"Collectively, we are starting to feel it's our best yet, so it's great, we're very happy about it," Brendan Coyle, the warm, but troubled, Mr Bates, reveals at a special preview screening of the highly-anticipated Downton Abbey Christmas special. .
The two-hour televisual treat, scheduled for 9pm on Christmas day, sees the various storylines of Series Two come to a head in an almighty festive special, oozing with the perfect blend of suspense, angst, sorrow, frivolity and happiness to deserve a primetime Christmas showing.
Julian Fellowes has successfully brought together all of our favourite aspects of Downton: a life-threatening battle in the courts for Anna and Bates, twisted Thomas's behaviour reaching an all time low and Lady Mary, Matthew and Carlisle's love triangle arriving at a sensational climax.
It's as if Fellowes finally put down his mischievous pen and embraced the festive spirit inside the stately grandeur of the Granthams' family home.
Coyle, who has become an unlikely heartthrob because of the series, also believes Downton deserves to be the highlight of ITV's Christmas day special schedule. He continues: "It's a sign of the success of the show. I think we deliver and are proud of this episode."
Downton Abbey is to go head to head with just the type of melodrama Stevens refers to on Christmas day, when Downton pitches its graceful etiquette next to BBC One's EastEnders, banded with its traditional festive slanging matches, wailing and death.
What will win out - the old soap set in the current day? Or the relatively new drama set in the past? Downton's director Brian Percival insists it's not a battle, telling us: "We just set out to make the best programme that we can and something we are all proud of. We didn't suspect any of the success this show had, we didn't set out to beat anybody, if you make television to do that it's a kiss of death."
Coyle agrees: "As a viewer if you want to watch one or the other or both, you will." This self-restraint from the Downton team is just as we'd expect, but we can't help thinking they'll all be cheering their success over champers come the New Year.
The third series of Downton, consisting of eight episodes, is due to start filming on February 13th next year and producer Liz Trubridge also confessed that a festive special for 2012 is already in the pipeline - perhaps it's time for a new Christmas tradition?
SLIDESHOW: A sneak peek at the Downton Christmas special...
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