Downton Abbey has become an obsession on both sides of the pond and American fans who have been feeling withdrawal pangs finally relaxed when the fourth season returned last night (in Britain the fourth season aired in September 2013). It's now 1922 and the look of Downton is still sumptuous, but it also seems a little harsher and brighter, as if all the soft focus has gone out of the Crawleys' lives.
Image: BBC America
The first episode begins six months after the tragic death of Matthew. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is in mourning and having trouble connecting with their baby, George. Everyone knows by now that actor Dan Stevens wanted out of his contract and show creator Julian Fellowes scrambled to write the character out in a fitting manner. After the emotional death mid-season of another important character, daughter Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), in childbirth, the show decided that an untimely and unexpected death in a motor accident was the way to go. Only time will tell if both Mary and the viewers will get over Matthew's death and allow her to move on. This season will offer her some competing suitors — friend of the family Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) and Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden).
But Mary was hardly the only one affected by Matthew's death. His mother (Penelope Wilton) feels as if she is a non-person, as "a mother who has lost their only child isn't anything anymore," until she is reminded that she is a grandmother (and someone who excels at helping those less fortunate than herself). Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), to the alarm of pretty much everyone, thinks that he should manage the substantial finances of his grandchild George. Valet Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is up to his old tricks, the new object of his machinations the new nanny for the children — although he doesn't limit his tricks to just one person.
Soapy plot turns aside (and Downton is notorious for these), it was just great to see some of the familiar faces again. Upstairs: Dowager Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith, amazing as always), her son the Earl of Grantham and his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and their middle daughter "poor Edith" (Laura Carmichael). Downstairs: Butler Carson (Jim Carter), Housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), newlyweds Mr Bates, Lord Grantham's valet (Brendan Coyle) and Lady's Maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), and Cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), and so many more. Fellowes has guaranteed that there will be no major character deaths. that is something at least, but there have been rumblings of some big twists coming for beloved characters this season — especially the Bateses. Fellowes does love to take his fans on a period-based roller coaster ride.
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