booby-trapped laptop!) One could even easily pull a Nina Myers.

The Ferrero advert reception seems escaped from a Mission:Impossible movie and Harry has unsurprisingly an heir working for the FSB. But overall this old-school spy thriller is almost reassuring with its Russians, the CIA, etc. In the end of Harry's game, they all become white and grey.


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