And so it begins again and with another big bang of history. The first series of acclaimed Emmy-laden period drama Downton Abbey started with the Titanic's maiden voyage rearranging the hereditary lines to the earldom of Grantham. It ended in 1914 with the news that Britain was at war with Germany.

The second - which we're seeing just a month behind Britain - starts in 1916 with the Somme endangering the life of heir apparent Matthew Crawley, who's now an officer in the trenches. Early in the first episode, he bumps into former Downton footman Thomas, who had volunteered for the medical corps to avoid the fighting. Only he's discovered those endless Hun barrrages don't discriminate.

Despite the copious blood and mud, and a big production budget, Downton's depiction of The Great War is right up there with Blackadder Goes Forth.

Fortunately, Matthew, is soon off for a spot of leave back in Grantham, where things are quieter than at the front, but where the stately home's own battle-lines and alliances remain just as complicated. [Warning: spoiler alert]


Not only is Matthew bringing home his dress uniform, he's brought his fiancee, Lavinia, a solicitor's daughter from London. Her arrival raises eyebrows, especially those above the eyes and tersely puckered lips of the Dowager Countess. "Well, I suppose looks aren't everything," she offers on the newcomer and possible future Countess of Grantham.

Meanwhile, the current Earl of Grantham is all dressed up in his army reserve uniform but has nowhere to go but regimental dinners.

His youngest, Lady Sybil, is also keen to help by joining the nursing corps - once cook Mrs Patmore has patiently taught her how to boil a kettle. Her older sister, Lady Edith, is learning to drive, while eldest sibling Lady Mary isn't yet up to much. Although, having dispensed with one Turkish diplomat in the first series, it could be said she's done her bit for the war effort.

There's much talk about how it's all going to be different after the war. Much of that comes from new maid Ethel, a gal whose dreams go way beyond the scullery.

But there are bigger dramas afoot downstairs, especially with the slow-burning love affair between Anna and the loyal-to-a-fault valet Mr Bates. He returns from London to [no, that really would be spoiling things] ... only to find that [and frankly, so would that ... ].

The Lowdown
When: Tuesday, 8.35pm
Where: Prime
What: Downton, the war years

- TimeOut