After a year away, “Downton Abbey” has returned to American television. The highly anticipated season three of the British period drama premiered on PBS on January 6 at 8 p.m.
The new season of “Downton” begins in the spring of 1920, about a week before the wedding of Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary Crawley. A very pregnant Lady Sybil returns from Ireland for the occasion with her husband and former Downton chauffeur, Tom Branson. Tension and awkwardness ensue as most of the family is still acclimating to their former chauffeur becoming a member of the family. Just as Lord Grantham is beginning to cope with this uncomfortable situation, it is revealed that he has lost a great deal of money in a bad investment and he may just have to sell Downton Abbey.
Season three deals directly with the changing role of the British aristocracy in a post-World War I era.
No character illustrates these changing times more clearly than Martha Levinson, Lady Grantham’s wealthy American mother.
A delightful Shirley MacLaine joins the cast as Levinson who is less than pleased that her daughter’s fortune has been spent on Downton’s upkeep. Levinson believes that the post-war world is a vastly different one in which there is no place for such grand houses.
MacLaine’s character is a great foil to Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess and the scenes between the two ladies are particularly fun to watch.
As always, there is just as much drama with the Downton staff. Carson is trying to hire a new footman and Anna is working tirelessly to find a shred of proof that her husband and former Downton valet, Mr. Bates, was wrongly convicted of his ex-wife’s murder.
The show’s plot has spanned ten years since the first episode and the evolution of fashion and technology are consequently less subtle in this season. In the brave new world of the 1920’s, women wear drop-waist dresses, have their picture taken by a photographer, write newspaper columns and even use the newly invented electric toaster.
This season, which has already aired in the United Kingdom, promises to be just as melodramatic, surprising and witty as the past two but is perhaps the most achingly sad. There are multiple weddings, births and deaths in store, each with more consequence than the last.
Season four has already been announced so, keep in mind, even when this season gets rocky, that Downton must prevail.