Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: Downton Abbey -- Series 3 (2012)

Another year, another series of Downton Abbey. Yes, three series have already passed with a fourth series being lined up for next year. The show has, since first being aired in 2010, become immensely popular with more and more people tuning into Masterpiece Theater to watch the lives of the Crawleys and their servants (though I still say that I liked Downton before it was cool). The first two series of Downton were successful, and now Series 3 looks at the lives of the residents of Downton as they come out of World War I. How did Series 3 do? Well, read on!

Note: This review will contain spoilers from Series 1 and Series 2 of Downton Abbey without warning. If you have not seen either series, you may not want to read this review at this time. I have reviewed both previous series if you would like to read the reviews.
DVD Box Art

With the end of World War I, the residents of Downton Abbey prepare for post-WWI life. With the impending marriage of Lady Mary to Matthew coming, Lord Grantham finds out that his investment in a Canadian railway company has failed, leaving Downton's future in jeopardy as they face bankruptcy. The expecting Lady Sybil arrives from Ireland with her new husband, former chauffeur Tom Branson, to attend Mary and Matthew's wedding; at Downton, Tom finds himself having difficulty fitting in with the Crawleys that he used to work for. Downstairs, Anna Bates continues to visit her husband, former valet to Lord Grantham John Bates, in prison as the two of them try to figure out a way to find him innocent.

The returning cast of Downton is filled with many familiar faces to period drama fans and there are also some new faces that are also familiar.

Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
Hugh BonnevilleRobert Crawley, Earl of GranthamDaniel Deronda as Mr. Grandcourt
Jim CarterCharles CarsonCranford as Captain Brown
Brendan CoyleJohn BatesLark Rise to Candleford as Robert Timmins
Michelle DockeryLady Mary CrawleyReturn to Cranford as Erminia Whyte
Joanne FroggattAnna BatesRobin Hood (2009) as Kate
Maggie SmithViolet, Dowager Countess of GranthamBecoming Jane as Lady Gresham
Dan StevensMatthew CrawleySense and Sensibility (2008) as Edward Ferrars
Penelope WiltonIsobel CrawleyWives and Daughters as Mrs. Hamley
Allen LeechTom BransonFrom Time to Time as Fred Boggis
Robert BathurstSir Anthony StrallenEmma (2009) as Mr. Weston
Samantha BondLady Rosamund PainswickEmma (1997) as Mrs. Weston
Kevin McNallyMr. BryantPoldark as Drake Carne
Christine MackieMrs. BryantThe Grand as Mrs. Harvey
Clare HigginsMrs. BartlettPride and Prejudice (1981) as Kitty Bennet

Matthew and Mary finally getting married (and Mary doesn't
have to change her last name!)
So, Mary and Matthew finally get married! After two years, they've finally gotten married! Since the first two series of the show were about whether or not Mary and Matthew were actually going to get married, the third series had to shift focus concerning Mary and Matthew. Even though they loved each other, there were still problems that they had to work through (which is most evident in the early episodes of this series); there were issues coming up before they got married, but they went through with the wedding and worked out their problems in the first few episodes that show them newly married. By the end of the series, you can tell that they want to work together and that they believe in what they are doing and that they really love each other.

Cora and Robert in mourning
I really didn't like Robert in this series. They changed him a lot from what he was in previous series. He went from being careful about Downton's future to being impulsive and reckless about it It seemed like in this series, he kept making really bad, stupid decisions that the Robert from Series 1 wouldn't have done. This is evident in the first episode where it is revealed that he invested all his money (and Cora's fortune) into a railroad company that went bankrupt. Would the Robert from Series 1 have done that? With the duty that he felt towards Downton and how he didn't want to take any money away from the estate since it would make Matthew a titled man without a fortune, would Series 1 Robert really have done that? But putting that aside, if it was a one time thing where he invested in a bad investment and learned from that mistake, okay: but he continues to want to invest in other bad investments (okay, he wouldn't have known that Charles Ponzi's scheme was a scam, but still I don't think he would have kept throwing more money into investments like that). Luckily by the end of the series, he realizes that he would have hurt Downton if he didn't change his approach to Downton's finances.

Mary, Martha Levinson, and Cora
This series also saw the introduction of Martha Levinson, Cora's mother, played by famous actress Shirley MacLaine. I would have expected more from her since everyone made such a big deal that she was going to be in Downton Abbey, but she was only in the first two episodes. For the amount of press that was about, you would have thought she would have been in more episodes. But anyways, what did I think of her? I didn't dislike her, but I was still all for the Dowager Countess. Martha Levinson was fun to watch, I'll admit, and she did have some pithy lines, but she is still no match for Violet.

Just one of the many prison scenes
I'll admit that I was all for Anna and Bates in Series 1. Then Series 2 came and the direction that plot was taking was so roundabout that I grew a bit tired of it (summary of Series 2: We can get married! No we can't... Oh wait, yes we can! Nope. Okay, now we can... really). By the time Series 3 came, the Anna/Bates subplot was so dragged out and so beaten into the ground that I almost didn't care if Bates got out of prison or not (okay, maybe I wanted him to get out, but only to get away from those prison scenes). I don't completely dislike their characters, but I hope I see less of them in the next series, Spoiler even with Bates out of prison End of Spoiler: I feel like I've seen enough of them and that the focus can move onto other characters.

New footmen Alfred Nugent (left) and Jimmy/James Kent (right)
The downstairs staff that has been at Downton since Series 1 continues to be thoroughly great (with exceptions *looks at Thomas and O'Brien*), but the newer staff... ehh, not so much. Replacing footman William (who died in Series 2 after being wounded in the war) and Thomas (who is now valet to Lord Grantham while Bates is in prison) is Alfred Nugent, Miss O'Brien nephew (who is a lot better than his aunt) and Jimmy Kent (who is irritating from the start). It seemed like the writers were trying to get the William/Thomas rivalry that was there in Series 1, but it just wasn't the same and wasn't as good. New kitchen maid, Ivy, also comes in; again, I'm not all that much fond of her either and I think that Daisy is better since she seems more serious. Somehow in the whole third series, Downton seemed to survive without a replacement maid for Anna (who became Lady Mary's ladies maid): in the last episode, new maid Edna enters the staff, but leaves by the end of the episode (which, good riddance, since I didn't like her too much). The writers may have to rely on the older staff members to keep everything together in the next series since the newer staff members weren't all that special.

Lady Rose MacClare, a relation of the Crawleys
Towards the end of the series, new character Lady Rose MacClare becomes a new regular cast member. From the two episodes she was in in this series, I'm not all that fond of her. Spoiler It seems like with Lady Sybil dying, the writers are trying to bring her back with a new, rebellious character, but I see Lady Rose as being a poor substitute for Lady Sybil. End of Spoiler But, I don't know, with her being added to the main cast list, maybe after I learn more about her, I may grow to like her.

Robert at Duneagle with the Flintshires
One of the things Downton succeeds in is its scenery, and this series did not disappoint. Downton continues to have great shots all around the estate and I may venture to say even more around the estate than previous series. Some scenes take place on the Downton farms that have been run down to illustrate what Matthew wants to do with the farms in order to modernize the way Downton is run. There are still shots of the nicer walks around Downton that were featured in previous series, but continue to showcase the grounds. We also get to see the Scottish highlands in the Christmas special when the Crawleys visit the Flintshire's home, Duneagle.

And who could forget the interior of Downton? The house itself hasn't changed all that much and much of the decorations and furniture remain the same (though it looked to me that Mary's bedroom changed wall color or something?) The downstairs setting also remains unchanged and looked almost as it did for the other two series.

The Crawley girls in their 20s fashions
The costuming still looked great, but I prefer the costumes from the earlier series (but then, I'm not much of a fan of 20s fashions). The costumes were early 1920s fashions, so skirt lines were still longer than the later 20s, but shorter than they were in Series 1. You may also notice that the waistline in the dresses is much lower (at the hip) than they were in Series 1, since the 1920s saw this change in women's fashions. While the costumes were still decorated, they were less decorated than the last two series.

Mary and Edith's wedding gowns. Who do you think
had the better wedding gown?
And, of course, in this series, we see wedding gowns! The two wedding gowns that we see are Lady Mary's and Lady Edith's Spoiler for her wedding to Sir Antony Strallen that abruptly ends. End of Spoiler The lines in the dresses are very 1920s: looser, waistline at the hip. As much as I like Mary's clothes throughout each series in Downton Abbey, Lady Edith's wedding dress was the better dress.

Probably the character with the most up to date costumes would be Lady Rose. Since Rose is young and wants to keep up with the latest fashions, it would make sense for her to have the edgy fashions of the 20s. I guess when you look at her clothes and see how some of the characters react to them, you can see the contrast between the older fashions and the newer, edgier fashions.

The music continues to be great! A lot of the songs use melodies from previous series, but adds something new to the songs to make the songs new. Most of the songs tend to be more serious with some occasional upbeat music.

Overall: 3.5/5
Don't get me wrong: I still love Downton... But there were too many twists and turns this series that did very little for the plot. The plot does still continue to be interesting and kept my attention throughout the series and the scenery, costumes, and music meet most expectations, but I don't think Downton will ever be as good as it was in Series 1 or even in Series 2. I would feel better about this series if it wasn't for the plot decisions made in the last episode; the series could have ended with the second to last episode and I would have been satisfied, but after seeing the last episode, I would be surprised if Downton lasts past Series 4. I'll stay with it to the end, but I'm not especially excited about Series 4.

Downton Abbey: Series 3 is pretty much TV-PG with occasional PG-13 material. Unfortunately, a scene that I warn about in Series 1 reappears this series (in Episode 8), and, while it isn't graphic, is still talked about at length. There are also some other scenes that are suggestive and some suggestive dialogue and conversation.

Downton Abbey: Series 3 is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. There are nine episodes that are either 50 minutes long or 65 minutes.

Old-Fashioned Charm
This review is apart of the Period Drama Challenge at Old-Fashioned Charm! Come join the fun!


Okay, now that you all have been adequately warned and that if you're reading this section, you've either seen Series 3 or don't care about spoilers, I'll get into the major spoilers.

One of my problems with this series was that two main characters, not only left the series, but were killed off so that there was no hope of their return...ever. First to go was Lady Sybil after giving birth to her daughter (also named Sybil). I felt so bad! I mean, Sybil was the daughter that everyone liked and that was clearly the nicest of the three Crawley girls. But the straw that broke the camel's back was the death of Matthew... and right at the end of the Christmas special. At this point, I would be surprised if Downton lasted past Series 4 (which has already been confirmed). In my opinion, the show could have survived without Sybil (as much as she was a likable character, she was becoming less and less of an important character that she could be written out without too much trouble), but I don't think the show can/will survive without Matthew. Him and Mary were such a central point to the plot that without them, I'm not sure the story will have much more of a leg to stand on. Let's face it, the Matthew/Mary storyline is probably the longest surviving plot in Downton: Anna/Bates was pretty much dragged out to the point where everyone got sick of it; Cora/Robert's arguments and problems only serve to upset the audience. I wish that Matthew could have been written out better instead of being killed off after his son was born. Couldn't they just send him away on business and not kill him off? I mean, a lot of couples are apart because of business and still have successful marriages where they really love each other. But still, I still hope for Matthew to magically come back, but it probably wouldn't happen (but I've come up with a couple of ways to bring him back!).



    Matthew's death was horribly sad yet from a dramatic POV, it was bold and well, in a sense admirable. Fellowes said immediately that he wouldn't re-cast Dan Stevens (the actor chose to leave) and honestly, had that been done, fans would have been outraged at this also. Either way, there would have bee an upset fan base. I feel like neither Mary nor Matthew would change anything - they were each other's half. Because she is so kind, I may miss Sybil more. :/ End SPOILERS

    Like you, I don't see the series lasting beyond a fourth BUT I'm excited about all that's coming. Fellowes may make this all up to us, who knows. :)

  2. Nice review! =)

    Good point about Robert and his money management! I was mostly annoyed that he didn't want to let Matthew implement his ideas about managing the estate. Isn't contributing to the estate what Matthew was SUPPOSED to be doing?! It would eventually be Matthew's anyway!

    They probably did choose the best way to deal with Dan Stevens leaving, but it's ruined the show for me.

    I don't think it will last past the 4th season either. They lost this viewer! ;)

    I don't know, I still feel like they could have handled Dan Stevens departure a little better. I would have preferred if they sent Matthew away on business in case he wanted to make an appearance in a couple of episodes (or, if the worst happened and Dan Stevens's plans didn't work out for him and he wanted to come back for a future series of Downton). But killing Matthew off just seems so final that even if they wanted to bring him back, it would be very difficult/nearly impossible. I almost wished Series 3 didn't happen or that Series 3 was the final series leaving Mary and Matthew to live happily ever after with their new son/heir.

    1. Completely understand and sympathize with your thoughts, Elizabeth.

  4. Having seen both, I think Edith's was the prettiest. The trim on it was beautiful.


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