Distributor: Seven Network
Release Date: Sundays, 8:30 PM
What began as a questionable fit for an Australian commercial channel – a lavish period production set in class-conscious England – has developed into a mainstay of Seven’s popularity. Downton Abbey returns for its third season on the network and this year every drama is driven by a question of pride.
Season two ended with estranged lovers Mary and Matthew (Lord Grantham’s eldest daughter and his legal heir) finally agreeing to marry. With their happy union Downton Abbey was saved from financial ruin! … at least until the end of episode one. It appears the luckless Lord invested all their inheritance into a Canadian railway scheme that went belly-up and now the Crawleys are hanging on to the prospect of another legacy to save them. Matthew stands to inherit vast sums of cash but there’s a chance someone presumed dead may yet turn up alive and pip him at the post. Sound familiar? That’s because something remarkably similar occurred last year when Matthew’s first inheritance was imperiled by the surprise return of a lost cousin after the sinking of the Titanic. Hmmm…
Well, even if the storyline looks set to repeat itself (Mary was ready to throw Matthew away again because he didn’t understand the importance of their family traditions), the more interesting storylines continue to develop alongside the main drama. Mary’s always-the-bridesmaid sister Edith may finally bag herself a husband in the form of the aging Sir Anthony; the youngest daughter Sybil who ran off with the chauffeur has returned with an Irish revolutionary for a husband; and lady’s maid Anna is determined to stand by her footman husband John Bates, even though he’s now behind bars.
In the first two series the storylines turned on duty and service – the earl’s to his estate, the Crawley’s to their class and country, the servants to their masters. Having considered what each was prepared to sacrifice for the other, creator Julian Fellowes now seems interested in investigating exactly what they won’t do. Sir Anthony loves Edith but is too proud to marry a much younger woman; Sybil’s husband Tom can’t tolerate the lofty establishment her family represents; and Anna’s pride in Bates won’t let her consider the possibility he might actually have murdered his ex-wife. In Downton Abbbey’s world pride determines the value characters put on each other, as a classic interchange between Maggie Smith’s delightful Aunt Violet and Matthew illustrates:
Violet: I’m so looking forward to seeing [Cora’s] mother again. When I’m with her I’m reminded of the virtues of the English.
Matthew: Isn’t she American?
Of course Downton Abbey is already moving to throw Aunt Violet on the mercies of Cora’s mother (played by Shirley MacLaine) and we’ll see if her smugness survives the experience. However it’s worth pausing and considering how dangerous a thing pride is. Pride prevents people from recognizing friends, receiving comfort and admitting their problems. It’s the chief reason why it is so hard for people to acknowledge Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, whatever proof is offered, let alone their need of him. The longer we maintain our independence, the more of our life we have to admit was a mistake.
Downton Abbey will probably manufacture a way that Aunt Violet can receive her nemesis’ assistance and keep her conceit because it’s the part of her character we find most attractive. But the real world works differently. You can’t receive help until you’re prepared to admit that you can’t help yourself and, to paraphrase a popular writer, so it goes with God.