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Downton Abbey's third season opener attracts nine million

Story by Jack Foley

HIT costume drama Downton Abbey attracted an average of nine million viewers on its Sunday night return, confirming its position as nation’s favourite.

The third season opener only dipped slightly from the second series debut, which achieved 9.3 million in September 2011. Last year’s Christmas special attracted 11.59 million viewers, beating EastEnders‘ figure of 11.33 million

In all, Sunday night’s curtain-raiser attracted a 36% share of the total night audience.

The episode was notable for featuring the arrival of Oscar-winner Shirley MacLaine and it drew a favourable response from most critics.

The Telegraph wrote that “this felt like a programme back to its best, the one we fell in love with back in 2010”, adding that “the script was tight; the detail was there”.

While The Mirror concurred, stating that the tension between MacLaine’s character Martha and the Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith, “has all the potential to be the early 20th Century equivalent of Alexis and Krystle from Dynasty wrestling in a fountain”.

The Times awarded the episode four stars out of five and asked: “Which heart does not guiltily swell at the return of this blissfully undemanding nonsense?”

While The Huffington Post also declared itself happy, especially as the main wedding storyline did eventually involve “a nice bit of pre-wedding conflict”.

Of the few negative comments, The Guardian felt that Downton now trailed in the wake of Parade’s End, which “looks even classier”.

Of Downton, the paper’s critic said: “It’s seductive, because it’s so well done, but you never really get the sense that it’s going anywhere, or telling you anything.”

Downton Abbey will be the focus of British attention on Sunday, September 23, when it is in the running for several Primetime Emmy Awards in the US.

The show will battle Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire for the big coveted best drama prize.

Read our verdict on the opening episode