Kirsty Capes reviews the first episode of Downton Abbey season 3...
Things are getting switched up this series with the introduction of a few new characters. First up is Alfred, Mrs O'Brien's nephew and the new footman. Tom's already got a grudge against him because he basically got the job from Mrs O'Brien sucking up to Cora, while Tom has been slaving away for years to try and get the same position. Daisy has already taken a shine to Alfred, but being so unlucky in love that she is, Alfred obviously has his sights set on someone else.
Episode one also sees the first brief appearance of Cora's mother, Martha, who has travelled from the US for Mary and Matthew's impending nuptials. Of course, played by Shirley MacLaine, Martha is a larger-than-life eccentric character, modern compared to the aristocratic English family who are set in their ways.
As always, each Downton episode manages to cover around a month's worth of action over about an hour. Upstairs, we see the preparation for Mary's wedding in full swing. Of course, like any show, you can't have a wedding without a bit of drama. This comes in the form of Robert discovering he has lost the majority of Cora's money in a bad investment. He risks losing Downton, and doesn't want to tell the others. This means tension rises for Robert as Mary spends more and more on her extravagant wedding and Cora hires servants here there and everywhere, until finally Robert has to tell them about the money situation. This shows the beginnings of a tension between Robert and Cora that lasts for the rest of the series, culminating in the loss of a beloved character and the near-destruction of the family. Mary tries to help by enlisting Martha's help and inviting her to a dinner party where she hopes to coax some money from the rich countess. The dinner party is an absolute disaster, not helped by newbie Alfred who demonstrates exactly how little experience he actually has as a footman; but Martha saves the day with an indoor picnic-style buffet (good golly! But that's not how the English do it!) but refuses to help the family save Downton.
Matthew discovers that his ex-fiancée Lavinia's father has died, possibly leaving a large sum of money to Matthew. Mary is delighted - this means that Downton is saved. But Matthew struggles with the morality of taking his late fiancée's money to bail out his new fiancée and her family. The argument culminates at the altar where Matthew wonders if Mary will even turn up - but she does and finally after two series of flirting and romantic tension we see these two lovebirds married off and happy. About time, too. Another happier moment is the return of Sybil and new hubby Branson to the fold, although the family have to learn to understand Branson's behaviour and decorum as a working-class Irishman. More than one member of the family struggle with accepting him into the Upstairs community.
Meanwhile, downstairs Mrs Hughes might have cancer. In typical Mrs Hughes fashion, she only tells Mrs Patmore and doesn't want any fuss, meaning while she's flagging at her duties Carson has no idea what's going on and is getting frustrated with her. Anna visits Mr Bates in prison, still finding different pieces of evidence that might lead to his eventual release. This time, she's found Vera's diary, and hopes that contacting some of the names and acquaintances from it might get her closer to finding concrete evidence for Bates' innocence.
The roaring twenties are in full swing and the huge gap between the American and English lifestyle is evident in this episode as the American characters are introduced. It is very clear that time is almost running out for Downton as the world around it begins to change and modernise. It's up to the family to find a solution to keep their home, which I'm sure is going to be a central theme this season.