"Inside Downton Abbey Season Three," in which I sit down with Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, executive producer Gareth Neame, and members of the show’s sprawling cast—including Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, and Brendan Coyle—to discuss what’s coming up on Season 3 (which launches on Sunday in the U.K. and January in the U.S.), including star-crossed romances, financial drama, the arrival of Shirley MacLaine, and much more. (Read Part 1 of this interview, in which Fellowes & Co. discuss the show’s 16 Emmy nominations and Season 2, here.)
Downton Abbey viewers are anxiously awaiting Season 3 of the addictive British costume drama—which arrives on U.K. television on Sunday (although not until Jan. 6 in the U.S., when it returns to PBS’ Masterpiece)—searching for televised methadone to tide them over until Downton Abbey’s third season kicks off.
One problem: there isn’t really another show like Downton Abbey on television. Between the exquisite costumes and lavish sets (including real-life Highclere Castle), the now-familiar characters and turbulent plots, Downton Abbey has captured the imagination of a broad range of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Season 3 of Downton Abbey will unfold over roughly two years, but unlike in previous years, Season 3 won’t be structured around historical events like the sinking of the Titanic, the start of World War I, or the Armistice.
“It’s not bookended in that way,” creator Julian Fellowes told The Daily Beast. “One of the reasons for starting with the Titanic is that it’s a piece of shorthand. If you start something with the Titanic going down, everyone in the world knows we’re just before the First World War. It’s symbolic, and you don’t have to waste any scenes on exactly where you are in history. But we don’t need that anymore. It’s really about the personal journeys, in a way, of the characters.”
Those journeys will reflect how the war changed the residents of Downton Abbey, both upstairs and below stairs, in palpable ways, picking up the action shortly after Matthew (Dan Stevens) proposed to Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery).
“We go back about three months later,” Fellowes said. “We’ve lost no time at all. They’re still trying to decide how much of their life will survive, how much will go back to normal, and how much has been changed forever. Within the family, there has been certain change. Sybil is married to an Irish rebel chauffeur and living in Dublin, and that’s never going to go back to the way it was.”
“Cora is, in a way, less afraid of change than Robert,” he continued. “She’s come from a different tradition. Her father was an American self-made businessman. She’s not an American aristocrat, so she has a totally different feeling about all this ... As far as she’s concerned, she doesn’t care if things are going to have to change. You’ve got all those different tensions because the security of the pre-war world has gone.”
According to Hugh Bonneville, the mood has changed in the third season, following both the war and the Spanish flu, both of which claimed the lives of some of the show’s characters.
“It’s still a period of mourning,” Bonneville said. “There’s a sense of Downton re-finding its feet and perhaps trying to keep the focus back on the family and keeping the outside world at bay. They’re trying to re-bond as a family, both upstairs and down.” [MUCH MORE TO COME...]
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