Downton Christmas proves compulsive viewing

Festive fisticuffs and one of television’s most eagerly awaited proposals were among the highlights of the Downton Abbey Christmas special.

Millions of fans tuned in to see the chance of a happy ending for at least two of the characters in the popular country house drama.

The two-hour episode ended with Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) finally going down on one knee and proposing to Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), but not before aiming a punch at her villainous fiance Sir Richard Carlisle.

The show’s climax raised the prospect of a wedding in the next series which sees the inhabitants of Downton enter the Roaring Twenties.

But it was not all happy endings with valet Bates (Brendan Coyle) initially sentenced to death and then life imprisonment for the murder of his first wife, while his new wife Anna (Joanne Froggatt) vowed to clear his name.

One person who did not mind the couple’s troubles was scheming footman Thomas (Rob James-Collier) who managed to turn Bates’ misfortune to his own advantage.

There were plenty of loose ends to keep fans of the ITV1 show guessing what will happen next – Lady Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) attempts to rekindle her relationship with Sir Anthony Strallan seemed to have fallen on deaf ears and the prospect of a reunion between the earl (Hugh Bonneville) and the black sheep of the family, Lady Sybil, still seems distant after he is told she is pregnant by her former chauffeur and now husband Tom Branson.

The episode was followed by a first glimpse of Titanic – the new ITV show by Downton’s creator Julian Fellowes.