Series four of ITV1's global hit drama Downton Abbey opens six months after the sudden death of Matthew in a car accident, with Lady Mary still struggling to cope with her grief and to look after baby George.
“The world in which Downton began has more or less ended and now they have to find a new way forward,” says creator Julian Fellowes. “It seemed to be much more interesting to, if you like, jump forward to Mary beginning to reconstruct her life. And by leaving it six months, we could start withher at her lowest ebb, but at the beginning of the period when it sort of becomes time for you to start getting out and about again, starting to make things happen once more.”
How does she and the rest of Downton do this? There are new faces, especially Anthony Gillingham (Tom Cullen) and Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden), who will provide a diversion for Lady Mary and the rest of the family and staff, as well as a big house party which will presage a new, more upbeat mood.
“Anthony Gillingham is very much someone from the Crawley world,” says Julian, “and he’s been dealing with very similar problems. Charles Blake is a different kettle of fish: he is very much a modern thinker. He thinks the landed class, or indeed anyone else, are going to have to shape up ifthey want to get through...”
New Zealand opera star Dame Kiri Te Kanawa plays Australian opera legend Nellie Melba in the big set piece, the house party, which occurs midway through the eight-part series.
Julian said:“These houses were built to impress and to entertain and it just struck me as being odd that we’d never had a house party."
It marks a general lightening of the spirits in the big house, after two tragic deaths and a period in which, as Julian puts it,“We’d had lots of sadness and people in black dresses lying in bed and thinking ‘Oh God'.”
But it's not all optimism, as there is more upset looking for Downton's favourite couple, Anna and Bates. And Downton fans can be assured that other favourites will feature as centrally as before.