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When it comes to the BBC crossover hit Downton Abbey, there's plenty to admire: the political machinations of both the upstairs and downstairs sections of life; the biting and clever dialogue; the period costuming; the subtle interweaving of historical events; the hot ladies in maid outfits. But without a doubt, the biggest cultural phenomenon to come from the show is the upper-class rigidity and overall haughtiness of The Dowager Countess, as portrayed by Maggie Smith.
The character's popularity shouldn't be a shock. As a people, we simply love watching old people (a) get grumpy at new cultural norms; (b) get to the age where they just don't give a shit and say whatever comes to mind; (c) regale us with blatantly exaggerated "when I was a kid" stories. The Dowager Countess does all three. Which is why it's not surprising the creators of the show have decided to double down on the character type and bring Shirley MacLaine in for the third season of the show.
MacLaine will portray Martha Levinson, the mother of Lady Grantham, whose own mother-in-law is The Dowager Countess herself. Or, maybe more clearly, between Maggie Smith and Shirley MacLaine, it's going to be a no-holds-barred battle of the wits between two mothers-in-law. According to the managing editor of the production company behind the show, MacLaine's character will be "a wonderful combatant for Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess." Which is to say, get excited! MacLaine! Smith! No prisoners!