TV review: Downton Abbey, Strictly Come Dancing, Parade’s End
Downton Abbey, ITV1, Sunday, September 16, 9pm
Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1, Saturday, September 15, 6.30pm
Parade’s End, BBC2, Friday September 21, 9pm
Downton Abbey has returned for a third series, and with it comes the much hyped involvement of Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine, joining the cast as Cora's mother., MacLaine's entrance, tantalisingly held back until the last half-hour, resembles the arrival of a visiting head of state, as befits the Oscar-winning actor's elevated status. Almost the entire Downton household - lords and lackeys alike - is pressed into meet and greet duties, and the anticipation is palpable as MacLaine's chauffeur-driven limo pulls up in the stately home's driveway. Across the UK, excited viewers collectively sat at the edge of their sofas, better to scream at the screen: "Don't you bloody dare cut to another advert break."
- But what follows is something of an anti-climax.
- Nobody is expecting MacLaine to perform high kicks - although they certainly wouldn't have gone amiss - but even allowing for her 78 years, the performance she delivers is underpowered to the point of being moribund. As for the eagerly awaited exchanges with Maggie Smith's dowager duchess, they fail to elicit a single spark, let alone the predicted fireworks.
- Perhaps MacLaine just needs a couple of episodes to settle in. Each series of Downton Abbey usually requires a little viewer patience before the show hits its stride, and this one appears to be no different.
- Episode one busies itself playing catch-up with leftover plot lines, such as Mr Bates in prison - I say leave him to rot - while introducing new ones. Earl Robert has lost the family fortune playing with trains, but, as luck would have it, Edward may inherit that of his ex-wife Lavinia. However, decency prohibits him from accepting it, enraging fiance Mary, and threatening the resumption of the on-off relationship that powered the first two series. Meanwhile, someone has slipped a pill into the drink of Lady Sybil's Irish husband Tom, transforming him into even more of a radical republican than usual, and thoroughly spoiling dinner.
- Downton Abbey can be daft, infuriating, dull and implausible, but for some reason - somebody may have put a pill in my drink - I am addicted to it.
- It is certainly a lot better than the overblown, self-satisfied and incoherent Parade's End, which for me couldn't end soon enough.
- To celebrate Strictly Come Dancing's tenth series, Bruce Forsyth - Shirley MacLaine's senior by six years - shimmied elegantly onstage before executing an ambitious high kick, albeit one that required a little leg-lifting help from co-host Tess Daly. He also made a cracking joke:
- "There's a new face on the judging panel. That's right - Craig's had some more work done."
- As is traditional, Strictly's so-called 'premiere' show is a non-competitive and largely non-dancing affair that is essentially an exercise in walking the celebrity ponies around the ballroom paddock.
- My tips - Victoria Pendleton to win, Johnny Ball to frustrate the judges by long outstaying his ability, and Richard Arnold to exit first for no other reason than nobody's ever heard of him. The same could be said of Dani Harmer, star of CBBC's Tracy Beaker, but she will probably stay in on the strength of my ten year-old daughter's multiple telephone votes alone.
Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.