It’s going to be the battle of the century when it comes to great actors as the legendary Maggie Smith competes with the inimitable Shirley MacLaine for the Downton Abby spotlight. The trailer above hints at what is to come. And while there won’t be bloody noses and technical knock-outs there will certainly be rusty daggers and bruised egos in the pitched battle between the forces of the emotional US acting style and the famous British reserve.
It’s not that we don’t care about the impending nuptials of Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley, not to mention all the social and economic upheaval of the early 1920s, but they pale in comparison to the upcoming confrontation between Dame Maggie and MacLaine who plays Martha Levinson, the mother of Cora, countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern). In the Season 3 edition, MacLaine arrives from America bringing her tart tongue and liberal attitudes, and is totally unfamiliar to her daughter’s aristocratic household. Once again this period drama is preparing you for another genteel shock to your finely honed taste as the British gem finally gets aired on the PBS Masterpiece Theatre.
Surely the two aging actresses retired to their fainting couches after each take to recover from the ongoing blows to the Downton household after each take. Ladies don’t tell but MacLaine and Smith are are evenly matched – within months – at the age of 78. I put my money on the Dame since she has been around all this pretense and preciousness for longer than I can remember. As for MacLaine, well, she has a serious handicap, and it is not being an American. Nevertheless she is looking forward to “going into that world, with those people who really seem to be living it. I didn’t know Downton Abbey. Everything I know I learned at my hairdresser’s. Really. I look at PBS for news.”
In talking with the English actress, MacLaine said that she planned to sing some of her lines to her. “You know, dear,” Smith replied: “When you do that, I’m going to fall off the chair.” then thought a moment and added, “No, I think not. I think I’ll fall asleep.”
She has a lot of catching up to do, what with 15 or more characters and at least that many sub-plots. No matter who wins this battle of wills, the public will eat it up.
The Season 3 Lineup
Season 3 takes place as The Great War is over and the long-awaited engagement of Lady Mary and Matthew is on. All is not tranquil at Downton Abbey as wrenching social changes, romantic intrigues, and personal crises grip the majestic English country estate. Shirley MacLaine joins the much-loved cast, which includes Dame Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Penelope Wilton and many others. “No family is ever what it seems from the outside,” observes Smith’s shrewd character.
Downton Abbey Season 3 airs over seven Sundays beginning with a two-hour premiere on January 6 and concluding with a ninety-minute finale on February 17. The series’ total running time is 9 1/2 hours.
Written and created by Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey Season 3 is a Carnival Films and Masterpiece coproduction. Seasons 1 & 2 have together won nine Primetime Emmy® Awards and a Golden Globe® for Best Mini-Series.
Viewers were no less passionate, with 17.1 million tuning in across the seven episodes, making Downton Abbey, Season 2 the most-watched Masterpiece Theatre series on record. It was also the most talked-about. The show has created real buzz on websites such as Berkshire on Stage, and within the social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. Because of today’s multitude of viewing options, a younger audience is being seduced by Downton Abbey’s sumptuously spread-out plot.
The story so far
Years earlier, Cora rescued Downton Abbey with her New World riches by marrying Robert, Earl of Grantham (Bonneville). Now, New World and Old World are about to clash as Cora’s mother locks horns with Robert’s redoubtable mother, Lady Violet, played by Maggie Smith.
Last season closed with the reluctant heir to Downton, Matthew Crawley (Stevens), recovered from his war wounds and ready to tie the knot with the eldest of Lord and Lady Grantham’s daughters, Lady Mary (Dockery). Meanwhile, Mary’s youngest sister, Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay), has eloped to Ireland with the political-minded chauffeur, Branson (Allen Leech), and is expecting a child.
A tantalizing glimpse ahead: Lovebird servants Anna (Froggatt) and Bates (Coyle) face new ordeals in their star-crossed marriage. Downton’s impeccable butler, Carson (Carter), breaks in a new footman, who happens to be the nephew of the scheming lady’s maid O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran). Following Matthew and Mary’s engagement, Robert sticks to his duty to maintain Downton more firmly than ever—even as other great houses are crippled psychologically and financially in the wake of World War I.
In this changing landscape nothing is assured, and could it be that even the war-weary Crawleys must fight a new battle to safeguard their beloved Downton?
Downton Abbey Season 3 is a Carnival/Masterpiece Co-production. It is written and created by Julian Fellowes. Gareth Neame and Julian Fellowes are Executive Producers. The Co-Executive Producer is Nigel Marchant. The Producer is Liz Trubridge. The first episode is directed by Brian Percival. Other episodes are directed by Andy Goddard, Jeremy Webb, and David Evans.
Masterpiece Theatre is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston. Rebecca Eaton is Executive Producer. Funding for the series is provided by Viking River Cruises and Ralph Lauren Corporation with additional support from public television viewers and contributors as well as to The Masterpiece Trust, created to help ensure the series’ future.