x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

From America with brass: Shirley MacLaine moves in for Downton's third season

Shirley MacLaine moves in for Downton Abbey's third season and shakes up the status quo.

Maggie Smith, left, as the Dowager Countess, and Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson in Downton Abbey. AP Photo
Maggie Smith, left, as the Dowager Countess, and Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson in Downton Abbey. AP Photo

As Shirley MacLaine moves in for Downton Abbey's third season, get ready for fireworks.

With all her New Age beliefs and interest in spirituality, Shirley MacLaine must be divinely amazed at all the reincarnations her acting career continues to enjoy since she first trod the boards of Broadway six decades ago.

This actor, singer, dancer, author and activist - with her Oscar (Terms of Endearment, 1984), an Emmy (Gypsy in My Soul, 1976), six Golden Globes (for musicals and dramas that span 1955 to 1998) and the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award (2012) - easily rattles the rafters wherever she deigns to hang her thespian hat.

This time, Warren Beatty's big sister drops in like a wrecking ball to make some major waves across the third season of the period drama Downton Abbey, which premieres on Thursday.

As Martha Levinson, the American mother of Cora, Countess of Grantham, MacLaine makes a splendid entrance in the season premiere, set in March 1920. Dressed to the nines, she emerges from a luxury motor car before the assembled Crawleys and their servants to declare: "From war and peace, Downton still stands, and the Crawleys are still in it!" But don't bet on the status quo. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) discovers his massive investment in the Grand Trunk Railway has failed, leaving him near bankruptcy. "I hate to state the obvious, but if there's not enough money to run it, Downton must go," warns his financial adviser.

Despite the fiscal misery now lurking at the Abbey, the series creator and writer Julian Fellowes must feel like a child in a sweet shop, with a pair of 78-year-old acting legends on hand to lock horns - and rock the story - as he sees fit.

MacLaine and Maggie Smith (as the sharp-tongued Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham) couldn't see eye-to-eye if you glued their noses together - and they steal every scene they're in.

"My character comes in and shakes the whole thing up," says MacLaine, whose character tells the Crawleys: "You can't live in this bubble of unreality and formality any longer. The world is different."

"It's not Gunfight at the OK Corral, it's about a woman who's coming to discuss their values," she adds. "I have a reason for being in this, not just to go head-to-head with Maggie Smith, but the whole idea that these two characters represent polarities."


Downton Abbey is shown at 11pm on Thursday on OSN First HD