TV Review: Downton Abbey [Series Three, Episode One]

on Thursday, September 20, 2012
'Downton Abbey' Series 3, Episode 1 (2012) // Words: Tara Joshi

SYNOPSIS: Cora's mother arrives for Matthew and Mary's wedding, but with the couple's relationship under strain will they even make it to the altar? Robert has some shocking news. (

Series One of ITV's 'Downton Abbey' offered a nicely light and frivolous insight into Edwardian England – the class divisions, the witty patter, the pretty dresses and the seemingly insatiable obsession with marriage and inheritance. Series Two, then, which saw Downton and its occupants take on the The Great War, was certainly a darker affair; more than that, though, it often bordered on the melodramatic to the point of soap opera-esque disbelief.

The many twists and turns were generally entertaining, of course, but at times entire storylines and characters were far too obviously contrived as plot devices (Lavinia Swire, anyone?). But then the Christmas Special reasserted the magic of the series; the heart-warming romances, the dynamic relationships and the undercurrent of engagingly trivial minor story lines all made for wonderful television. The show is doubtless home to many historical inaccuracies, but ultimately it gives you a nice sense of the time and allows for some entertaining, if often quite silly, dramatic viewing.

Sunday night saw the promising premiere of series three, even with the presence of certain story lines that might be bordering on outstaying their welcome (someone please just give Daisy a promotion). The introduction of Shirley Maclaine as Cora’s mother made for some fantastic dialogue between her and the ever-disapproving Dowager Countess, played shrewdly as ever by Dame Maggie Smith. The conflict between the American embracing aa change of lifestyle post-war and her English counterpart clinging hopelessly to tradition should continue to provide some light humour throughout the series.

Other comic moments from the series are bound to come from the arrival of Alfred, the new footman who trained at a hotel much to butler Carson’s disgust, although it seems there might be a darker storyline on his horizon too with the unexpected conflict between his aunt, the temperamental O’Brien, and her old partner in crime, the dark and mysterious Thomas.

The fate of Downton is put into crisis after a huge financial blow; Lady Edith continues to cling fervently and perhaps, for once, not hopelessly to her potential romances; Bates is still in prison and a pregnant Sybil and ex-chauffer Branson’s return for the wedding makes for some excellent familial and class conflict, as it seems that very few characters approve of Sybil’s choice of husband.

And what of the main couple? For all the claims about Downton Abbey being a show with an ensemble cast, the main concern for most is surely the fate of the classic will-they-won’t-they duo, Matthew and Mary. The build-up to their marriage is suitably filled with arguments, angst and confusion, and there is an amusing amount of cringey pre-wedding night innuendo from all.

There is a pleasantly poignant use of the old plot-device that is Lavinia Swire, too, which ties in with Downton’s money problems and tests Matthew’s loyalties to the family. Will the wedding they’ve spent the past decade going in circles around ever actually take place? I hope it’s not giving too much away to say that Mary looks beautiful in her wedding dress.

Money drama aside it was arguably a bit of a slow start and there are a lot of plots to keep track of. However, the ending of the episode was suitably joyous, and there's certainly enough to intrigue and ease us into what is sure to be a spectacular look at Downton during the Roaring Twenties.

Watch 'Downton Abbey' for a limited time on ITV Player. Find more of Tara's work on Twitter and Don't Watch Me Dancing.

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