FOR the third series of Downton Abbey – filmed locally at Highclere Castle – the future of the house and its residents is in doubt once again.

We’re into the roaring twenties and the war may be over, but Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) has lost nearly all of his American wife’s riches in failed investments. His daughter Lady Sybil is expecting a baby with her Irish husband, former chauffeur Branson, and his mother-in-law (Shirley MacLaine) is visiting – but at least his daughter Lady Mary has finally tied the knot with her cousin, and the heir to the estate, Matthew Crawley.


The plot point in series three of Downton Abbey that most excited Dan Stevens was nothing to do with marriages, inheritances or scandals. It was getting to play some cricket, 1920s-style. Stevens is a keen cricketer himself, and loves the game. He says getting dressed up in flannels and striding out to the middle at Highclere’s own cricket pitch was a dream come true.

He says: “It was perfection. I was all padded up, out in the middle, had an entire team of extras bowling at me and fielding. And when I got out, I was able to stay in so we could do another take.”

This series, Matthew is looking to find his role in the estate he is set to inherit. Dan says: “It’s a question of whether they’re going to stick around or not. “Matthew’s a bit iffy about staying in the house. I think he wants a certain amount of independence before taking on Downton, so I think it’s his idea that maybe they’ll go and live elsewhere. And then as the series progresses, he gets a bit more involved with the estate and sees a few weak spots in the management.”

Matthew’s relationship with Mary, so often a source of fireworks and heartbreak, has evolved. Dan adds: "His relationship with Mary has changed. They’ve both matured a little. I think it’s that growing sense of responsibility becoming more of a reality. The older they get, the further on it goes and the more involved he gets in the estate.”

First though, the wedding. Britain will have expected something on the scale of William and Kate last year! Stevens says: “They won’t have been disappointed. Michelle [Dockery] looked fantastic in the dress.”

Truth be told, Stevens is more concerned with the car he gets to drive in this series. He says: “It was an early AC. It was really, really gorgeous and actually, quite easy to drive. I just had the most fun. I think that comes in a close second to the cricket. I mean lots of vintage car driving and cricket! What more can you ask?”


“The big difference for Lady Mary in this series,” says Dockery, “is that she’s very happy!”

After several series of scandal, strife and a long-running will-they-won’t-they with Matthew Crawley, Dockery is a little relieved that they’re married. She says: “As much as that angst between Matthew and Mary was enjoyable to play, I must say it’s lovely now to be finally settled in some ways. Of course, like all relationships, it’s not completely perfect. Let’s just say they have quite a few problems to sort out.”

First though, there’s the wedding of the decade (with apologies to a certain royal couple). Episode one was about the nuptials, which means Michelle got to wear the second most anticipated wedding dress of the last few years. Once wedding fever abates though, it’s time for Lady Mary to settle down and take stock.

Dockery says: “I guess she becomes a woman in the third series. The way it’s written it feels that even though Mary maintains that pragmatic side to her – which can be quite bossy at times – she’s really grown up.”

Dockery has been over to America several times since Downton Abbey became a hit there. She says that fans on the other side of the Atlantic are much more effusive than in her native Britain. She says: “We’re approached far more in America. I wonder whether that’s to do with Americans generally being more confident at approaching someone. But the reception that we get over there is so warm that it’s wonderful. And it’s rare that this kind of response happens. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of it.”

She does say that people who approach her abroad are surprised that “I’m not that posh at all. Me and Dan [Stevens] get that all the time. None of the cast are really!”

People’s reactions to Mary have changed, too, she says. Mary has become easier to like, or at least to empathise with. The main change, she says, is in Lady Mary’s attitude to her family home. She says: “In the first series, it was like she was fighting against it. She shied away – she just wanted to go off and meet someone rich. This series, the thought of leaving Downton or Downton falling into trouble is unthinkable to her because this is her legacy with Matthew: now it’s in her hands. And she feels the weight of that legacy more than ever before.”

Next week, our focus falls on Downton stars Shirley MacLaine and Brendan Coyle.