By LYNN ELBER
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — A “Downton Abbey” sneak peek at season three revealed that fireworks will fly between matriarchs played by Maggie Smith and newcomer Shirley MacLaine.
The aristocratic Crawley family endures a financial crisis. And, despite the engagement of Matthew and Mary at the end of last season, all is not well – gasp! – with the pair played by Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery.
PBS showed brief clips from next season to the Television Critics Association on Saturday before a panel discussion with cast members and producers of the international hit. They took a break from taping in London to meet reporters in Beverly Hills.
Their visit followed a strong showing by “Downton Abbey” in Thursday’s Emmy nominations with 16 bids, including best drama series.
In one scene shared by PBS, Hugh Bonneville’s Robert Crawley, also known as Lord Grantham, is shown confessing to his wealthy American wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) about an investment gone wrong.
“Has some of my fortune been lost?” she asks.
“Almost all,” he replies, tearfully.
Matthew and Mary, who traveled a rocky road to what looked like blissful marriage, are shown in an angry confrontation in which she accuses him of disloyalty to the family.
Tart dialogue involving MacLaine’s Laura and Smith’s Violet, the dowager countess, also looks to be a hallmark of season three. It begins airing in September in the U.K. and next January on PBS.
“When I’m with her, I’m reminded of the virtues of the English,” Violet says of Laura.
“But isn’t she American?” asks a puzzled Matthew.
“Exactly,” Violet replies.
Series creator Julian Fellowes said the next season will encompass about two years at the start of the 1920s. Among the plot points to be resolved: What happens to John Bates, Lord Grantham’s valet who was convicted last season of murdering his wife and barely escaped the gallows.
Bonneville made his support for his loyal servant clear. At the panel’s conclusion, the actor jumped up, turned his back to the room while opening his jacket and dress shirt, and then wheeled around to reveal the T-shirt he wore underneath: “Free Bates,” it read.
“T-shirts are available in the foyer,” Brendan Coyle, who plays Bates, chimed in dryly.
MacLaine also proved a showstopper. The actress, who has said she believes in reincarnation, was asked if she and Smith had met before.
“Well, we were lovers in another life,” she said, smiling. Then she shared Smith’s recollection of their meeting some 40 years ago backstage at the Oscars, near a catering table, after MacLaine failed to take home a trophy.
“Do you know what you did, dear?” Smith reminded her. “You tucked right into that chocolate cake and said, `(Expletive), I don’t care if I’m thin ever again.'”
Also on hand for the panel were Dockery, McGovern, Joanne Froggatt and executive producers Gareth Neame and Rebecca Eaton. Stevens was among the cast members kept in London by filming, which continues through August.
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