Downtown Abbey, Season 3, PBS

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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‘Downton Abbey’ Season 3

Written and created by Julian Fellowes
Directed by Brian Percival, Ashley Pearce, Jeremy Webb and David Evans
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Dan Stevens
Masterpiece on PBS stations
Sundays, Jan. 6 through Feb. 17, 2013 (9 p.m. ET/PT)

Happy 2013! With the new year comes “Downton Abbey, Season 3,” the continuation of the spellbinding costume drama created and written by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes. It’s another season of fascinating television (usually an oxymoron).

Season 3 continues with the intriguing lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and the servants who tend to them. If you recall, at the end of Season 2 the Right Honourable Robert Crawley, the current Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and his rich American wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), were maintaining their residence at the large and elaborate Downton Abbey with two of their three daughters, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael). Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) had eloped with the former chauffeur, the handsome Irish Free State activist, Tom Branson (Allen Leech).

Robert’s mother, Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), maintains her haughty and imperious demeanor and has all the best lines. Even the fabulous Shirley MacLaine, who makes a (too short) guest appearance in the first episode as Martha Levinson, Cora’s American mother, can’t best the Dowager Countess. But it’s close.

The first-rate cast of servants still includes Carson the butler (Jim Carter), O’Brien, the manipulative lady’s maid to the Countess (Siobhan Finneran), Thomas the footman cum valet (Rob James-Collier), and Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper (Phyllis Logan). John Bates, Lord Grantham’s former valet, (Brendan Coyle) is in jail after being convicted of the murder of his vindictive estranged wife. Ladies’ maid Anna Bates, John Bates’ current wife, remains loving and loyal, while she works to prove Bates’ innocence.

Season 3 begins in the spring of 1920. The end of the Great War brings a new era of social changes, which some Crawleys embrace, but others reject. The young women are wearing 1920s-style short hair and flapper dresses.

Newcomers in Season 3 include a new baby Crawley, new and returning servants and an on-again, off-again fiancé. We see the Crawleys face the death of a major character and the prospect of financial ruin. I’m not giving too much away by revealing that Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley finally marry. Yet, literally, as they walk down the aisle, the happy couple is at odds over a devastating financial loss and an unexpected vast legacy.

Once her sisters are married, Lady Edith seems to come into her own. She follows her path irrespective of the family’s views and becomes a vibrant and independent woman. With Lord Grantham, on the other hand, we see more inner weakness and outer self-importance. Lord Grantham’s concern with appearances has a dramatic adverse affect on the family.

If Season 1 introduced the premise and main characters of “Downton Abbey,” and the more melodramatic Season 2 presented a more mature version of the Crawley sisters during the Great War, Season 3 has a less frenetic pace that allows us to gain insight to the players’ psyches.

Season 3 continues the lofty level of writing, directing and acting that we loved in the prior seasons. The costumes, sets and high production values continue to shine. Season 3 of “Downton Abbey” is a “must see.”

Critics were sent the first six episodes. We were not sent the finale that airs on Feb. 17, 2013, entitled “The Christmas Special,” as were the last episodes of Season 1 and 2. “The Christmas Special” will be shipped to me later; therefore, I don’t know the ending yet.

Although we’ll all be unhappy to see Season 3 end, there is good news. Season 4 will continue to follow the Crawley family and their servants. I’m already looking forward to it. Rumor has it that Dan Stevens, the actor playing Mathew Crawley, will depart early in Series 4. I wonder how the writers will pull that off.

©Emily S. Mendel 2012 All Rights Reserved.

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