“Downton Abbey” Review
Season 3 of the most beloved British drama on public television returned to the United States on January 6, 2013 with a special two-hour-long premiere. Once again, the plot primarily revolves around the operations of the British aristocratic home, family, and staff within the early 1900’s, but unexpected twists seem to test their every moral as independence rises and breeding falls. Nevertheless, the same hardships remain as relationships are lost and formed, love meets betrayal, and passion defies all obstacles. Warning: the following paragraphs contain spoilers.
As for the characters themselves, all of the familiar faces have returned. The ambitious Daisy (Sophia McShera) is still trying to better herself despite Mrs. Patmore’s (Lesley Nicol) strong personality, the witty Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) continues to speak her mind without fail, and the favorite couple of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley’s (Dan Stevens) wedding is at hand, which has been greatly anticipated since their long desired engagement finally happened at the end of the last episode in Season 2. The family has even taken to accepting Lady Sybil’s (Jessica Brown Findlay) marriage to the chauffeur, Branson (Allen Leech), by welcoming him to dinner, which adds a comedic layer all on its own.
However, not all is as it seems when Downton is shadowed by a new conflict that directly involves the dead. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) receives terrible news that greatly affects the entire community and sees no way out until Matthew is presented an equally unsuspecting solution by way of his late fiance, Lavinia (Zoe Boyle). Nevertheless, honoring her memory deters him from harnessing these resources for the betterment of Downton.
Another ghost continues to plague the love birds of the Servant’s Hall at Downton, Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle). Still sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his late wife, Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy), Mr. Bates awaits his new wife to uncover the secret behind how Vera died, clear his name, and bring him back to his station as valet. Ever devoted, Anna begins to find clues in conversations and meetings that might just bring the truth forward.
Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) also carries a dark secret that could entirely uproot the runnings of the house and, more importantly, kill her. To somewhat lessen the burden, she places her confidences in Mrs. Patmore, which proves to be a mistake as it creates more concern than help for Mrs. Hughes’ otherwise desired privacy.
Finally, the lost ex-house maid, Ethel (Amy Nutall), has also reappeared on the doorstep of Mrs. Crawley (Penelope Wilton), Matthew’s mother, whose latest project aids unfortunate women in harnessing a skill set that could provide them with a more suitable occupation. Of course, Ethel is concerned for her son, Charlie, the bastard of a late WWI soldier who refused to claim the child, but the extra push she’s searching for has yet to come.
Not everyone is recognizable from the previous seasons however. The most notable being an even more strongly opinionated rival for Lady Violetâ€”the other grandmother from across the pond, Martha Levinson (Shirley McLaine). Levinson is from New York and the mother of Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern). Deep-set in her American ways, her off-the-cuff comments, appalling manners, and new money add an entirely new dimension to the series, being that she is certainly the outcast character amongst the well-bred Brits.
Another footman, Alfred (Matt Milne), has replaced Thomas, as he has taken his oh so coveted position as valet in Mr. Bates’ absence. Alfred was recommended by Mrs. O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran), being that he is her nephew, but he lacks his aunt’s confidence. Incidentally, Thomas (Rob James-Collier) attempts to take advantage of that, much to the disapproval of Mrs. O’Brien, allowing their already witchy friendship to turn towards bitter rivalry.
Also, a childhood friend of the family, particularly fond of Lady Sybil, is introduced as a dinner guest at Downton. Unfortunately, his immaturity and idea of a practical joke are lost on the family, and he becomes the direct catalyst of an inspiring alliance between the working class and the future Earl of Grantham, also known as Branson and Matthew Crawley. His appearance will not likely be kept within the series like Alfred’s.
The avant-garde style is slowly taking its toll, and the outcome appears to grow more and more distressing for everyone despite the mutual love each character shares for Downton. Without a doubt, the Masterpiece Classic is just as wrought with drama as it’s ever been before, and all of this propelled solely from a single episode. To catch the rest, watch “Downton Abbey” on PBS every Sunday night at 9 PM. The initial response from its already invested followers was full of emotion, with the biggest complaint being: why can’t the US release date match the UK’s?