Review: Downton Abbey (Series 4, Episode 1)


Warning: Spoiler alert!

I am sure I’m not the only one who has become tired of television’s ultimate solution to the problem of departing cast-members: killing them off. So naturally I was disappointed when Dan Stevens announced his departure from the show, and sure enough, at the end of the Christmas special, his character, Matthew Crawley, was dead. The death of a longtime, beloved character like Matthew was tragic, especially since it was not long after the death of a similarly popular character: Sybil Branson. We were left on a cliffhanger, with Matthew lying dead while the rest of the characters carried on obliviously. More tears were sure to come; I was not looking forward to series 4.

But thankfully, my worries were for nothing. Series 4 of Downton Abbey commences in its classic style. It is 6 months later. We have been spared the reaction of Matthew’s death, and can look forward to resuming our enjoyment of the show. With the exception of Mary Crawley, all characters resume their lives as normal. No, seriously. Their story lines are even still vaguely the same.

Lord Grantham is still trying to keep everything under control in the way he believes best, which in this case involves letting Mary sit in her room and sulk for as long as she wants. Edith Crawley is on a lengthy quest for romance (admirable considering she has seen much of what they lead to when they go wrong), and Maggie Smith is attempting to help people while delivering witty lines. Meanwhile, amongst the servants, we have Thomas continuing his conniving ways, Daisy hoping that someone fancies her, and Mrs Hughes getting involved in Mr Carson’s private business. While this is all interesting to watch, I can’t help but feel that the plots are beginning to get repetitive. We’ve seen this all before.

Luckily, there is a breath of fresh air. MyAnna Buring is back as Edna Braithwaite to replace Siobhan Finneran. For those who don’t remember, Edna was a maid in the 2012 Christmas special who was quietly dismissed due to her inappropriate behaviour towards Tom Branson. She now returns in a higher position, with the Crawley family still oblivious to her past misconduct. Hopefully her habits have not changed, and we can look forward to some cheeky action in future episodes.

As well as trouble from Edna, I’m also hoping for some more scheming from Thomas, who must be the closest thing this show has ever had to a villain. In true form, we see him creating trouble for the new nanny by telling Cora Crawley that she’s been neglecting the children. However, in a shock twist, this time Thomas is right on the money. Is this a new start for our favourite anti-hero?

In my opinion, the best bit of this episode was the confrontation between Mr Carson and Mary Crawley. Didn’t you just feel awful for Carson when she spoke so coldly towards him? His facial reaction said it all. But thankfully this was patched up later with a cry and a cuddle. Awww.

Hopefully there will be a few more unexpected surprises hidden around the corner, and the similar story-lines will deviate from what we’ve seen before. It has been a long, emotional ride for both characters and viewers, but Julian Fellows has begun the latest series with a positive, uplifting start. But of course, in true Downton Abbey form, I’m sure that another tragedy is not far away…

Downton Abbey series 4 is broadcasted on Sunday at 9pm on ITV1. 



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