"It's good to remind people, love is love," says Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. And more than 15 million viewers in the U.S. and U.K. are having a love affair with the palace-size hit, which has reinvigorated period drama and earned raves around the world (100 countries have acquired rights to air the show). Far from a sophomore slump, Season 2 of the sumptuous series about life among the British gentry and their servants during World War I has broadened the story's scope to take in the violence of the battlefields and the impact of the conflict on the residents both upstairs and down.
The reach of the drama, airing on PBS' Masterpiece Classic, has broadened as well. "We are getting quite well known," Fellowes says from his home in England. (Yes, he has a 17th century country manor as well as a London base.) "When we won six Emmys, the industry was aware of us, but we hadn't broken through. But when we were back [in Los Angeles] for the Golden Globes last month, we were stopped on the street, in shops, wherever we went. It was quite extraordinary."
Spending time with the upper crust of the early 20th century is a tonic for our troubled time, Fellowes suggests. "With our heads we object to the class system and the disempowerment of much of the population back then, but at the same time, we hanker for a more ordered world." But as the series goes on, that order is dying as modernity encroaches on Downton, bringing electricity and telephones, aristocratic daughters demanding autonomy and workers agitating for more opportunities.
What viewers are longing for, aside from more of the costumes, the decor, the comfort of that bygone era, is to find out if Matthew (Dan Stevens), the heir to Downton, will really marry the sweet Lavinia (Zoe Boyle) and forgive Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). Will Mary end up with caddish media mogul Sir Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen)? Can the downstairs couple Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) overcome seemingly impossible obstacles? "We may not have many sex scenes, but I believe we have lots of sexual feeling," says Fellowes. "We don't shy away from the love impulse."
Season 2 has been particularly rough on the show's many sweethearts. A traumatic war injury has left Matthew paralyzed and impotent. Footman William married his love, reluctant kitchen maid Daisy, and promptly succumbed to his war wounds. Bates has been torn away from Anna by the sudden return of his estranged wife. And due to a near-Shakespearean comedy of errors, Mary and Matthew are both heading toward marriage with others. Here's a look at and some scoop on a few of our favorite Downton couples.
Anna Smith and John Bates
For an example of a pure, fierce love in all its certainty, look no further than Lord Grantham's valet Bates and head chambermaid Anna. "That's what makes it so romantic," says Froggatt. "They're both absolutely 100 percent sure that the other is the one. It's just circumstance that keeps getting in their way." That circumstance is the scheming of Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy), Bates' vengeful, divorce-denying wife. "Anna and Bates are perhaps the best suited and the least games-playing couple," says Fellowes. "Once Bates admitted he's in love with Anna, it's very straightforward, even though Vera [pushes] them into a personal horror story." So, while Anna has made what Fellowes calls the "extraordinary gesture" of offering to be Bates' mistress, there's more tragedy to come for them.
Lady Sybil Crawley and Tom Branson
Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) has a decision to make. Should Lord and Lady Grantham's youngest respond in kind to chauffeur Branson's transgressive declarations of love? "For Tom, it was love at first sight," says Allen Leech, who plays the Crawleys' driver. "He saw her spirit and her energy and how she's not prepared to conform in the way that the rest of the family does. He sees change coming before the others do."
The Irish revolutionary wants Sybil to run away with him, but are her feelings strong enough to defy her family and society? "The heart doesn't pay attention to rhyme or reason or the class divide, either," Leech suggests. That doesn't make it a cakewalk. "The problem with marrying beneath one's self for the woman in that period meant that everything you've taken for granted would be lost to you," says Fellowes. "It takes great strength of character — but Sybil is pretty strong."
Lady Cora and Lord Robert Crawley
From the start, "Cora was in love with Robert," says Elizabeth McGovern of the American heiress who saved her aristocratic husband's estate. "It may not have been a love match for him, but it's a union that by sheer good luck has really thrived." Things have been shaky between the long-married couple of late, however. While Cora finds herself managing Downton's convalescent home for wounded vets, Robert (Hugh Bonneville) is despondent that he's deemed too old for the war. "Robert has lost his feeling of a secure world he's in charge of," McGovern says. As a result, the Earl of Grantham "has a bit of a crisis," Fellowes says, hinting, "he falls into a lapse of judgment." Look for some unexpected comfort he courts in the final episodes.
Lady Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley
"It's never been easy between Mary and Matthew," Dockery says of the will they/won't they element of the relationship. "But it's what keeps the show engaging, and the audience is longing for [them] to get together." Perhaps, but bad timing and miscommunication has reigned between the would-be couple since the beginning. "It's been obvious that Mary is full of regret about what happened between her and Matthew," says Dockery of their Season 1 parting. "She's heartbroken." Adding to Mary's woes: "Matthew really loves Lavinia," says Stevens. "He will always have feelings for Mary, but his life has changed beyond recognition, and Lavinia is part of that change."
For more on Downton Abbey, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, February 2!