Festive TV: It’s Downton Abbey vs Ab Fab in the Christmas Day ratings war
ITV has set out to win the Christmas Day ratings war with a festive serving of Downton Abbey.
The commercial broadcaster hopes to end the BBC’s dominance of Christmas viewing with a two-hour special of the period drama. To promote the episode, it has released a series of teasing still photographs that hint at the narrative shocks that lay in store.
A spokesman for ITV promised high drama in the Christmas special, during which viewers will learn the fate of Bates, the valet, who is on trial for the murder of his estranged wife.
Newcomer Lord Hepworth, played by Nigel Havers, is at the centre of a “sensational” storyline. Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) receives some surprising news. And there are more twists and turns in the relationship between Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), as her fiancé, Sir Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen), becomes an unwanted house guest.
The episode is set over Christmas and the New Year, and includes a servants’ ball in which upstairs and downstairs characters come together for a night of dancing.
Fans will also be introduced to one of Downton’s traditions: on Christmas Day, the staff are given the day off and Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) takes charge of the Christmas lunch.
Somewhat predictably, although several storylines reach a climax, the episode will end on a cliffhanger. The drama is returning for a third series next year. BBC One, meanwhile, is pinning its hopes on a combination of EastEnders – traditionally the most watched programme on Christmas Day – and the return of Absolutely Fabulous, which have been scheduled in the same 9-11pm slot as Downton Abbey.
Elsewhere in the Christmas schedules, details of which were unveiled yesterday, BBC One will screen its new version of Great Expectations in three instalments from Dec 27-29. On Boxing Day, ITV’s double episode of Coronation Street is ranged against BBC One’s adaptation of The Borrowers, starring Victoria Wood and Stephen Fry.
The Christmas Day films include Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs Aliens and Ratatouille on BBC One, and March of the Penguins, Miracle on 34th Street and Happy Feet on ITV1.
While the BBC will broadcast a Christmas Eve carol service from St George’s Cathedral in Southwark, ITV has chosen a less traditional venue.
Its carol service will be beamed from a rustic barn in Bucklebury, Berks, the village that is home to Carole and Michael Middleton, parents of the Duchess of Cambridge.