The hit ITV series, Downton Abbey is returning to UK screens for a fourth series on Sunday 22nd September 2013.
A creation of Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), who has since been created Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, Downton Abbey is a romp through the aristocracy of the United Kingdom, celebrating everything “upstairs, downstairs” in a traditional landed family.
The show has been screened in 220 territories to an estimated global audience of over 120 million people. The cast and creators have been blown away by the response to the series, not least in the United States with customs officials, P Diddy and even Michelle Obama all confessing to being huge fans. That success is set to continue as the programme starts up again on ITV for the Autumn season.
Series four begins six months into the mourning period for Lady Mary, who lost her husband Matthew in a car accident at the end of the last series. Social mores are changing following the First World War and the audience is educated about the class implications of eating in public, stealing a maid and the role of women.
Moreover, Fellowes explores the difficulties for the landed classes as they grapple with death duties and the changing agricultural landscape. Downstairs, Mrs Patmore is just as concerned about looming obsolescence as new technology is introduced to the kitchen.
There are kisses, punches, drink, dancing, betrayal and excitement among both servants and family. Thomas is up to his usual tricks, putting Anna and Bates in for a rough ride. Tom Branson must make his way without Matthew’s support and Lady Rose is determined to have a good time, putting everyone in yet another awkward position.
Love is definitely in the air, and the fortunes of Downton, although always in the balance, look secure.
For some added sparkle, a VIP guest was invited to appear on the show. At a party held by Robert and Cora, the contemporary Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba gives a performance. But who should play such an important historical figure?
Julian Fellowes explains:
“We have another antipodean opera star who is, I think, within a year the same age as Nellie Melba. We all thought it would be great if Dame Kiri Te Kanawa would do it, and thank God she did! It was very exciting for the cast and the servants to be sitting there listening to Kiri Te Kanawa giving them their own personal concert.”
In addition to a great house party, which takes place in episode 3, Producer Liz Trubridge also promises fewer character deaths following the demise of Lady Sybil, Lavinia, William and Matthew in previous series:
“We don’t want to have any more deaths at the moment, that’s for sure. At least not straight away. But let me put it this way, I think we’re very conscious of the effect that both Sybil and Matthew had on the viewers and therefore you don’t want to keep doing that, of course you don’t. At the same time, you don’t want the pendulum to go too far the other way and just to become froth.”
As for locations, aside from the centrepiece that is Highclere Castle, London gets a look-in as Lady Edith courts her editor among a fashionable, artistic set in the capital. Gold, marble, mosaics and mirrors chime with the twenties era setting for the drama and give a sparkle to the plot while the family back at Downton Abbey are mourning.
The Criterion Hotel has played host to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, suffragettes meetings, Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George giving an unmistakable twenties air to the scenes of Downton Abbey in which it features. It is this stunning building which gives the backdrop to a thoroughly modern dinner date between Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards).
The pinnacle of the London scenes is the appearance of Lady Edith in a stunning beaded dress. Laura Carmichael said of the costume:
“There’s a brilliant dress I wore in The Criterion which the costume girls were calling ‘Beadith’ because it’s covered in beads. Her costumes feel so risqué! They’re beautiful and sexy. There are some things that people would wear to awards ceremonies now – they’re stunning. It’s all no corsets and very revealing even for now, you know, with some low cuts and things, but then also the one in the hotel has a big split up the leg. This was a time when we weren’t showing uncovered ankles a few seasons ago. So it’s a big change.”
The biggest change on the programme, however, is the presence of children in the house. As is tradition, Sybil and George are being cared for by a nanny. Michelle Dockery has revealed that baby George is, in fact, played by twins. Allen Leech, who plays Branson, has been getting on well with the 19 month old girl who plays Sybbie, saying that his Daddy skills are “okay”.
However, mothering isn’t the only future in store for Mary. As friends and family try to help her out of her grief, a coterie of suitors begins to emerge and the big house party promises a lot of excitement for the characters and fans alike.
Downton Abbey will be screened on ITV in the UK on Sunday’s at 9pm from 22nd September 2013.
- Lady Rosamund Painswick played by Samantha Bond
- Earl of Grantham, Robert played by Hugh Bonneville
- Edna Braithwaite played by MyAnna Buring
- Lady Edith Crawley played by Laura Carmichael
- Mr Carson played by Jim Carter
- John Bates played by Brendan Coyle
- Lady Mary Crawley played by Michelle Dockery
- Molesley played by played by Kevin Doyle
- Michael Gregson played by played by Charles Edwards
- Anna Bates played by Joanne Froggatt
- Lady Rose MacClare played by played by Lily James
- Thomas Barrow played by Rob James-Collier
- Tom Branson played by Allen Leech
- Mrs Hughes played by Phyllis Logan
- Countess of Grantham, Cora played by Elizabeth McGovern
- Daisy Mason played by Sophie McShera
- Alfred Nugent played by played by Matt Milne
- Mrs Patmore played by Lesley Nicol
- Doctor Clarkson played by played by David Robb
- Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet played by Dame Maggie Smith
- Jimmy Kent played by Ed Speleers
- Ivy Stuart played by Cara Theobold
- Isobel Crawley played by played by Penelope Wilton
Written and created by Julian Fellowes
Executive Producers: Gareth Neame, Julian Fellowes
Producer: Liz Trubridge