Unless you’ve got friends or family overseas who have spoiled it for you, or you’ve ‘cheated’ and checked out the storylines, the start of series 3 of Downton Abbey on Sunday night is much anticipated. Here's a recap of where things were up to in case you’ve forgotten over the long break.
Robert, Earl of Grantham
Robert's the lord of the manor, so to speak and head of the Crawley family. Old world establishment with 'breeding', a very grand and beautiful mansion - Downton Abbey - and a title. He is married to the wealthy American, Cora, and they have three daughters: Mary, Edith and Sybil. He's a good man, but a also a product of his environment.
In series 2, after he broke off a putative affair with one of the maids, Robert finally learned the truth about Mary, who was caught in series 1 in a compromising position with a handsome and dashing Turkish guest, Kemal Parnuk, who died in her bed. In the meantime, Mary has been engaged to Richard (see below) but being a good dad, he told Mary not to marry Richard just to escape scandal.
Robert also testified at the trial of his valet, Bates, who was charged with the murder of his first wife, but was forced to share evidence about Bates which wasn't helpful to his cause - such as the fact that Bates once said he wished his wife was dead.
Robert also originally objected to the marriage of his youngest daughter, Sybil, to their former chauffeur, but he seems to be slowly coming around to the idea.
Robert’s rich American wife and mother of Mary, Edith and Sybil.
She’s conservative, ambitious for her eldest daughter in particular; is prepared to turn a blind eye when she needs to especially to protect her family; sometimes more British than the British but occasionally she shows some ‘new world’ chutzpah. Cora enjoys her place as lady of the manor, knows precisely what her wealth brings to the relationship and has occasional bouts of industry, kindness and compassion.
Mary is the eldest daughter of Robert and Cora.
Mary broke off her engagement with newspaper owner Richard Carlisle – who appears to be modelled on an early version of Rupert Murdoch - with whom she did not really get along but endured for the sake of her own and her family’s reputation. It would have been a marriage of convenience in every sense: she had a ‘name’ and pedigree and he had loads of money and is clearly going to make much more over the next century.
But despite being engaged to Richard, and having gone to bed with Kemal, Mary is really in love with her (distant) cousin, Matthew, who had asked her to marry him aeons ago when it seemed like he wasn’t going to inherit the family ‘seat’. At that time, Mary didn’t see an advantage in the union. As soon as she realised he was going to inherit, she amazingly fell in love with him again, and they have had an on again-off again unrequited love which has endured World War I and beyond. Fortunately, the writer of the series (Julian Fellowes) realised he couldn’t spin this out any longer and Matthew proposed to her after she broke off the engagement from Richard and confessed that she had had her way years before with Kemal.
Mary is not an endearing character: her biggest concern in life has been who she would marry; she’s very spoilt; and when her sisters turned to driving and nursing during World War I, Mary was still focussed on Mary. But you can expect Mary's and Matthew's anticipated wedding to be a ratings winner!
After the end of World War I, number two Crawley daughter, Edith, reunited with Sir Anthony Strallan, a family acquaintance. The two had embarked on the beginnings of a romance before the war, but it was cut short when Mary's machinations got in the way, and the two hadn't seen each other since. Mind you, Mary’s machinations against her sister were in response to Edith being the tell-tale regarding Kemal – so the two are as bad as each other.
Edith seemed eager to try with Sir Anthony again. Unfortunately, Edith's hopes were dashed when Sir Anthony calls things off due to concerns over his paralysed right arm, fearing that any wife of his would be nursing him constantly.
What will Edith do next? She suffers from middle child syndrome: not as important as Mary, not as beloved as Sybil. She's keen to find a purpose.
The third and youngest Crawley daughter showed enough get-up-and-go to train as a nurse during World War I, having to start from scratch with something as basic as boiling water.
After the war, she caused a scandal when she announced her wish to marry the family's chauffeur, Tom Branson, an Irishman with Irish revolutionary sympathies. Despite her family's initial misgivings, Sybil and Tom married, and her mother, Cora, told Robert that Sybil is pregnant towards the end of series 2.
In case you’re a fan of Yeats, Sybil is no Maud Gonne, but she’s spirited, pretty, independent and not vacuous and self-centred as her eldest sister, Mary, has been so far.
Bates, Robert's valet, was accused of the murder of his first wife and originally found guilty and sentenced to death. He has been presented so far as one of the more 'normal', kinder, gentler, better people in the series - other than his relationship with his first wife.
The sentence was later changed to life in prison, and his new wife, Anna, who works at Downton as a housemaid, told him it would be her life’s work to prove his innocence.
By the way, Anna may be one of the few truly good and selfless characters in Downton Abbey. She is the complete opposite to Thomas, the footman, who took an instant dislike - bordering on hatred - to Bates and seems to be a truly nasty piece of work in every respect.
Violet, Dowager Countess
Robert’s mum, and Mary’s, Edith’s and Sybil’s very unmaternal-like grandmother. She resents the fact that Robert needed to marry the 'new world' Cora to bring some much-needed cash into the family, but is also happy to conspire with Cora when it suits them both.
Violet is the star of the show, as played by Maggie Smith, for her witty one-liners and every-so-snobbish put-downs. There is not a curl of the lip, a turn of phrase, or gleam in the eye which is not a superb bit of character acting.
It is worth watching the show for Violet alone. In the new series, she is pitted against Cora’s mother, the equally formidable Martha Levinson from the east coast of America, played by Shirley Maclaine.
Downton Abbey Series 3 starts on Sunday night at 8.30pm on Seven.