Downton Abbey series five episode one – spoiler-free preview

Romance, reform and Anna Chancellor dominate the return of the ITV period drama...

Times are a-changing as we return to Downton Abbey and Julian Fellowes is making damn sure we know it. Series five picks up in 1924 with Robert & co facing reform thanks to the country’s very first Labour government. And, as Carson so aptly puts it, “I feel a shaking of the ground I stand on.” 


Every member of the Abbey appears to have been bitten by the bug. Except anachronistic Lord Grantham and Carson, that is, who remain staunchly horrified at the changes afoot. But with real career prospects in the offing, certain members of staff are on a mission for personal development. We’re talking algebra, mental arithmetic… the works. 

Meanwhile, upstairs we see the return of saucy Mary – her widow’s weeds cast aside for good and the race still on between Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake to win her hand. Lord Grantham’s eldest – and poor Matthew’s widow – famously had a man croak in her bed in series one, so with one of her suitors angling for an illicit night of passion, could that be the shock exec producer Gareth Neame has warned us of?  

Mary may be enjoying plenty of attention, but poor Edith is, understandably, down in the dumps. We’ve been promised a “happier” fifth series – and plenty of sharp-tongued sparring between the two sisters – but Laura Carmichael spends much of this opening episode with a long face. And rightly so. Not only has her lover and presumed husband-to-be vanished into thin air, but her illicit love child Marigold is growing up mere metres from the Abbey and NO ONE KNOWS. With Robert balking at Branson’s after-hours house tour, we can only imagine the scandal should he catch wind. 

But while romance is off the cards for Edith, another member of the house gets a surprise blast from the past when Lady Anstruther, aka Anna Chancellor aka Duckface, pays the Granthams a visit. We simply can’t imagine a role to which she’s better suited and, take it from us, Duckface has enough stinging one-liners to give Maggie Smith a run for her money. 

Violet continues to save her barbed remarks for Isobel who is still being courted by Lord Merton – something the Dowager Countess is none too pleased about. After all, as Jane Austen once said, “a single peer with a good estate won’t be lonely long.” Ok, that one was actually Fellowes but you can see where he sought his inspiration. 

Indeed, it looks like old Fellowes has been watching a good few rom-coms while writing this first episode as romance hovers in the air for many of the cast. Maybe it’s something to do with that hand-holding in last year’s Christmas special?

Tom finally gets to put those twinkly eyes to good use as he and Miss Bunting continue to exchange stolen glances. Meanwhile, Molesley has some tricks up his sleeves to roll back the years and impress the furtive Baxter. Although, with Botox still a few years off, his methods don’t grant him much success. 


Well, that’s more than enough for now. After all, executive producer Gareth Neame did ask us very nicely not to spoil his first episode. Will you be tuning in when series five returns this autumn? And, if so, what do you want to see from the Abbey? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below…