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The Couples of 'Downton Abbey'

Understanding who's who among the show's calculating duos provides a perfect primer for tuning in to Season 3

Siobhan Finneran and Rob James-Collier in Downton Abbey

Siobhan Finneran and Rob James-Collier. — Nick Briggs/PBS/Everett Collection

Sarah O'Brien and
Thomas Barrow

These servants are the dastardly duo, partners in misanthropy. Today, the footman and the maid, played by Rob James-Collier and Siobhan Finneran, would be the workplace louts — the ones who complain around the office and try to manipulate their way up the ladder. They're also proof that, for all its period-piece stuffiness, one of the things that makes Downton Abbey's appeal universal is the way it reveals some parts of human nature as timeless. Barrow once kicked Bates' cane from under his feet to make him look inept. O'Brien strategically placed a bar of soap on a slippery bathroom floor, causing the fall that led to Cora's miscarriage.

Allen Leech and Jessica Brown Findlay in Downton Abbey

Allen Leech and Jessica Brown-Findlay. — Courtesy Carnival Films/Masterpiece

Lady Sybil and Tom Branson

The rebels of Downton's strict aristocratic structure — Grantham's youngest daughter, played by Jessica Brown-Findlay, and Downton's chauffeur Branson, an Irish socialist played by Allen Leech — turn convention on its head. Now married, in a cross-class coupling that horrified much of the Crawley clan, most notably the earl himself, the couple shares political passion, too, which could make family dinners very interesting.

Maggie Smith and Shirley MacLaine in Downton Abbey

Maggie Smith and Shirley MacLaine. — Courtesy Carnival Films/Masterpiece

Isobel Crawley and Violet,
the Dowager Countess

As the dowager, Maggie Smith turns nearly every interaction into a memorable moment (just Google countless online video clips of her best ones). Her main foil has been Isobel, Matthew's middle-class mother, who moved to Downton with her son. But in the new season it may be Shirley MacLaine's moneyed American, the mother of Countess Cora, who spars most magnificently with the dowager countess.

Sophie McShera and Lesley Nicole in Downton Abbey

Sophie McShera, left, and Lesley Nicol. — Courtesy Carnival Films/Masterpiece

Mrs. Patmore and Daisy

The cook and her helper, played by Lesley Nicol and Sophie McShera, are a mother-daughter-like pairing who have come to count on each other for more than efficient meal preparation. Mrs. Patmore has evolved from dictatorial head cook to counselor to Daisy, and the younger woman has grown from meek assistant to compassionate young woman.

Jim Carter as Carson and Phyllis Logan as Mrs Hughes in Downton Abbey

Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan. — Courtesy Carnival Films/Masterpiece

Charles Carson and
Elsie Hughes

Without these two there is no Downton, and everyone knows it. As head butler and housekeeper (played by Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan), they keep the place going. Fiercely loyal to the Crawleys, they have their hands full preventing the downstairs drama from moving to the upper floors. They are close and supportive colleagues, but not romantically involved.

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