Hunky new footmen, pretty new maids – and we’re actually going to feel sorry for evil Thomas. The servants of Downton share a few of their secrets…
23:37 GMT, 7 September 2012
While love is proving to be a headache for Matthew and Lady Mary upstairs, there are huge challenges downstairs too.
Carson the butler, for instance, is fighting to maintain the status quo. Jim Carter, who plays him, says, ‘I don’t think Carson is the sort of man who changes much.
He’s like the house, a constant. The world is changing around him, but he tries to resist it, probably foolishly.
There are lots of shenanigans going on downstairs too
‘He wants to go back to the days of full staffing levels, all the pomp and magnificence of large dinners with two footmen, but the world’s moved on.
Women are emancipated and the middle classes are making inroads. He’s probably fighting a losing battle. Even Mrs Hughes isn’t completely sympathetic!
‘He had to accept middle-class Matthew – a solicitor, who works for a living, for heaven’s sake – as a member of the family. Tom Branson, the former chauffeur who is now married to Lady Sybil, has moved upstairs at Downton, and the staff have to call him Sir.
He’s also constantly on the alert, wondering what evil O’Brien, the lady’s maid, is plotting with Thomas, the ruthless valet. Everything within the household is now trickier for Carson.’
As the family gathers for Lady Mary’s forthcoming nuptials, Lord Grantham’s valet, Bates, is languishing in prison, convicted of the murder of his first wife.
His new wife, Anna, is doing all she can to try and free him. One notable omission from the new series, however, is Bates’s stick. Brendan Coyle, who plays him, says, ‘It would have been taken off him in prison, but it was like a prompt to get into the limp.
So we decided his injury was the kind of thing that flares up every now and again. That’s how a war wound would have been.’
Sophie McShera as Daisy in the third series
Lesley Nicol, who’s cast as Mrs Patmore the cook, warns, ‘There’s plenty of new shenanigans downstairs. We’ve got some new young characters joining the staff and all hell breaks loose with them.’ It isn’t only the new staff, either. Sophie McShera, who is kitchen maid Daisy, warns, ‘Daisy goes evil! She’s promoted to assistant cook and goes on a power trip.’
Which isn’t good news for her pretty young replacement, Ivy Stuart (Cara Theobald). Lesley Nicol says, ‘Mrs Patmore has to get Ivy up to speed in the kitchen. But she can’t stand bullying, so if she sees Daisy bullying Ivy she’ll stamp on it.’
Mrs Patmore forms an unlikely alliance with head housekeeper Mrs Hughes, whose health takes a turn for the worse. ‘This alters her perspective on things,’ says Phyllis Logan, who portrays Mrs Hughes. ‘There’s always been tension between her and Mrs Patmore, but that changes when they realise they can help each other.’
Another new face is Ed Speleers, who’s cast as Jimmy, an ambitious young footman. ‘He’s vying for the position of head footman at Downton,’ says Ed.
‘He’s a bit of a mystery man, no one quite knows what he’s up to. As the series develops he gets himself into a couple of sticky situations. But he realises he has to keep in with Thomas, who’s directly above him.’
Thomas, of course, is former Coronation Street heart-throb Rob James-Collier, who plays the scheming footman promoted to Lord Grantham’s valet in Bates’s absence.
He’s still plotting, this time even against his constant ally O’Brien, who asks him to help get her newly arrived nephew Alfred promoted. ‘This series, we see Thomas and O’Brien turn on each other,’ explains Rob.
‘Other members of staff are drawn into the battle between them, with huge ramifications. She’s the cleverer of the two, but I try to hurt her nephew Alfred, so she tries to hit me where it hurts, by undermining me, trying to get me sacked.
While all this is going on, the servants are unaware their livelihoods are in danger
Thomas resents that Carson’s taking Alfred under his wing. It gets increasingly malevolent as the series goes on.’ For her part, Siobhan Finneran, O’Brien in the show, says, ‘It starts as a battle of wits, a bit of game play to see who falls first. She’s just trying to help her nephew, but it gets quite nasty when it kicks off.’
This almighty fallout has huge repercussions for Thomas, and audiences will get to see him at his most vulnerable. ‘At the end, you see Thomas like you’ve never seen him before: exposed as a gay man. This series is the most challenging as it’s allowed me to really explore what it would be like to be a homosexual man in a time when it’s totally forbidden, and how that would play on your mind.
‘It’s a secret he’s had to keep all his life, and we see how his sexuality might cause him to behave as he does. There are scenes I think are heartbreaking where the viewers will have sympathy for Thomas, and understand why he is how he is. You crave plotlines like this.’
While all this is going on, the servants are unaware their livelihoods are in danger.
Lord Grantham, having striven to safeguard the future of the Downton Abbey estate all his life, finds himself suddenly facing massive financial difficulties through bad investments – mostly with his wife Cora’s money. One of the most moving scenes is when Lord Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville, breaks down in Cora’s arms while explaining how he feels he has failed everyone. ‘We found that scene very difficult,’ admits Hugh, ‘but we did it.’
So can the estate be saved ‘You’ll have to watch to find out…’ he says.
Series three of Downton Abbey starts this month on ITV1.