Arts & Entertainment News & Reviews

While we don’t want to spoil it for anyone there must be a lot of Downton Abbey fans out there simply salivating for news about their favourite show on the planet. From all accounts there are over nine million of them just in Britain alone. So please do not read on unless you want to know a few of the juicier details that our British correspondent has been working hard and overtime to provide.

Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) have brilliantly kick-started the much anticipated Season 3 of Downton Abbey ITV’s blockbuster hit with their simple spring 1920 morning wedding in the village church. The village is all decked out in bunting and the locals all turn out to cheer them on, along with everyone watching, pleased that finally two of our favourite fictional characters have finally walked down the aisle together.

Mary looked truly radiant, arriving at the church in a coach and four. So romantic. She will remind many an older viewer of just how fabulous their own parents must have looked on their wedding day. With its band of beautiful embroidery catching the diaphanous gauze like material embroidered all over with tiny seed pearls at the hip, and with its long elegant straight lines, the wedding dress is a triumph and sure to be available in bridal shops all over the world very soon.

It is surmounted by a long floating feather soft veil, which has been draped decorously over a simply stunning all-diamond neo-classical family heirloom hair ornament. It looks for all the world similar to the one the House of Fabergé made in 1900 for a bride of the Grosvenor family, which is still owned by Their Graces the Duke and Duchess of Westminster. It was designed of myrtle leaves and berries, sacred to Aphrodite the goddess of love. Fashionistas will have a field day.

This was all and all, a truly wonderful way to start the new series of Downton Abbey with all our old favourites on view, along with a welcome couple of additions. And, it’s already rating its way off the charts for this its third season. If it is at all possible, our Matthew is looking even more handsome than we could ever have thought possible in a stylish morning coat with a smart vest and silk cravat. He is backed up by his new brother in law, the Irish chauffeur Tom Branson, who has to be persuaded by the Dowager Duchess Violet to wear one too. Tom learns very quickly that you do what she says. Boys like us who marry great Grantham ladies, well, we have to stick together Matthew tells him – these two certainly make such a handsome pair and look so dashing.

Mid September swooning is definitely on the cards.

It is also wonderful to see his lovely Lady Sybil’s face again, we all missed her in Season 2.

She is sporting a fashionable new bob hairstyle and looking very happy with her new husband and her new lot in life. Gone is the adventurous woman who once railed against her times and in her place is a more mature, sensible one. He’s such a good man she tells her sister Mary, as she explains how happy she is to have him as a husband and to live in Ireland as just plain Mrs Branson no titles required. So uncomplicated not having to expect everyone to bow and scrape in front of you and to be a master of your own destiny. Just looking after yourself without a litany of servants to surround you is for Sybil like a breath of fresh air.

Downton Abbey is surely the grandest soap opera and most wonderful piece of imaginery confection that we have had to lose ourselves in yet. Such great, grand and glorious entertainment. Oh, and there is one fabulous new arrival everyone will definitely approve of – Lady Grantham’s mother, the indomitable Martha Levinson from America!

With what looks like a little help from ‘botox’, as well as the magical make up lady, the sheerly delightful Martha (Shirley Maclaine) looks set to give the Grand Dowager Duchess Violet a run for her money for the remainder of the year. These two have nothing to do in between tea parties, than think up new ways to insult each other.

Yippee!

The delightful banter that has already begun between the three older ‘ladies’ Lady Violet (Maggie Smith), Martha Levinson and Mrs. Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) augurs well for all the shows ahead.

What a feast of words for any writer to enjoy imagining. Creator Julian Fellowes must surely be smiling broadly.

Casting Shirley MacLaine, a veteran of the Hollywood screen and many musicals, who has been hoofing it around the traps for many years, is a stroke of genius. Always able to deliver witty lines well and with ease, she proves herself still entirely up to the task, despite her advancing years.

She is sure to knock a bit of the stuffing out of them all and give them a whole new perspective on their humanity, as grand American ladies of her time were want to do. She certainly looks amazing in the wonderful costumes she is decked out in for the first episode. The coat and hat she wears for the arrival are completely over the top and the car she arrives in isn’t half bad either. The boys from Top Gear would be sure to admire it.

And, OMG the other confections she wears on her head just in episode 1 are truly wonderful.

Matthew’s Mum Isobel Crawley is certainly glad she is there, providing yet another foil for her own ongoing wordy feud with the Dowager Duchess. Hopefully having Martha around will take the heat and focus off her for a bit, which must be a relief as unlike the others, she has what she believes to be a meaningful life, at least one to go on with.

Her hats are great too. Penelope Wilton certainly revels in her role, it’s certainly one that I would enjoy to play.

Mr. Carson is still alive and kicking downstairs, proving himself to be a bigger and more pompous snob than we may have presupposed. He has a long way to go at accepting change and a new day and the new order that is gradually emerging.

He glaringly proves the point about just how reluctant those downstairs were about seeing one of their own ‘rise about their station’ in life, despite having already had one war to hopefully ‘level the playing field’.

On the other side of the coin, after a few rough patches, those upstairs prove brilliantly just how important it is that manners and traditions continue to be observed.

Following he and Lady Sybil’s arrival ‘at home’ poor old ex chauffeur Tom Branson has had a pretty rough start meeting all the in-laws and family friends over sumptuous dinners, being held leading up to the nuptials.

Sitting down to dinner at table without a dinner jacket is surely enough trauma for one night. It doesn’t really work well for a plain speaking Irishman finding his way in a brand new world. When one of their own aristocratic invitees to dinner decides to give Sybil’s ‘chauffeur’ a pretty rough time instead of his behaviour being applauded as he expects it should, the upstairs group all club together to put him down.  They really want to give Tom the chauffeur, who has joined their family ranks, a fair go, especially after they learn that he is such a decent chap after all.

Tom Branson rises to the occasion well and has, by the wedding completely won the Dowager Duchess over, gaining her and the rest of the families respect, although steady on, he’s not quite earned his gold star on the forehead just yet. Although he is off to a promising start.

Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is there as usual, visiting her Johnny Bates (Brendan Coyle) in prison and all the while working hard to get him released. Loyalty and diligence are two of her most admirable characteristics, as are her sense of duty and abiding faith that he will be exonerated in the end from the murder charge that has seen him placed in custody.

Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) is sneeringly attending to his valet duties as per usual, but refusing to help Mrs O’Brian’s nephew to learn the ropes. He can be such a trial when he chooses.

O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) is busy brilliantly manipulating Lady Grantham (Ellizabeth McGovern) as ever. She wants to have her nephew employed at Downton in a time that will prove most inconvenient, nearly as much as his height -  he must be all of six foot five inches tall and it’s very hard to find livery that will fit!

Daisy, Daisy (Sophie McShera) give me your answer do…she is giving her boss and the Cook Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) a really hard time. She’s on protest about not moving up in the world as she was promised.

Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) the Housekeeper is there keeping the peace, as always, although you do sense she’s finding the house and them all a bit more of a challenge than usual.

Mary’s sister Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is oozing kindness and still setting her cap for her much older Lord – Sir Anthony Strallen (Robert Bathurst) with all the rest of the family trying to break her down or to disrupt any chance of her achieving any sort of happiness with this man she so obviously loves. He also champions chivalry, but the details are for us to know and you to find out.

Over it all Lord Grantham is endeavouring to keep up appearances, while dealing with some fairly dramatic news, that nearly wrecks Mary’s wedding day, but we won’t spoil it here.

Hugh Bonneville is so perfectly cast as the English Lord, whose role it is to provide employment for others, as he is constantly reminded by his mother and dear lady wife Cora.

Lovely Lady G, despite everything, she will always stand by this man she married for love, not for money. It must have been such an original and refreshing concept for a member of the English class ridden aristocracy to get their heads around at the time.

She looks so lovely decked out so appropriately in English lavender on her daughter’s wedding day.

While their ‘love story’ was originally the opposite for Milord, he finds out in this first episode just how much he has learned to depend on her wise counsel and how much he admires and values her many good and sterling qualities. Although she loves her daughters, Cora will always put him first as a dutiful wife should.

Then there is Downton Abbey itself.

Such a huge outmoded house from another age to bring into a new modern century, when wars, Wall Street collapses and dreadful depressions will be sure to affect all its occupants and their outcomes.

Still it is looking pretty wonderful, the staircase draped in floral garlands for Mary to float down the stairs as the beautiful bride on her wedding day and to welcome all those coming to celebrate her and Matthew’s good health and happiness. All those cheering village extras surely must have had a very happy day.

The two Grand Dame’s are seated in splendour in the church waiting…’so encouraging to see the future unfurl’ says the Dowager to Dame America, ‘as long as you remember it will bear no resemblance to the past’ is Martha’s wonderful retort. Fellowes is truly in fine form.

‘You came…to be honest I wasn’t completely sure that you would…says Matthew to which Mary replies… ‘I am glad to hear it, I would hate to be predictable’ as she prepares to tie the knot and become plain Mrs Crawley? Well we can all live in hope! Perhaps he might have a trip to the palace?

Downton Abbey Season 3 is off to a truly glorious start. After all, everyone loves a good wedding !

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012

Watch the Season Three Trailer

httpv://youtu.be/Kvw7J26V68U

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