War is hell at 'Downton Abbey'

Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery star in "Downton

Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery star in "Downton Abbey" on PBS. (Credit: MCT/PBS)

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THE MINISERIES "Downton Abbey, Series Two"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on WNET / 13

REASON TO WATCH Second-season launch of this hot -- seriously -- "Masterpiece Classic" miniseries. (It won six Emmys, including best miniseries.)

CATCHING UP The prewar idyll at country "house" Downton Abbey is disrupted by news that the Titanic has gone down with the heir and future son-in-law of Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). The new heir, distant cousin Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), is a working lawyer and, thus, seemingly unsuitable for Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Grantham's eldest daughter. Both eventually fall in love, but Mary equivocates about an engagement, especially after Lord Grantham's American-born wife and heiress, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), becomes pregnant with a potential heir. Cora loses the baby, but, much to Lady Mary's chagrin, Matthew has moved on. The first season ended with news that will shatter the idyll -- England is at war with Germany.

WHAT SUNDAY'S ABOUT Two years later, 1916, and the war has enveloped Downton Abbey, servants included. There's concern some will head off to war; Thomas, the first footman (Rob James-Collier), is already at the front (as is Matthew Crawley). Everyone, or most everyone, at Downton Abbey wants to do their part, but it's still to be determined what that part should be.

Meanwhile, the past intrudes: Lord Grantham's friend and loyal valet, John Bates (Brendan Coyle), has a visit from his estranged wife, who makes an offer he can't refuse. And Mary gets an offer from a newspaper baron she might not be able to refuse, either.

MY SAY Well, goodbye to all that -- the kaleidoscope of Merchant Ivory-stylized flourishes that made the first season of this import so addictive. Casualties of war on "Downton Abbey" include food, fashions, colors -- grays and browns now predominate -- and, to a certain extent, fun. That's unfortunate but probably inevitable, too. "Upstairs, Downstairs" -- on which this is loosely modeled -- also went through its own wrenching "Great War"-related adjustments many years ago. Fans will still love everything they always loved about Downton and its to-the-manor-born denizens. They shouldn't, however, be too surprised if they don't love Downton or its inhabitants quite as much.

BOTTOM LINE Much grimmer, grayer and (gasp) dowdier. Still mostly wonderful.

GRADE A-

Who's who on 'Downton Abbey' -- Just a few of the key characters . . .

Robert, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) -- Kindhearted lord of the manor

Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) -- Gentle, gimlet-eyed lady of the manor

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) -- Robert's tart mother, who tolerates -- barely -- his American-born wife

Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) -- Beautiful daughter who had an indiscreet moment with a Turkish diplomat that will change everything

Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) -- Heir presumptive; in love with Mary

Mr. Carson, the butler (Jim Carter) -- Redoubtable "Carson," without whom Downton could not function

Thomas, footman (Rob James-Collier) -- Full of himself, a troublemaker of the first order, who joins the medical corps

Sarah O'Brien, lady's maid (Siobhan Finneran) -- Vindictive, impulsive

John Bates, valet (Brendan Coyle) -- Injured war vet; stoic, loyal to a fault

Anna, head housemaid (Joanne Froggatt) -- Sweet, shrewd, in love with Bates

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