3 Things to know about ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 3

"Downton Abbey" Season 3 premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on PBS.

After World War I, England enters a period of recovery (not without drama)

“The war brought a tremendous disruption to England and took many, many families of all sorts,” says “Downton” creator Julian Fellowes, whose characters were not immune to the casualties of war in Season 2. Historically, he explains, “there were those few years when people were trying to decide was the world going to be the same as it was before, had it changed completely, was the future going to be completely different? And that’s really the kind of theme of the series.”

The fate of Downton Abbey itself is in question

A financial crisis at the hands of Robert, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) potentially spells the end of his great house, his family’s standing and servants’ livelihoods. “[After the war] it was a toss-up in many [estate-owning] families as to whether or not it was worth the struggle to go on,” Fellowes says.

As the upstairs/downstairs way of life for this entitled British clan and their employees becomes more difficult to maintain, the American Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), will prove to be the most adept in adjusting to change.

“As things start to change and the plates are shifting and we are reminded what Cora’s come from, Cora is less afraid of the future than Robert is,” Fellowes says. “And now you’ll start to see more and more of that because she’s less afraid of expressing that. She’s dismissed when [her daughter] Mary says, ‘You’re American, Mother. You don’t understand these things’ and so on. And now that’s all changing because if anyone understands the world that’s coming, it’s Cora.”

Cora’s mother is a force to be reckoned with

The newest resident of Downton Abbey is Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson, arriving from Long Island for the wedding of her granddaughter, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and long-lost Downton heir, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens). She has the money to save the estate, but American sensibilities that clash with the old-school Crawley clan. Shirley MacLaine brings a steely wit to the role of Martha, which doesn’t seem like such a stretch for the acclaimed actress.

“It was an extraordinary experience for me also in stamina and in work ethic, because we were shooting outside in the rain and in the wind with our formal gear on and nobody seemed to notice,” MacLaine says of her time on the series. So I quickly just stepped right in there and acted like I didn’t notice either. I had a fabulous time. I will never forget it. And let’s see what happens.”

A few more notes about the new season

Mary and Matthew plan a wedding but that doesn’t mean they’ll live happily ever after.

We will see beloved valet Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) negotiate life in prison, but that doesn’t mean he or his wife, housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), have given up hope of his freedom.

Conniving maid O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) brings in a new footman, her nephew, Alfred (Matt Milne).


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