The anticipation in some circles for Season III of DOWNTON ABBEY has been as feverish as children wishing for Santa. And last night fans were not disappointed. SPOILER ALERT. At the end of Season Two, we left the Abbey as Matthew and Lady Mary kissed their conflicts away under a fairy tale snowfall in front of the abbey. In the new season there are continuing problems, new crises, and lush settings and wardrobes. I am somewhat reminded of Ross Hunter's visually stunning melodramas from the late 1950's and early 1960's: Lana Turner suffering in high style in IMITATION OF LIFE (1959) and Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson finding love and redemption in MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1954) and ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1954). The heroines endured heartbreak, but their spectacular clothes and homes never let them down. So is the case at Downton Abbey where the upstairs crowd dresses for dinner each night. No character is as resplendent as Lady Mary in an array of dresses that are simple, elegant, and richly colored. When she walks down the stairs in her wedding dress, we are tempted to rewind and watch again and again.
But there are some problems with the first episode of Season III, one of which is the writing and general shaping of Martha Levinson, played by Shirley Maclaine. It is hard to believe that the classy Lady Cora could be the daughter of this coarse and unattractive woman. This was an injustice to Maclaine and the character. Thomas is his usual venal self. When he offers to help the new footman and spite his former mentor O'Brian, one wants to hiss or warn his prey, again a ploy of good old-fashioned melodrama. But despite these flaws, DOWNTON ABBEY remains one of the most enjoyable, satisfying shows on television.