What to expect in Downton Abbey?

Last updated 11:16 16/10/2012

Ahead of the return of Downton Abbey to our screens on Thursday, Dan Stevens and Jim Carter reveal glimpses of what is to come.

The plot point in series three of Downton Abbey that most excited Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley, 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.

"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."

Apart from making a few runs, however, Matthew Crawley has some other rather pressing matters to cope with this series.

"Firstly it's preparations for the wedding. Obviously we left after getting engaged at the end of the Christmas episode last year. And now he's looking to settle down with Mary."

Matthew is also looking to find his role in the estate he is set to inherit.

"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."

Having to face up to organisational problems that previously they had been able to ignore was a common problem for large estates between the wars.

"I think a lot of houses of about this time, throughout the last century had to reappraise the way they were doing things. You just have to accept that a lot of these houses were just eating into their capital."

The question is whether Matthew is able to - and indeed wants to - do anything about it.

"There's a slight lack of sensitivity on Matthew's part that I think, occasionally shows its face... well let's just say he doesn't always pick his moments in the best way. So, yes, that's a big part of what he's up to this year."

Matthew's relationship with Mary, so often a source of fireworks and heartbreak, has evolved, says Stevens.

"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 be expecting something on the scale of William and Kate last year...

"I don't know if they'll quite get that! The kiss on the balcony? I don't think so. But, yes, they won't be disappointed. It will look very beautiful. Michelle [Dockery] looked fantastic in the dress."

And while upstairs everybody is occupied with marriages, inheritances or scandals, Downton Abbey's butler, Mr Carson, is working on trying to turn back the clock after the turmoil of the First World War.

"With the house being taken over as a convalescent home it was pretty chaotic so now I am trying to re-staff it with proper footmen and the proper amount of maids and everything, actor Jim Carter says. 

"However, these are slightly more economically straitened times after the war. Some of the younger staff are all trying to say, 'Well, do we really have to go back to the old ways?' I insist that we have to."

Carson, Carter says, sees himself as the "standard bearer of the right thing to do." The honour of the house, its way of life, are what he exists to uphold.

Carson's insistence on a right and a wrong way of doing things means that he is always keeping up appearances. Insights in to the man behind the mask are rare.

"We tend to always see Carson on duty, always buttoned up and we don't see behind that a lot. I would be slightly interested to know a little bit more. In the first series we found out about this mysterious past where he had been on the music hall stage. It may be nice to dig up a few more little bits like that."

And so having spent several years inhabiting a world more than a century behind us, is there one thing he would like to see brought forward to the present day?

"I am quite a fan of good manners. And a life without mobile phones would be nice. In fact filming at Highclere Castle is great because I certainly can't get a signal - so you just leave the thing and forget about it. Which is rather lovely."

Details:

Downton Abbey, Prime, Thursdays 8.30pm

- Stuff

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