The Abbey’s back!

Sit back and en­joy as TV Week cel­e­brates the re­turn of ITV’s pe­riod mas­ter­piece

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - COVER STORY -

We re­turn to Down­ton Abbey in the dead of night, six months af­ter the death of Matthew Craw­ley. The hon­eyed stone of the great house is sheathed in dark­ness. Only a sin­gle bed­room light glows, high up near the eaves. A shadow moves across the win­dow. What’s that noise? A baby cry­ing? A bat? Mrs Pat­more stran­gling a pheas­ant for lunch? There’s no way of telling. The walls of Down­ton must keep their se­crets just that bit longer.

For yes, the fourth se­ries of Down­ton Abbey is al­most here. This year it will be ac­com­pa­nied by the bril­liant new book Be­hind The Scenes At Down­ton Abbey, a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the mak­ing of the show, se­ri­alised here ex­clu­sively. Some of the chap­ters give a tan­ta­lis­ing in­sight into what prom­ises to be an­other clas­sic se­ries, al­though some of us may not have re­cov­ered from the trauma of our last visit to Down­ton – the tearstained Christ­mas spe­cial that ended with the death of Matthew Craw­ley. A crum­pled fender, a trickle of blood run­ning down his no­ble brow, a man cut down in his prime. Just what hap­pened? Your guess is as good as ours.

All that was clear was Matthew ly­ing at the side of the road, gone for­ever. The episode ended with Mary hold­ing her baby, un­aware her hus­band was dead.

In the new se­ries all that’s left of Matthew is a pho­to­graph in a frame, glint­ing in the lamp­light on Lady Mary’s dress­ing ta­ble. A photo – and an heir, of course. Lucky him – but how is ev­ery­one else cop­ing?

Mary, of course, is still in mourn­ing. Brother-in-law Tom Bran­son will be a com­fort, for he’s been through a sim­i­lar be­reave­ment with the death of his wife, Lady Sy­bil, in se­ries three. Not too much of a com­fort, per­haps, as be­fore long keen ad­mir­ers will no doubt be crunch­ing up the gravel drive. Mean­while Lord and Lady Gran­tham con­tinue to flour­ish de­spite all that’s hap­pened. That un­pleas­ant af­fair with Pa­muk the Turk. O’Brien and The In­ex­pli­ca­ble Soap In­ci­dent. The mys­te­ri­ous cousin who may or may not have sur­vived the Ti­tanic. Those wrin­kles have been smoothed over, like the news­pa­pers ironed each morn­ing for his lord­ship’s pe­rusal.

Dowa­ger Count­ess Vi­o­let – played by Mag­gie Smith – con­tin­ues to stalk the cor­ri­dors with her cane, look­ing for peo­ple to ar­gue with. Now, she has a new spar­ring part­ner. Her old school chum Lady Shack­le­ton (Har­riet Wal­ter) is one of the few who is not in­tim­i­dated by waspish Vi­o­let, so ex­pect some de­li­cious clashes.

Else­where, Down­ton is in flux. We are in 1922, but it’s not quite the Roar­ing 20s yet. The world is chang­ing – but some char­ac­ters are keener than oth­ers to em­brace the new. In this, Lady Edith leads the way. She is al­most un­recog­nis­able from the dowdy frump of se­ries one, se­duced by a dif­fer­ent life in Lon­don and her re­la­tion­ship with Michael Greg­son, her ed­i­tor at The Sketch. In one scene in the first episode, she has din­ner with him at the Cri­te­rion, a big step for a woman whose mother once told her she was never to eat in pub­lic. Now here she is drink­ing cham­pagne and flirt­ing with an older man.

Down­ton is mov­ing into the Jazz Age in more ways than one. Gary Carr plays Jack Ross, the drama’s first black char­ac­ter, a jazz singer who per­forms with his band at a party at the house. He then be­comes em­broiled with the Craw­leys in un­ex­pected ways – par­tic­u­larly with Lady Rose MacClare. Down­stairs there’s a new boot room where the ser­vants can gos­sip and plot without be­ing over­heard. Car­son and Mrs Hughes are still locked in a dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ship, and all the old favourites are there, too. Pro­duc­ers have promised there will be fewer de­par­tures and deaths in this se­ries, and there’ll be guest ap­pear­ances, in­clud­ing one from opera star Kiri Te Kanawa. It’s shap­ing up to be a real swell sea­son!

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