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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. »

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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