Downton Abbey Returns January 5 for Season Four
By: Ellis Nassour
"We’d follow the Crawleys off a cliff," echoed one critic in deep fall after the controversy of the Season Three finale of Julian Fellowes’ phenomenon Downton Abbey. "Have Mrs. Patmore prepare us a box lunch." No one was especially happy to see handsome, madly in love Matthew depart, but, like many actors who appear in a series that becomes a huge hit, Dan Steven$, like David Caru$o before him, $aw greener pa$ture$s ahead.
The most-watched drama in PBS history returns January 5 on Masterpiece for mini-Season Four after garnering more acclaim, nine Emmys, two Golden Globes, a coveted SAG Ensemble Cast Award, and a partridge in a pear tree. Three, awash with weddings, births, abandonment, financial reversal, sudden riches, and equally sudden deaths, reached a record 24.1 million viewers. It’s the biggest thing for PBS since Sesame Street.
Season Four [Sundays, through February 23, arrives with, good news: Season Five will here in 2015. It opens some four months in time from the end of Three and, undoubtedly, there’ll have to be the addition of a nursery at the Abbey.
Three had a time jump to the 1920s, but some habits and rituals are hard to leave behind. Four remedies that with the addition of new characters and the exiting of others. As the hallowed doors swing open, there’re revelations of dark secrets, budding romances, and a threat no one expected that pulls another brick from Downton’s ancestral walls. Will it stand forever, or is this the dying of the line?
Clashes arise and sparks fly as the status quo is shaken by guilt, rivalries, and betrayals. Hearts are healed, but traditions are challenged. The very existence of Dowton is threatened as London [not to mention Downton] enters the jazz age and draws the Abbey’s youth with its intoxicating rhythms; and involvement in a sweeping social and literary scene.
"Snap out of it!", as Loretta [Cher] memorably said to Ronny [Nicholas Cage] in Moonstruck, and snap they do.
Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern) grieve the death in childbirth of youngest daughter Sybil, who crossed class lines to marry and has left a baby behind. Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) grieves for her son. Grantham, drowning with taxation and death taxes, picks up and bucks up, implementing Matthew’s business plan he was dead-set against to manage the estate. Lady Cora, forever changed by the death of her daughter, sets a new agenda. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), who was jilted at the altar, sets a rocky new path as she experiments with modernism and taboos as she tempts scandal with a new beau.
Stern, sensible Lady Mary (wonderful Michelle Dockery), who was so wild about Matthew the first two seasons that she let him go off and marry another only to make the two [or three] of them miserable until finally [long story] she was able to marry him, goes on – new mommy and all. Still racked with grief, all doom and gloom [wearing widow’s black with her hair rolled akin to Princess Leia Organa], rises to life’s challenges; and suddenly finds herself Yorkshire’s most desirable pudding as beaus descend on the estate.
The wonderfully acerbic Dowager Countess (indelibly, indefatigably portrayed in stupefying glory by Dame Maggie Smith, the two-time Olivier nominee, three-time London Evening Standard Award winner, 19-time BAFTA nominee [seven wins], six-time Oscar nominee [two wins], 11-time Golden Globe nominee [three wins], three-time Tony nominee [one win], Drama Desk nominee, and seven-time Emmy nominee [three wins, two for Downton]), has given up her plans of becoming a village shopkeeper but is still the all-knowing judge of all [in an incredibly well-written role]. Her halo never grows heavy, but, out of nowhere, she had a grudging admiration and respect for Isobel, who’s so often been a source of irritation to her.
Gleeful news: She’ll be sharpening her knives as Fellowes is giving her something to brighten her constant sarcastic funk. She’ll be engaging in a grand battle of wits again with (six-time Oscar nominee [one win], 21-time Golden Globe nominee [seven wins], and Kennedy Center Honoree Shirley MacLaine) Martha, tycoon sister of Lady Grantham who again crosses the pond. Later in the season, Countess Violet will also be able to scorn her ne’er-do-well playboy brother Harold (Oscar winner and five-time Golden Globe nominee [two wins] Paul Giamatti). Maybe he’ll give poor, new papa, chauffeur-turned-estate manager, Tom (Allen Leech) a break from her thumbing her nose at him.
Downstairs, the servants are getting on with it. Stern Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) attempts to bring harmony while facing a figure from his past. Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and irrepressible Mrs. Patmore (Leslie Nicol) watch as Daisy (Sophie McShera) blooms. Bates [Brendan Coyle], freed-from-two-burdens [a despicable ex; prison] returns to Downton and his faithful, hard-fighting wife Anna (Joanne Forggatt). Thomas (Rob James Collier) is still battling with sexuality issues and back to his old tricks [no pun intended]. The thoroughly despicable Miss O’Brien (menacingly played by Siobhan Finneran) still drowns in lust for him and jealousy of any good thing that happens to anyone. She makes a bold move. Not surprisingly, there’re no tears in its wake.
Season Four benefits from posh London locations, lots of music, and the continued brilliant production design by Donal Woods.
Among the new characters introduced are Dame Harriet Walter as the Dowager Countess’friend Lady Shackleton; Gary Carr, adding color, as jazz singer Jack Ross who romances untamable Lady Rose (Lily James); Joanna David , as the Duchess of Yeovil; dashing Tom Cullen as childhood friend Lord Gillingham, who has an eye for Lady Mary; Nigel Harman, as disruptive valet Green; Raquel Cassidy as maid Baxter whom Thomas has some sway over; Kiri Te Kanawa as the acclaimed soprano Dame Nelli Melba; and, adding tons of sex appeal, Julian Ovenden, will arrive as government official Charles Drake, who immediately clashes with Lady Mary.
Ah, life goes on at Downton Abbey. It’s the perfect medicine for the post-holiday blahs and the award nomination frenzy of the SAG Awards, Golden Globes, and Oscars. Downton Abbey, presented by WGBH Boston, is a Carnival Films/MASTERPIECE co-production, executive produced by Fellowes, Nigel Marchant, Gareth Neame, and Liz Trubridge. Rupert Ryle-Hodges is producer. Rebecca Eaton is executive producer for MASTERPIECE. Funding for the series is provided by Viking Cruises, Ralph Lauren Corporation, and viewers like you.