Holiday Viewing: Downton Abbey Christmas Specials

We rank the holidays with the Crawley family

The racing strings of the theme song catches the breath of this particular fan of one of the most successful British dramas of recent years.

The epic journey of the Crawley family as they navigate the growing pains of the early 20th century is one of the many shows that get their own Christmas specials. Lavish sets and costume, intrigue and drama, and of course, the best dog on TV, Isis. So curl up in your favorite bathrobe, sip your tea, and remember these presents from Julian Fellowes and co.

5) The Season 3 Christmas Special: “A Journey to the Highlands”

The weakest of the lot is this episode that sends our main characters to Scotland where a lot of boring things happen involving dried ginger vs. fresh and the decline of Lord “Shrimpy,” their host, who admits to Lord Grantham that he is broke. Ah, too bad. Back at Downton, the country fair sends everyone into a frenzy. But this is also the infamous episode that killed off Matthew Crawley after Dan Stevens decided to leave the show. At least they could have sent him off to Paris or something.

4) The Season 5 Christmas Special: “A Moorland Holiday”

I know I’m not alone in thinking the Bates/Anna romance is one of the weaker aspects of the show, partly because Bates is constantly anguished, Anna has the worst luck, and neither of them can stay out of jail. But at least there’s grouse hunting and the sweet courtship of Carson and Mrs. Hughes.

3) The Season 4 Christmas Special: “The London Scene”

Thank God for Shirley MacLaine, who spices up this special with some good old American bluntness as Martha Levinson and a great foil for the Dowager. Same for Paul Giamatti, who is not having any of this pomp as Levinson's son, even as women throw themselves at him left and right. Tom causes a scandal by bringing the strong-minded school teacher Sarah Bunting to Downton and Thomas isn’t having any of it (he of the constant clenched fist). And poor Edith has to give up her baby to a local farmer. That coupled with flappers and the London setting make this a solid addition.

2) The Season 6 Christmas Special: “The Finale”

A mostly satisfying and generous conclusion sees the usual marriages and childbirth, as Lady Edith, after being battered and bruised by the show’s writer’s room for six seasons, finally finds peace and love with Bertie Pelhman and is reunited with her daughter. There’s plenty of plates spinning as the series comes to a close, but a personal favorite is the arc of Septimus Spratt, the Dowager’s droll butler who develops a talent for writing a column in Edith’s newspaper. Bananas!

1) The Season 2 Christmas Special: “Christmas at Downton Abbey”

Let’s begin with the insufferable and devious Sir Richard Carlisle (played with perfect arrogance by Iain Glen), whose blackmail scheme to wed Lady Mary backfires and leads to a wonderful scene between father and daughter. The upstart insurgent lady’s maid Marigold Shore gets her due when her affair is discovered, and the downstairs folk mess with each other with a Ouija board. Annoying Sybil isn’t even in this episode, but the news of her pregnancy causes our favorite patriarch to remark that she “crossed the Rubicon.” But the long-awaited marriage proposal from Matthew to Lady Mary seals the deal as the best of the bunch.

Downton Abbey is available on Amazon Prime.

Throughout December, the Chronicle film team is highlighting some of our favorite seasonal film and TV offerings. Find a new recommendation every day at our Holiday Movie Advent Calendar.

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