Downton Abbey came bursting back onto screen for Series 3, and already the family, having overcome war and class battles, faced a fresh problem.
It all started so well, with the bunting being hung for the glamorous society wedding of Mary and Matthew, and the only real problem the impending arrival of chauffeur/revolutionary/in-law Branson – “a person of fascination for the county”. Carson and Co's fears were confirmed, as the dinner talk turned to politics, especially after Branson had been sneaked “some horrible pill” - the mind boggles! – but the Irish revolutionary came more and more into his own as the episode unfolded, and looks to be a strong presence this series.
Tom Branson (Allen Leech) has got to get used to calling his in-laws by... their names
Mary and Matthew had the potential to be a bit sugarly boring without any love-triangle Lavinia in the way, so they spiced things up with enough flirty chat to make a viewer blush, and a nice bit of pre-wedding conflict over yet another surprise fortune for Matthew – he’s lucky, that one, never seems to walk out of his front door without banging into a bag of surprise bequeathed booty, although something tells me there’ll be news from a certain far-off tea plantation before too long… hopefully, not in bandages this time.
Downstairs, Carson was having kittens in the pantry, over Branson calling his new sister-in-law Mary – the cheek of the man! – and the new footman’s ‘hotel ways’, while Anna turned steely-chinned Miss Marple in her efforts to find justice for her husband. Mr Bates didn’t have much to do this episode, except to keep smiling gratefully and falling out with his cell-mate, so I hope her work’s rewarded soon.
How is this pair going to stay interesting?
Trickling along in this first episode was Lord Grantham’s ill-concealed worry – nobody does a furrowed brow like Hugh Bonneville – over the family’s dwindling fortune, until lovely Cora told him what surely any financial adviser would advise: have a massive blow-out family wedding and never mind the silver. Invite everyone. And make that another crate of champagne, please. Delightfully decadent, like any self-respecting aristo-paupers in waiting.
But everything had to stop for another swishing arrival on the Downton forecourt. This was the much-heralded Martha Levinson, Cora’s mother, aka Shirley MacLaine with a wonderful set wave, unsettling support for Branson and a turn of phrase to rival the Dowager for pithy.
There ain't nothing like a Dame...
In case you missed the loud bell on it, Martha is here to represent the modern way of the world, set to rattle Downton Abbey to its timbers, leaving at least one interested party defiantly unimpressed with the American…
“Whenever I’m with her, I’m reminded of the virtues of the English,” remarked the Dowager over the kedgeree.
“Isn’t she American?”
Something tells me, even if there is a quake on the cobbles, one pillar at least will be left standing…