Everyone’s favorite sudsy British period drama is back and pulling all the punches. Weddings, births, deaths, legal battles, and sexual harassment abound in the third season of Downton Abbey. If, for whatever reason, you still have not started watching this show, grab the first two seasons before diving into this Blu-ray release, because this show is not going away any time soon (and it’s definitely worth all the buzz).
The season kicks off with the much-anticipated wedding of Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens)—one of biggest on-again, off-again couples in pop culture right now. Of course, even with the big event fully under way, the couple still has a few misgivings. More drama occurs when Cora Crawley’s (Elizabeth McGovern) mother arrives for the festivities. Martha Levinson is played by Shirley MacLaine who goes head-to-head with Maggie Smith’s formidable Dowager Countess.
Lady Mary isn’t the only Crawley daughter with an impending marriage in the works. Unlucky-in-love (and life) Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael) finds herself betrothed to the injured (and aging) Sir Anthony Strallan (Robert Bathurst), despite the protestations from her family members—the Dowager Countess being, of course, one of the most vocal. Lady Edith has to land a husband or face dining alone at the breakfast table, since married women have the privilege of breakfasting in bed.
The other Crawley daughter, Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), has her own drama to deal with thanks to her pregnancy. And the Irish Civil War has her husband, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) joining her at Downton to avoid trouble. But they may not be able to stay at Downton for long, because the Crawley fortune and Downton’s future are in jeopardy. Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) has invested the fortune in a failed business venture and faces bankruptcy—a scandal far greater than romantic entanglements.
Of course, the downstairs servants are facing their own problems. The cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) discovers she may have cancer. Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is putting the moves on the sexy new servant (Ed Speleers) when he’s not busy plotting against his favorite frenemy O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran). And Anna (Joanne Froggatt) continues to look for proof of Bates’ (Brendan Coyle) innocence. His prison drama proves to be the most boring of the storylines despite his valiant conniving to survive the plotting of guards and fellow prisoners.
Most of this drama is packed into the first half of the season, which while entertaining does make the second half of the season somewhat anticlimactic. And although the season finale is underwhelming (yet not unsatisfactory), the second annual Christmas Special (a title that refers to the time at which it airs, not the period at which it occurs) ends with a knockout punch that has everyone atwitter. Everyone in England, that is.
The full season has already aired across the pond; hence it’s timely Blu-ray release—despite only half the season having aired in the States. While the delayed airing of the season is common for British shows that air over here, such an early release of the season could be problematic for the PBS ratings. Why bother waiting for the last few episodes to air when you can just watch the rest of the season on DVD/Blu-ray? And the high levels of spoilerage that must be prevented thanks to the delayed airings of the episodes cause their own issues. With a show this popular, would it not be more beneficiary to air the show simultaneously in both countries? The drama Hunted aired on both BBC One and Cinemax this last fall, with only a two-week delay between countries, proving that such simultaneous airings is not an unheard of concept.
Regardless of how any airing issues are resolved; Downton Abbey is one of those rare shows that is both exceedingly popular and an actually great series. The superb acting (the cast just won a SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series); the skilled writing; and the overall great execution make this one of the few must-see shows on television.
The “Behind the Drama” featurette revisits the past two seasons of Downton Abbey through behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. “Downton in 1920” explores how the time period affected the dress and attitudes of the season. Another featurette shows the how the cast reacted to Shirley Maclaine at Downton and what it was like for her to join the cast for a few episodes. “The Men of Downton” featurette delves into how the male characters handle post-war life and the drama involving the ladies on the show. The other featurettes provide behind-the-scene footage of the big events of the season including the weddings of both Mary and Edith, the season finale cricket match, and the Christmas Special “Journey to the Highlands.”
"Downton Abbey: Season 3" is on sale January 29, 2013 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Andy Goddard, Brian Percival, David Evans, Jeremy Webb. Written by Julian Fellowes. Starring Allen Leech, Amy Nuttall, Brendan Coyle, Dan Stevens, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jim Carter, Joanne Froggatt, Kevin Doyle, Laura Carmichael, Lesley Nicol, Maggie Smith, Matt Milne, Michelle Dockery, Penelope Wilton, Phyllis Logan, Rob James Colliers, Siobhan Finneran, Sophie Mcshera.