The first series ended with the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
Series Two explodes on to the screen with the full horror and carnage of life in the trenches of the Somme in 1916.
The Earl is desperate to get into uniform and play his useful part in the war effort. Lady Cora must adjust to her three headstrong daughters, Mary, Edith and Sybil, becoming fiercely independently-minded young women. And there are any number of affairs of the heart yet to be resolved.
Downton has been turned into a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, with the daughters helping out by becoming drivers and nurses. Real amputees were hired as extras. The family’s genteel pace of life has been turned into turmoil. Observes the Earl: ‘War is now reaching its long fingers into Downton, scattering our chicks.’
As the war draws to a close in 1918, Downton — and the rest of the world — faces up to another catastrophe: a Spanish flu pandemic claims 50 million lives.
From a more practical viewpoint, explains producer Liz Trubridge: ‘It’s exciting taking characters who did nothing for themselves before the war — they didn’t even plump a cushion or dress themselves — and plunging them into an unfamiliar situation’.
After the 90-minute opening episode, there will be six more of 75 minutes each and a 90-minute finale, followed at Christmas by a two-hour special set on New Year’s Eve 1919. A third series is also being discussed, set in the Twenties.
It falls to Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) to deliver one of the most poignant lines of the new series, as she trains to become an auxiliary nurse. ‘Sometimes it seems as if all the men I ever danced with are now dead,’ she says, reflecting on the heavy loss of life in the war.
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