Downton Abbey Series 4

Rejoice, Downton Abbey Fans: The Dowager Countess Returneth

Downton Abbey fans, we can all breathe a (gigantic) sigh of relief. Though we already knew that everyone’s favorite costume drama was going to be back for a fourth series, filming is set to begin in just a few weeks – though word on the street from the Television Critics Association Press Tour this week says that Downton Series 4 will still bow in January 2014 in America.

Anyway, yes, that’s all awesome and everything, obviously, but let’s get to the news we really care about – for what is Downton without the acerbic wit and cutting one liners of the Dowager Countess? Well, thankfully, we won’t have to find out anytime soon. TV Line News reported exclusively yesterday that executive producer Gareth Naeme has confirmed Dame Maggie Smith has signed on for the drama’s fourth series. (Warning: Series 3 spoilers are present over at that site so tread carefully if you visit it!)

Smith was originally contracted for the show’s first three series, but there had been some doubt about whether the actress would choose to continue on past that point in the role that’s won her a boatload of acting awards in recent years. In another interview with TV Line earlier this year, creator Julian Fellowes explained that Smith was in charge of her own destiny on the show.

“I can’t tell you, ‘Oh, yes, she’s definitely contracted [for Season 4] — because she isn’t,” Fellowes said at the time. “It’s entirely up to her when she stays and when she goes.”

“With Maggie, you never know,” he added. “Other [actors] sign on for the next series and they sign for this and they sign for that, but she doesn’t. She stays her own person. But as far as I’m concerned, I hope she stays with the show until Downton falls down.”

We do too, Julian. We do too. Series 4 certainly seems like a good start!

The Downton Abbey Rumor Mill: Whither, Dan Stevens?

It’s been kind of a rough couple weeks for British television lovers everywhere. First Merlin gets cancelled, then Sherlock Series 3 filming gets pushed back and now there’s a very unsettling rumor going around (again) about everyone’s favorite costume drama Downton Abbey.

Americans everywhere are eagerly awaiting the premiere of Series 3 in the States in just about a month and the news that Series 4 has already been commissioned by ITV has been greeted with widespread excitement worldwide. Therefore, it’s extra hard to contemplate this particular rumor, which is a bit on the upsetting side. Take this with a gigantic grain of salt considering the source, but the Sunday Express has reported that Downton leading man Dan Stevens will not be returning for Series 4. (Warning: there are major Series 3 spoilers in that Express article, so tread carefully if you want to read more over there.)

The charismatic actor, who plays Matthew Crawley, is extremely popular with fans and one-half of the show’s central romantic relationship, opposite Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary. The Express quotes a source as saying, "Dan Stevens isn’t returning to the series. He will probably do the first episode of the fourth series, but that will be it."

Um. What?

Well, first of all fellow Downton obsessives, let’s take a deep breath. There’s every reason to hope that this story isn’t actually something that will come to pass. I’ve gone on at some length before about the fact that the Express is not the most trustworthy of sources given their extreme reliance on citing seemingly random and unnamed “production sources,” so there’s every possibility that this story isn’t true. (Yes, this rumor has basically run everywhere, in every kind of entertainment publication over the past week. But those stories all track back to the Express as the initial source.) ITV has yet to issue any sort of statement or confirm or deny this report. All we have to go on are these “unnamed sources” who could realistically be anyone at all.

But…what if it is true? Can Downton Abbey survive without one of its biggest leading men? And, more importantly, would people still tune in? There are a lot of possibilities/issues to address on this topic, so bear with me and let’s hash it out.

Confirmed: Downton Abbey Renewed for Series 4!

Great news for fans of British costume dramas, great television generally and the Crawley family particularly: megahit Downton Abbey has been renewed for a fourth series by ITV!

While this news isn’t terribly surprising – Series 3 scored Downton’s highest ratings to date in the UK, and both Series 1 and 2 have done extremely well in America – it’s still nice to have official confirmation of the series renewal only three weeks after the UK finale aired and six weeks prior to its premiere in America.

Filming is expected to begin at Highclere Castle and Ealing Studios in early 2013 (likely February), with the new episodes slated to be broadcast on ITV next Fall. The new season will once again be comprised of eight episodes, with an extended Christmas special in 2013. The opening and closing episodes of Series 4 will also once again be feature-length and the saga of the Crawley clan will continue on into the early 1920s.