As Downton Abbey returns to ITV1 with World War One raging in 1916, Dan Stevens reveals what battles lie ahead for his character Matthew Crawley….

So what happens to Matthew this series?
“Well, he’s at war, an officer in the trenches of the Somme. And it’s an eventful war for Matthew, both at home and at the front, and a much more exciting, dynamic and dramatic storyline for me than in the first series.”

What was it like filming in the trenches?
“It was fantastic. It was very cold and muddy, but it was action-packed and the maddest thing I’d ever shot, especially compared to the first series where the most exhilarating thing Matthew did was ride a bicycle! This time I’m carrying wounded soldiers with bombs going off all around me! I’m wearing a tin helmet and firing a revolver at the Germans! This is now action-hero Matthew and I love it!”

The trenches look amazing…
“These were real trenches we filmed in, built to authentic specifications. They’re owned by a man in Suffolk! And the Suffolk landscape isn’t dissimilar to that of the Somme in northern France. Luckily the weather was pretty rubbish too, which helped with the mud and squalor of it all.”

But Matthew does get back to England and Downton?
“He comes back to Downton during his leave period, with a new fiancee, Lavinia, which ruffles a few feathers among the Crawley family at Downton, especially Lady Mary who he’d rejected at the end of the last series. The war does accelerate the relationship somewhat! Guys would be on the front, meet a girl on leave, visit her again, then propose! Confronting the possibility of death makes things happen much faster. No one dilly-dallied about!”

Do you think the audience will be quite divided about Matthew getting together with Lavinia, because many want it to work out with Lady Mary?
“Yes viewers do fall into two categories. People come up to me to say we hope you get together with Lady Mary, you’re so lovely together. While others say, don’t go with her she’s a bitch! It’s a real Marmite relationship and people get really passionate about it.”

So what side of fence are you on?
“I just want Matthew to be happy – he’s just so confused by entails and women! His life was turned upside down in the first series, mixing with a complicated character like Lady Mary.”

*Downton Abbey premieres on ITV1 on Sunday, September 18 at 9pm