Don’t worry, you can read on safely, there are no spoilers in this post.
We know Downtown Abbey doesn’t return to PBS till January, so we won’t be disclosing any plot points, but the show returned to British screens this evening for the launch of its fourth season and, we are happy to report, it was a rather wonderful return to form.
At the close of season three, you may recall, Matthew Crawley, was dramatically killed in a car crash, on the way back from hospital after visiting his new born child, and I don’t think I am giving too much away by saying that his widow Lady Mary is not taking it particularly well. But I think she will pull through.
What this opening episode really succeeded at was taking Downton back from an over reliance on massive, melodramatic plot points – car crashes, deaths, murders and so on – to the compelling minutiae of aristocratic British life of the period both above and below stairs.
The ever-intriguing management of staff is the principal theme of the opening episode, and we are encouraged to identify with the greatest fear of a servant – losing one’s job – through the travails of Matthew’s former valet, Mosely, as he has to deal with being kicked out of the house. The wicked plotting of servants is also marvellously well rehearsed.
Best line, as you might expect, goes to the Dowager Countess when discussing the British Prime Minister Lloyd George’s imposition of savagely high death duties to try and rebuild the nations finances after the war: “I wonder if he isn’t really German, pretending to be Welsh.”