TV series review: Downton Abbey: Series 3 (2012), written by Julian Fellowes
It’s good to be back at Downton.
And it’s going to be tremendously difficult to say anything about series three without spoiling things too much … but let’s try to be very general and vague.
The future of Downton is uncertain, because life simply isn’t the same as it was before the war, and investments are risky things. Bates (Brendan Coyle) is still in prison, with Anna (Joanne Froggatt) still trying to find something, anything, to clear his name and get him out again.
Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is still mooning over Sir Anthony Strallan (Robert Bathurst), much to her father’s and grandmother’s dislike.
Over in Ireland, the political situation is heating up, and darling rebel Branson (Allen Leech) isn’t going to stand by and do nothing.
Ethel (Amy Nuttall), the maid who got pregnant by a military man in series two, makes a return as well.
And that’s about all I can say without giving away too much. Gosh darnit!
Downstairs, we’re joined by three new faces: outgoing kitchen maid Ivy (Cara Theobold), to whom Daisy (Sophie McShera) takes an instant dislike and sees as a rival; Alfred (Matt Milne), O’Brien’s nephew, who is keen to learn to be a footman, but has a very shaky start; and suave charmer Jimmy (Ed Speleers), to whom Tom Barrow (Rob James-Collier) immediately takes a shine.
There are many ups and downs in this series. We were told beforehand that there would be both marriage, a death and a birth in this series. And so there was. Who gives birth will be obvious from the get-go. The marriage is at the end of the first episode, so you won’t have to wait long, and I’m sure you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when it happens.
The problem is with the death, it felt so unnecessary. Yes, it was a plot point, and maybe the actor wanted to do something else, and it does shake things up, but really? The collective sobs from the fanbase echoed over social media after that particular episode aired. Didn’t really expect Julian Fellowes of doing a Whedon, but maybe we should’ve taken Lavinia as a sign of things to come.
The things that does get resolved get resolved in a way that makes you feel good about the world.
Then there’s the new love triangle, or square or whatever you might call it. Daisy is interested in Alfred, who flirts with Ivy, who’s interested in Jimmy. Alfred seems like a sweet and decent boy, though, and I hope Daisy does manage to get him eventually.
Issues raised that are very much of the time is that homosexuality is 100% taboo, although a lot of people seem very relaxed and modern about what was actually a crime back then. Another is the subject of prostitution, and here’s where Mrs Crawley is great. I do like her.
The series ending was … puzzling. I expected there to be some sort of big boom, as series one ended with World War I breaking out and series two with the death of Lavinia. There are some very big booms in the series as a whole, but not really in the final episode – it was just happily plodding along. There’s another Christmas special (yay!) on December 25th, so maybe they save it for then.
Edith (Laura Carmichael) gets to take centre stage for a bit too, which is nice. I didn’t really like her in series one (what with spreading her sister’s secret out of spite), but I was devastated for her when Mary orchestrated Sir Anthony’s (Robert Bathurst) retreat. Of course, the man returns in this series, and things become … interesting. The final episode’s … dealings with regards to Edith didn’t come as much of a surprise, sadly, although I found the “Masonic” twist funny.
Mary is definitely starting to bore me. Matthew is a more interesting character. Then again, I think I find the people below stairs to be more interesting in general. I mean, just look at Bates and Anna! I go all gooey at the mere thought of them. Even O’Brien has turned into something other than the scheming bitch she was in series one, and Tom, while he’s a nasty piece of work, even manages to get my sympathies from time to time. They all seem to have grown.
Upstairs, Mary is still Mary (Michelle Dockery), Matthew is still Matthew (Dan Stevens), and so on. Fortunately, so is the Dowager (Dame Maggie Smith), and she is as fabulous as ever. There is so much more to her than a crusty, old countess! The first episode also features Cora’s mother – played by Shirley MacLaine! – and the two of them together is nothing short of magic. They are hilarious!
But yeah, all in all, series three is just as exciting as its predecessors. We don’t skip through an entire war here, it goes slower than that, which is better. I still love this show, and the Christmas special can’t come soon enough! If you haven’t seen series three yet, prepare to laugh, giggle, despair, cry, worry and snicker to varying degrees. You’re in for a great ride.
5 out of 5 newspaper columns.