On-Air Highlights

'Downton Abbey' returns with guest star Shirley MacLaine

Written by witf | Jan 3, 2013 2:46 PM
Downton Abbey season 3

Brendan Coyle as John Bates | Credit : © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The Great War is over and the long-awaited engagement of Lady Mary and Matthew is on, but all is not tranquil at Downton Abbey as wrenching social changes, romantic intrigues, and personal crises grip the majestic English country estate for a third thrilling season. The all-star cast, including Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess of Grantham, returns and welcomes guest star Academy Award®-winner Shirley MacLaine.

Downton Abbey Season 3 airs over seven Sundays beginning with a two-hour premiere on January 6 and concluding with a ninety-minute finale on February 17. The series' total running time is 9 1/2 hours.

Written and created by Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey Season 3 is a Carnival Films and Masterpiece coproduction. Seasons 1 & 2 have together won nine Primetime Emmy® Awards and a Golden Globe® for Best Mini-Series.

Downton Abbey season 3

Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley and Robert Bathurst as Sir Anthony Strallan | Credit : © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Executive Producer Gareth Neame remarks, "What a rollercoaster it has been to be part of this truly global phenomenon. We couldn’t be more thrilled by the way American critics and audiences have taken Downton to their hearts and I’m so excited to be showing them season 3."

The press loved the second season, with USA Today marveling, “Lightning can strike twice.” The Hollywood Reporter called the series “one of the great melodramas of the modern television age.” And The Los Angeles Times styled it “big, beautifully acted, and romantic.”

Viewers were no less passionate, with 17.1 million tuning in across the seven episodes, making Downton Abbey, Season 2 the most-watched MASTERPIECE series on record. It was also the most talked-about. “What sets Downton Abbey apart,” wrote Reuters, “is the buzz the show is creating on new social media websites like Twitter and Facebook.”

And with today’s multitude of viewing options, a younger audience is being seduced by Downton Abbey’s sumptuously spread-out plot, notes MASTERPIECE Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton.

Downton Abbey season 3

Siobhan Finneran as Miss O'Brien | Credit : © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

“In the excellence of its writing, acting, and production, Downton Abbey arrives at a perfect time,” says Eaton. “Long-form episodic drama is the ideal fit for the way people watch television today. With time-shifting, DVDs, and streaming, viewers have rediscovered the joys of luxuriating in a sweeping story.”

“MASTERPIECE has been committed to superb long-form drama since the beginning,” she adds. “We've never lost our audience, and now we're attracting new and younger viewers, too.”

The returning cast includes Hugh Bonneville, Dame Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Penelope Wilton, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle and a host of others, joined by Shirley MacLaine (Oscar® for Best Actress, Terms of Endearment), who plays Martha Levinson, the very American mother of Cora, Countess of Grantham (McGovern).

Years earlier, Cora rescued Downton Abbey with her New World riches by marrying Robert, Earl of Grantham (Bonneville). Now, New World and Old World are about to clash as Cora’s mother locks horns with Robert’s redoubtable mother, Lady Violet, played by Maggie Smith.

Downton Abbey season 3

Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson | Credit : © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Last season closed with the reluctant heir to Downton, Matthew Crawley (Stevens), recovered from his war wounds and ready to tie the knot with the eldest of Lord and Lady Grantham’s daughters, Lady Mary (Dockery). Meanwhile, Mary’s youngest sister, Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay), has eloped to Ireland with the political-minded chauffeur, Branson (Allen Leech), and is expecting a child.

A tantalizing glimpse ahead: Lovebird servants Anna (Froggatt) and Bates (Coyle) face new ordeals in their star-crossed marriage. Downton’s impeccable butler, Carson (Carter), breaks in a new footman, who happens to be the nephew of the scheming lady’s maid O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran). Following Matthew and Mary’s engagement, Robert sticks to his duty to maintain Downton more firmly than ever—even as other great houses are crippled psychologically and financially in the wake of World War I.

In this changing landscape nothing is assured, and could it be that even the war-weary Crawleys must fight a new battle to safeguard their beloved Downton?

Watch a preview below.

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