When “Downton Abbey” returns for its third season as part of PBS’ “Masterpiece” on Sundy, January 6, the Great War is over and the long-awaited engagement of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens) is on. But all is not as it should be — even as the guests begin arriving for the wedding, including Countess Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern) mother (Shirley MacLaine), who tries to shake things up among the staid Brits.
And even as the wedding day draws near, Matthew and Mary’s relationship is put to the test, so much so that it isn’t clear if they will make it to the altar. “The 1920s were a great era of profit and loss, so I think it is safe to say that money figures prominently in Season 3,” teases “Masterpiece” executive producer Rebecca Eaton.
“Money is always on the mind of the Crawley family, but it gets dangerous in Series [season] 3. The war is over and yet in many ways times are just as hard for the Crawley family.”
So what lies ahead? In addition to Eaton, XfinityTV.com exclusively spoke with Rob James-Collier, who plays Thomas, and Joanne Froggatt, who plays Anna, to get the inside scoop. Here are five things they reveal about the upcoming season:
No. 1: Lady Mary: and Matthew Lady Mary is changing with the times and while she may not be quite the modern ’20s woman that Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is, she takes action this season, trying her best to save Downton Abbey. She is also more certain about what she needs from a husband, so she wants Matthew to prove his love for not just her, but her family, before they take their vows. “She is growing up,” Eaton says. “She was in a way a rebellious teenager. She is a very smart young lady but her choices were very limited in 1912. She didn’t want to just become a wife and mother, but what were the choices? One sister tried to learn to drive; her other sister became a nurse. As the oldest of them, she was probably the most restless. Now it is a good 10 years later. She has had a lover die in her bed. She has had ups and downs with both Matthew and Sir Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen), the newspaper man who she almost had to marry to keep the family name clear, so she has been through a lot. Now, it looks as if she might live happily ever after — but you never know. There is the question of Matthew’s commitment to the family when they run into financial difficulties.”
Watch a Promo for Season 3 of “Downton Abbey”:
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No. 2: Shirley MacLaine joins the cast as Cora’s mother: When the time came to cast Cora’s American mother, both Carnival, who produces “Downton Abbey” in England” and “Masterpiece,” their American partner, put together a list of names. Both lists had Shirley MacLaine at the top. “I think it was because she would offer such a good counterpunch to Maggie Smith [the Dowager Countess],” Eaton says. “You could imagine the two of them because of their backgrounds as actresses having fun with those scenes. They were going to go toe-to-toe.”
No. 3: Anna and Mr. Bates: At the end of Season 2, Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) is convicted of poisoning his wife and causing her death. Through the entreaties of the Earl [Hugh Bonneville], his sentence is commuted to life in prison instead of death by hanging. But that leaves Anna all on her own back at “Downton Abbey” and only able to visit her husband once in a while. “Anna starts Season 3 a lot more positive because Mr. Bates has been reprieved from a death sentence at least,” Froggatt says. “She has something to work toward now. She has some hope. After the possibility of her whole world crashing down around her, now with the reprieve, her goal is to free her man. She is trying to find any crack in the evidence that will get him out of prison. You will see the struggles they both go through being away from each other. You will also see a darker side to Mr. Bates in Season 3 with what he is going through in prison.”
No. 4: Thomas and Miss O’Brien go from allies to enemies: When a position opens up at “Downton Abbey,” Miss O’Brien [Siobhan Finneran] decides her nephew would be perfect for the post and she convinces her ladyship he should have the job, without anyone consulting Mr. Carson [Jim Carter] on the matter. When the young man shows up, it doesn’t sit well with Thomas and the games begin and jobs are on the line. “They have always been allies and had a real bond and plotted together, so it is only recently that they turned on each other because her nephew has come in and Thomas is jealous of the attention he is getting — not just from Miss O’Brien but from Mr. Carson. I think Thomas is envious that this young lad is getting all the attention and help in the workplace that Thomas never got, so he starts being nasty toward Alfred [Matt Milne], which is the worst thing you can do because Miss O’Brien will come for you. That is when it turns.”
No. 5: The Irish Rebellion becomes a part of the story: Lady Sybil [Jessica Brown Findlay] is happily married to Tom Branson [Allen Leech], living in Ireland and expecting her first child. And while she knows her husband is a political hothead, she doesn’t know the full extent of his actions. But more is revealed when Sybil and Tom make their way to Downton Abbey for the wedding of Mary and Matthew. “As soon as you have Tom Branson as a character — he is an angry Irishman — as soon as you have him in it, you can foresee what is going to happen with the Finians, and that is a powder keg,” Eaton says. Then she adds, “The biggest deal, though, is having Tom Branson, the chauffeur, come up to sit at the dinner table.”
Season 3 of “Downton Abbey” premieres Sunday, January 6 at 9/8c on PBS.