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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

There's a delicious little scene making the rounds in the previews for the new third season of Downton Abbey, which premieres Jan. 6 on PBS: Shirley MacLaine, as Martha Levinson, a brash American newly arrived at the estate, runs into Maggie Smith, the scene-stealer who gets all the good lines as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham.

"Oh dear," MacLaine says after a quick, rushed hug. "I'm afraid the war has made old women of us both."

Butler Carson, witnessing the scene, hastens into a well-advised retreat — impeccably timed, as usual, by actor Jim Carter. "Oh, I wouldn't say that," Smith snorts right back. "But then, I always keep out of the sun."

The words and glances fly like daggers — and if that catty exchange is any indication, MacLaine and Smith are set to become one of the show's most entertaining couplings. And there are plenty of duos driving the drama at Downton. Here's a look at who they are and what you need to know as Season 3 begins.

Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey

Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery. — Courtesy Carnival Films/Masterpiece

Lady Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley
These two beautiful people, played by Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens, are the glamour of Downton and have provided all the will-they-or-won't-they sexual tension for two seasons. Mary, eldest daughter of Downton owner Lord Grantham, and Matthew, distant cousin and presumptive heir, have been through a broken engagement, deceased fiancés, war injuries and, ahem, a dead lover. His Christmas proposal (finally!) was accepted and we presume a wedding will consume the new season.

Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern as the Earl and Countess Grantham in Downton Abbey

Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern. — Courtesy Carnival Films/Masterpiece

Robert and Cora, the Earl and Countess of Grantham
Glamorous in their own grownup way, Robert, the Earl of Grantham, and his American-born Countess Cora — played by Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern — are all about the money. Downton has been in the Grantham family for generations, but they are land-poor, and the money to sustain it now comes from Cora. A marriage made initially to keep things afloat is now a loving partnership and the two have weathered a devastating Spanish flu, a miscarriage and the differing desires of three daughters, who — so far — provide no direct heir to the estate.

Robert and Cora, the Earl and Countess of Grantham
Glamorous in their own grownup way, Robert, the Earl of Grantham, and his American-born Countess Cora — played by Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern — are all about the money. Downton has been in the Grantham family for generations, but they are land-poor, and the money to sustain it now comes from Cora. A marriage made initially to keep things afloat is now a loving partnership and the two have weathered a devastating Spanish flu, a miscarriage and the differing desires of three daughters, who — so far — provide no direct heir to the estate.

John and Anna Bates
This "downstairs" couple, a valet and housemaid played by Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt, have come up against as many obstacles as the glamorous young Crawleys of upstairs. Bates, the show's conscience as a proud and loyal Everyman, begins the new season in jail, convicted of killing his first wife, a dreadful woman who threatened to expose a devastating Crawley family secret. Before his conviction, Bates married Anna, whose steadfast belief in her husband sustains him.

Next page: More Downton dynamic duos. »
Robert and Cora, the Earl and Countess of Grantham
Glamorous in their own grownup way, Robert, the Earl of Grantham, and his American-born Countess Cora — played by Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern — are all about the money. Downton has been in the Grantham family for generations, but they are land-poor, and the money to sustain it now comes from Cora. A marriage made initially to keep things afloat is now a loving partnership and the two have weathered a devastating Spanish flu, a miscarriage and the differing desires of three daughters, who — so far — provide no direct heir to the estate.

John and Anna Bates
This "downstairs" couple, a valet and housemaid played by Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt, have come up against as many obstacles as the glamorous young Crawleys of upstairs. Bates, the show's conscience as a proud and loyal Everyman, begins the new season in jail, convicted of killing his first wife, a dreadful woman who threatened to expose a devastating Crawley family secret. Before his conviction, Bates married Anna, whose steadfast belief in her husband sustains him.

Next page: More Downton dynamic duos. »
Brendan Coyle as John Bates and Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates in Downton Abbey

Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt. — Nick Briggs/PBS/Everett Collection

John and Anna Bates
This "downstairs" couple, a valet and housemaid played by Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt, have come up against as many obstacles as the glamorous young Crawleys of upstairs. Bates, the show's conscience as a proud and loyal Everyman, begins the new season in jail, convicted of killing his first wife, a dreadful woman who threatened to expose a devastating Crawley family secret. Before his conviction, Bates married Anna, whose steadfast belief in her husband sustains him.

Next page: Keep your eye on these pairs. »

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