“Downton Abbey” is about to kick off its fourth season in the United Kingdom, picking up six months after Matthew’s sudden death at the end of Season 3, which creator Julian Fellowes tells ITV was a time jump that made sense to him.
“It seemed to be much more interesting to, if you like, jump forward to Mary beginning to reconstruct her life,” says Fellowes. “And by leaving it six months, we could start with her 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.”
“At the beginning of Season 4, Mary is in a living hell,” says Neame. “She really doesn’t believe she’ll ever be happy or ever meet someone again. She’s really keeping the memory of Matthew alive. … But as the season progresses, she is a beautiful, eligible young widow and there is going to be mad interest.”
Part of the “mad interest” in Lady Mary revolves around two suitors — Anthony Gillingham (Tom Cullen, left) and Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden, right)).
“Anthony Gillingham is very much someone from the Crawley world — and he’s been dealing with very similar problems,” says Fellows. “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 if they want to get through. They’re both nice good men but they have a different kind of modus operandi.”
The idea of the land-owning class having to get with the times in order to survive is a theme that began in Season 3, with Branson and Matthew pushing and pulling Lord Robert into the here and now. That’s something that will continue in Season 4, with Branson now working as the estate agent at Downton.
“We will see Robert perhaps reverting to his moral authoritarian style. He is the moral patriarch,” says Neame. “The difference is that Robert owns [Downton] and Branson is the employee — he’s the land agent, the estate manager. He is Lord Robert’s agent. But we’ve established in the past the difference between Robert’s generation that wants to keep things as they were and the younger generation that knows that they have to evolve.”
But Lady Mary isn’t the only Crawley sister at Downton. Lady Edith is still there and her season on the show looks markedly different from Lady Mary’s.
“Things take quite a good turn quite early on. It’s a very, very good season for Edith. Good, great stuff is happening for her,” says Neame, to which we say — it’s about time.
Turning downstairs, what of Anna and Bates? Joanne Froggatt tells Zap2it that everyone’s favorite servant couple will have a “period of happiness.”
“You’ll see them happy and smiling, there are good times ahead,” adds Neame. “But as always with this show, there are road blocks, there are difficulties. Not just Anna and Bates, but none of the characters have necessarily an easy ride.”
Fellowes adds, “The trick of ‘Downton’ is that it’s quite funny but it makes you cry. You have to keep that in mind always — it mustn’t be so funny that it ceases to be real because then it won’t make you cry. But you mustn’t cry so much that you can’t then enjoy a scene in the kitchen with Mrs. Patmore.”
“Downton Abbey” premieres Sunday, Sept. 22 on ITV in the U.K. and Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014 on PBS in the U.S.