Downton Abbey series four, episode one - preview pictures and predictions

A look ahead at the first episode of series four, accompanied by Ellie Walker-Arnott's patented guessing game...

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Downton Abbey series four, episode one - preview pictures and predictions
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It's been nine long months since Downton Abbey last graced our TV screens but you can breathe that sigh of relief. It's finally here. The world is the way it should be again.

Doesn't it just feel like all the pieces of your life are slotting into place? Like that strange empty feeling in the pit of your stomach has finally been filled? (No? Oh, okay. Just me then...)

Downton Abbey is making its triumphant return to the telly-box on Sunday and it would be a lie to say we haven't been dreaming of this moment for weeks. But let's not forget that Julian Fellowes has a lot of making up to do. The last time we were in his period drama world we had our hearts broken. And they were already straining under the pressure of all that festive turkey and mulled wine before poor Matthew was killed at the wheel of his modern motor car.

When it comes to the start of series four, we've got a lot of questions... How will Mary cope without her beloved Matthew? Will Branson be the man to warm her broken heart? Is Mary a natural mother? Has Edith run off with her married man? How much mischeif has Lady Rose already got up to? And what will Violet have to say about it all?

We've got pictures of the drama to come this Sunday, and it has been our absolute pleasure to get back to making sweeping judgements and spurious predictions about what Downton Abbey might have in store. Here goes... 

Michelle Dockery, Lady Mary, Downton Abbey, series four episode one

Mary's looking miserable, isn't she? Which is completely understandable, of course. The poor love spent series three as a newlywed snuggling up to her Matthew. And then along came the Christmas special and before you could say Terry's Chocolate Orange he was cruelly taken from her on the day she gave birth to their first child. Cruel, Fellowes, too cruel.

Sunday's episode kicks off six months after Matthew's road accident. And Mary looks a little like she's been sat in this chair the whole time, slowly shrinking inside her mourning dress. Where baby George is is another question all together. We know the upper classes like their little ones to be seen and not heard, but it seems Mary prefers them not to be seen either. We suspected the eldest Crawley sister wouldn't be a natural mother, but without warm-hearted Matthew there to help we'd guess poor little George has barely seen his mum.  

Tom Branson, Allen Leech, Downton Abbey, series four episode one

No ones likes a show-off, Branson. Just because you're a natural father with an unbelievably cute little toddler who you enjoy spending time with doesn't mean you have to rub it in Mary's face.

Look, he's even matched his tie to little Sybie's dress. Perhaps he's already getting the tot out in high society. If he's made the leap from Chauffeur to Estate Manager, it's important that Sybie doesn't hinder his progress. If the Branson name is to stay firmly in the upper classes she'd better bag herself a rich boyfriend, eh? 

And quick. Forget the much-speculated romance between Branson and Mary, the most obvious outcome is baby George as Sybie's date. Yes, it would make her a literal cradle-snatcher - the poor baby can barely hold his own head up - but it would secure Branson's place in the family, wouldn't it?

Laura Carmichael, Lady Edith, Downton Abbey, series four episode one

Forget babies, Lady Edith has clearly got something slightly different on her mind. It might be 1922, Edith, but that's not the only reason this feels a little inappropriate. No one likes a PDA, now, do they? 

We know she hasn't had much luck in the love department, what with that rather embarrasing jilting business in series three... but there's no need to look so keen, either. Let him lean in a little, love. No one likes having it so easy. Treat them mean and all that... 

Laura Carmichael, Lady Edith, Downton Abbey, series four episode one

Have Edith and Gregson decided it's time to give in to those urges and set off on an illicit weekend away? Or maybe they are going one step futher and running away together to live in sin? 

Or... perhaps we are jumping the gun a little here. Gregson isn't actually anywhere to be seen. And unless she's very quickly replaced him with an elderly chap (you know how she likes an older man...) in a chauffuer's get up, this might have very little to do with sin, or urges, come to that.

Maybe Edith is leaving the hallowed halls of the Abbey behind and setting up home in the big city? Laura Carmichael did recently tell RadioTimes.com that she saw Edith as the Carrie Bradshaw of the 1920s. It might just do her commentary on the struggles of the modern woman - as well as that fledgling affair - the world of good. A little flat in Chelsea could be just what she needs...

Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey, Lady Cora, Lord Grantham, series four episode one

It takes a very masculine man to be able to drink from a teacup whilst wearing a silky robe, doesn't it? But here is Robert pulling it off, sugar spoon and all. 

So what's going on here, then? What is making Cora and Robert look so shocked first thing in the morning? Perhaps news of Edith's departure has reached the Crawley couple? Maybe Mary has finally got up from that armchair? 

Or could it be that Thomas has been caught spying on them through the crack in their door. The devious under-butler is unlikely to ever live that nighttime excursion down. And, as I said, Robert does look rather fetching in his PJs... 

Sophie McShera, Daisy, Downton Abbey, series four episode one

Meanwhile, down in Downton's kitchens, a whole new sort of scandal is taking place. Do you see it? An ELECTRIC mixer. ELECTRIC. 

Yes. That's right. Motorised cooking equipment has come to Downton Abbey. And I can promise you it'll only be the start. It's a slippery slope this electricity malarky... Soon the halls of the Abbey will be filled with the noise of Carson doing the hoovering, of Cora drying her hair, of Thomas doing the tumbledrying. 

And Daisy looks smug doesn't she. But I suppose so would you if you knew your days of whipping cream and beating batter where over... 

Downton Abbey, series four episode one, Bates and Anna

Oh, no. What has Bates gone and done now? We thought all would be well in the kitchens now that everyone's favourite maybe-murderer is happily back amongst them. 

But clearly he's saying something contraversial here. And if something you say shocks Thomas (Downton's resident face-stroker), you really know you've gone a step too far. Perhaps he's making inappropriate ex-wife jokes, or some of that explicit prison lingo has slipped out. Come on now. That kind of talk just won't wash in the Abbey, Bates... 

Downton Abbey, Brendan Coyle, Joanne Froggatt, Anna and Bates, series four episode one

Always the smooth operator, eh? It seems Anna just can't stay mad at Bates for long.

If they think they are being subtle hiding behind that pillar they are very much mistaken. I'm pretty sure heavy petting, much like it is at the swimming pool, is forbidden in Carson's territory. I suppose they are keeping their hands to themselves, at least... 

Downton Abbey is on Sundays at 9:00pm on ITV