Downton Abbey: Maggie Smith looking forward to another rumble in the jungle with Shirley MacLaine

Actor Allen Leech - who plays Lady Sybil's widower Tom Branson - teases the return of the Hollywood heavyweight for series four

There was much excitement when it was announced last month that Shirley MacLaine will return to Downton Abbey as Cora Crawley’s loud-mouthed mother, Martha Levinson. The Hollywood actress – whose character entertained audiences in a string of verbal sparring matches with Maggie Smith’s Lady Violet – is a favourite of fans of the ITV period drama, which is currently filming its fourth series at Highclere Castle and Ealing Studios. 


So when caught up with Downton’s Allen Leech (who plans Lady Sybil’s widower Tom Branson) at last night’s Olivier Awards, we quizzed him on sharing the screen with the two acting heavyweights. “You’ve got a British acting legend and you have a Hollywood acting legend so sitting in a room with the two of them is great.”

But has Julian Fellowes written more stinging diatribes to match the loaded exchanges the pair enjoyed during series three? “Absolutely. I think Maggie’s actually looking forward to getting Shirley back so they can have another go at it – round two. We’ve got to call it a Downton version of rumble in the jungle. Bashing in the pantry.”

Intrigued? You’ll have to wait until the return of the series next autumn but in the meantime, why not indulge yourself in a reminder of some of the pair’s best insults from the last series…