Speaking to the Television Critics Association summer press tour Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) and Downton Abbey executive producer Gareth Neame answered questions about the hit show’s upcoming 4th season. The following comments contain spoilers so proceed with caution!
After the devastating loss of Downton heir Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) Neame confirmed that season 4 spans the spring of 1922 to summer 1923 allowing for a time shift that helps the characters deal with their loss. Neame said, “I think all of us in a way, as viewers of the show, feel we’ve gone through a bereavement with the loss of Matthew, and it’s really nice to feel that we’ve gone through several months of coming to terms with that, and we are going to reconnect with these characters who have also had several months to deal with the immediate shock of that, so that both the audience and the characters have experienced some passage of time.”
Even if Matthew had survived last season as the show moves on in time there are still threats to Downton and its occupants as Neame explained, “We are really getting into the ’20s. You really are into this era when these houses started to disappear, where they are in threat, where all of those old things are being cast aside. And that’s a journey for however long this show goes on … This world is coming to an end. But although there is Matthew’s death to get over, there is this whole change of direction for Mary, and there is for all of the characters coming into this modern age. Ultimately, the heart of the show … is the story of these 20-25 characters that are much-loved around the world and how they all continue to try and get by and get on, and how they interact and how they make each other laugh and how they hate each other and have disputes and rivalries and all of the things that have been the fuel of all of the previous seasons.”
How is Lady Mary?
As Mary tries to cope with the loss of Matthew the family disagrees about how they should try to help the grieving widow. Unfortunately Mary has returned to her cold pre-Matthew self which has an impact on her child. Dockery explained, “She was never going to be a very maternal mother … And also, within the aristocracy, they didn’t really see their kids very much. So there’s a nanny, and eventually there will be a governess looking after baby George. So you don’t see much interaction between the baby and Mary. To begin with, it’s hard to bond with the baby because she’s going through the grief. She looks at him and she sees Matthew. So it’s a slow process with motherhood for Mary.”
Mary will also have to deal with an influx of suitors at her door now that she is a single woman again. But Dockery assures that widower Branson will definitely not be one of them. “We are aware that there are suspicions about Tom and Mary’s relationship, but they are very much friends, and he is her brother-in-law still. I think they become close because of what they’ve both been through, having lost a partner. And, also, Mary becomes far more involved in the running of the estate with Tom. So they do – we do have a lot of scenes together. But, romantically, I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I hope not. It’s very inappropriate!”
Addressing Dan Steven’s departure Dockery said, “My first reaction was ‘oh, crap! What is going to happen?’ Because I thought, ‘Where can the story go now?’ We’ve spent all this time having this on/off, will they/won’t they relationship, and then suddenly it was coming to an end. So initially I was concerned about what would happen. But I think that, as much as it was sad to see Dan go, the same as it was to see Jessica [Brown Findlay] go, it opens up opportunities for Julian [Fellowes] to write a new chapter and something quite different, not only for Mary, but the knock on effect it has for other characters. Initially I was I was concerned, but now I’m not because it’s a great series, and it’s a very different series to what it could a have been.”
Lady Edith the modern-day maverick?
Laura Carmichael previewed season 4 for the long-suffering Edith. “She is still involved with the paper. And it is a lot more complicated than [just dating her editor], which I’ll have to let you see without giving too much away, as ever. But the death of Matthew really affects the whole family. So when we start, she hasn’t seen Michael Gregson [Charles Edwards] for some time, due to the fact that the family is in mourning. So when we come back to the house, she’s seeing Michael for the first time, which is a lovely scene that’s in the first episode. She’s still turning in some articles. And we know that she’s been writing about the cause of the soldiers, but it’s a kind of modern woman thing. I like to think of her as the Carrie Bradshaw of the ’20s.”
Neame added, “I think what we can say is it really is a very different season for Edith this year. It’s very exciting and a very active story for Edith.”
Is there a future for Downton?
Neame confirms a fifth series is a definite. He said, “The show is so popular around the world now, and it is it’s beloved, and it’s in fine form. We are shooting the final episode of Season 4 … We’ve edited most of the episodes. The fourth season is in extremely good health. Our minds are now in the fifth season and what those stories potentially would be … I’d give it away by saying we are not going to World War II, but that’s still 18 years away or something in storytelling. So I think it has a while to go … If people love the show around the world, we want to keep making it. And when we feel that maybe it’s had its time, hopefully we’ll know that before you guys do, and we’ll make a decision to call it a day. When that will be, I don’t know, but it’s not anytime soon.”
Dockery added: “As far as we know, we are all doing Series 5 next year, and beyond that, we really don’t know. That’s in the hands of Julian and our producers.”
More season 4 highlights:
- Thomas is still causing trouble
- Mrs. Hughes snoops into Mr. Carson’s personal business
- Lady Rose has a potential love connection with a Jazz musician
- The downstairs crew is excited for Valentine’s Day
- Shirley MacLaine returns for the season 4 finale
Downton Abbey returns to PBS Jan 5, 2014.