Season three of the hit period drama Downton Abbey began Sunday night with a two hour episode. Downton Abbey may be for sale as Robert Crawley learns that he’s almost broke and the news comes just before daughter Mary is about to marry Matthew Crawley, which she does later in the episode.
Tom Branson is increasingly concerned with the “Irish Question” as Ireland continues its fight for independence. Branson, played by Dublin actor Allen Leech, is an Irish Republican and new Crawley son-in-law after his marriage to youngest daughter Sybil.
In the spring of 1920 when season three starts, the fight for Irish independence has taken a turn for the worse. Following Britain and Ireland’s inability to reach a peaceful compromise between Home Rule and complete Irish independence, the Irish Republican Brotherhood had launched a guerilla war. Julian Fellowes, the show’s creator, told RTE Guide magazine, “At the time in the early twenties, the big thing on front of every newspaper in Britain was Ireland and it would have been quite wrong not to deal with.”
Branson’s outspokenness about Irish Home Rule creates tension with some of the other characters. Violet Crawley, played by Maggie Smith, said on the newlyweds’ return from Dublin, “He will behave properly because I shall hold his hand on the radiator until he does.” Relations between the two will likely continue to sour.
Expect to hear Branson speak more on Irish independence in the upcoming episodes. After straining Britain’s already weakened finances, the British and Irish will sign a treaty to end the Irish War for Independence in 1921, which will create the Irish Free State. Leaders from the Irish delegation, including Michael Collins, known as the ‘Big Fella,’ visited London to negotiate the treaty. The treaty will also permit the six counties in Northern Ireland to opt out of the Free State and continue their union with Britain. The partition will contribute to the Irish Civil War.
Shirley MacLaine, who plays Cora Crawley’s liberal Yankee mother Martha Levinson, also brings up the question of Home Rule in the third season. Fellowes said about the casting choice, “If it wasn’t Shirley, I can’t think of who else we would have got. “ He added, “We wanted that utter cultural difference so that she would come out of a car and everybody would go ‘Wow!’”
Near the end of the episode, the servants’ prepare an indoor picnic to cover up a broken oven before a fundraising dinner to save Downton Abbey. Martha announces she can’t help because her money is tied up in the terms of her husband’s will and returns to America, leaving the Crawley’s future residence in Downton Abbey uncertain.
Watch the PBS trailer here: