‘Downton Abbey’ with Shirley MacLaine returns Jan. 6

CARNIVAL FILM AND TV

Don’t bother counting the days to Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, or the inauguration. The only countdown that matters is the one to Jan. 6, which is when “Downton Abbey” returns to this side of the pond.

Season three on PBS (an acronym for “Please Back Soon?) welcomes the fabulous, otherworldy Shirley MacLaine who plays the Countess of Grantham’s mother, Martha Levinson, an American heiress and widow. For the 78-year-old actress who was nominated for an Oscar in 1961 for “The Apartment,” the ritzy Downton digs will showcase Shirley in bling, black, and beads like all the other upstairs characters.

In an interview with The Telegraph, the actress talked about her character: “Martha’s basic role in these episodes is to plead with the Dowager Countess to wrest herself, if possible, away from tradition. Because that’s what caused the war in the first place. And [for the Countess] to become more flexible in relating to change. Martha is extremely outspoken but the Gunfight at the O. K. Corral does not happen between Maggie [Smith] and me. We had our moments but it’s more sophisticated than that.”

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Drats, we were hoping for a wrestling match with plum pudding—or at least a sword fight with hat pins.