Ever since an invitation to the Downton Abbey series four press launch landed on my desk last month, I’ve been more than a little bit excited. And yesterday’s event at London’s Mayfair Hotel did not disappoint...
Elizabeth McGovern and Laura Carmichael at the 'Downton Abbey' TV series 4 press launch
Not only did I get to meet Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) and the very handsome Ed Speleers (Jimmy), but we were given lots of ice cream and biscuits to eat, and were also treated to a screening of the first episode of the new series.
Last time we checked in with the residents of Downton was on Christmas Day, and lest we forget, the episode ended with the death of Matthew Crawley in a car crash just hours after the birth of his son, George. When we meet them again, it is six months later in 1922, and understandably the Grantham family, and namely his widow, Lady Mary, are still struggling to come to terms with his death.
Highlights of the episode include the return of slippery maid Edna Braithwaite, Lady Edith’s colourful Roaring Twenties scenes at London’s Criterion, an electric whisk getting Mrs Patmore in a tizzy, and Tom Branson taking a more key role in Matthew’s absence. Allen Leech, who plays Tom, said at the launch, ‘It’s sad, you miss them. But then you have the story and your character continues and develops. Keep going, that’s showbiz!’ Tom’s wife, Lady Sybil also died in the last series. And he said this bonds him and Lady Mary in series four.
‘The relationship with Tom and Mary, they’re unified in their grief,’ said Allen. ‘They’re the only person who knows what the other person has been through. They’re both now widowed and both have a young child and they form a great friendship from that.’ As if watching the first episode wasn’t enough of a treat, we were also given an incredible surprise performance by New Zealand opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
She appears in the new series as one of the most famous singers of the late Victoria era, Australian operatic soprano Dame Nellie Melba, performing two pieces during a house party thrown by the Earl of Grantham. Her beautiful performance apparently reduced the cast and crew to tears. But she was very nervous. ‘I didn’t sleep the night before,’ she said. ‘I took my two dogs along [to the set], and I was expecting doggie number three [at the time] and she’s called Abbey as in Downton Abbey.’
Thankfully, there isn’t much longer to wait for the fourth series to hit our screens this autumn. And when it does you’re in for a treat. Pick up a copy of Grazia in September to read more interviews with the cast.