Tag Archives: Dan Stevens

Downton Abbey: Thoughts about Season 4

season 4 cast image

Warning: There are a few spoilers below for Downton Abbey seasons 1-3.

While the fourth season of Downton Abbey airs in the UK, we in the US must sit around twiddling our thumbs until January, attempting to avoid spoilers (well, some of us, anyway).  So far I’ve been successful, but I had a near miss this morning when Twitter started to discuss last week’s episode (I closed the window just in time).  No doubt I’ll eventually run into something, or my willpower will give out.  We’ll see which one comes first.

But until then, I’d like to share a little bit about what I hope to see (and what I’m concerned about) regarding season 4.

Here’s the trailer, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet:

Kissing, tears, dancing, and Dowager Countess wisdom–all the staples of the show are there.  There was a lot of positive buzz around the first episode, and it appears this season is going to focus on Lady Mary climbing out of her grief.  So here’s the big question for Downton Abbey: is there life after Dan/Matthew?

Lady Mary

And that leads me to one of the things I am really looking forward to this season.  Mary is one of the most dynamic characters on the show.  I want to see how she will move forward after the loss of Matthew, who was always such a huge part of her story.  I know Michelle Dockery will do a fantastic job, I just hope Julian Fellowes doesn’t do one of his classic “Let’s talk about this for one episode, and then bounce back and pretend like it never happened” moves.

Several new characters are coming on board this season who are being labeled as “Lady Mary’s suitors” and I just wonder if they can live up to the Matthew/Mary dynamic.  And how Mary will feel about them after the loss of her beloved husband.  And I can’t help but feel concerned for whoever she might choose, given the fate of all of her former love interests (Note: I still find it suspicious Richard Carlisle is never heard from again, and if any story about Mr. Pamuk made it in the papers, we certainly never heard about it…).

I truly loved Matthew and Mary together, but I do agree that “happily ever after” doesn’t drum up much drama, which leads me to…

season 4 anna and bates

What might be in store for Anna and Bates?  At the end of season 3 they were finally together, finally happy.  And given Mr. Fellowes’s philosophy on happy couples, I can only imagine what he has in store for them.  But judging from the trailer, it will involve some tears.  One guess is that Bates may not be as innocent as we think he is, or he may do something that shakes Anna’s steadfast faith in him.  Because otherwise those two are rock solid (unless Anna becomes pregnant, in which case she’s doomed, because that never marks a happy occasion at Downton).  Dare I say it?  I’d actually like to see a little shake up in their relationship this season, as long as it’s believable (again, I’m counting on you, Julian!).

branson

What about the other household member who lost a spouse last season?  I feel like Branson might be ready to move on, more so than Mary.  Maybe that’s because his entire relationship with Sybil revolved around her visiting him in the garage a few times, a botched elopement, and then some time in Ireland that we never saw.  Don’t get me wrong, their relationship was sweet and all, but they’re no Matthew & Mary.  But Branson himself is becoming a very intriguing character, caught between upstairs and down, unsure of what his social position is.  And now that one of his main allies is gone (Matthew), how will his relationship with the Crawleys fare?  Maybe Mary will step in to fill the gap left by her husband.

edith

I’m on the fence about what Edith’s story might be like this season, and whether or not I’m looking forward to it.  Sure, I want to see Edith come into her own at long last, and she deserves some happiness.  But I hope she doesn’t become some sort of walking cliche for the “working, independent girl” of the 1920s.  And speaking of cliches…

lily-james-as-lady-rose

This is the girl I’m really worried about.  Yes, Downton needs some new, young blood walking its halls.  But Rose got on my nerves in season 3, and I’m worried they’ll load her up with “flapper girl” cliches and make her a walking representation of a new decade.  But maybe I can forgive that if they give her character a little more substance.

daisy

I don’t even have any guesses as to what will happen downstairs this season.  From the trailer, it looks like we’ll have more love triangles going on, and some new faces.  What will it be like without O’Brien?  And who will replace her?  What evil business will Thomas get into, and who will be his new partner in crime?  His new buddy Jimmy, perhaps?  And will Daisy ever get her life sorted out?  Here’s hoping she doesn’t stalk around the kitchen with a perpetual scowl on her face this season.

What else?  I’m sure Robert will still walk around with his chest puffed up, spouting out bad advice, and Cora will quietly stand by his side.  I’m sure there’s some great Dowager quips to look forward to, and I’m excited to see Maggie Smith paired up with Harriet Walter (who played Fanny in the 1995 adaptation of Sense & Sensibility).  Let the sparring begin!

What are you looking forward to most about season 4 of Downton Abbey?  What are you most concerned about?  And are you trying to avoid spoilers, or do you feel they don’t impact your viewing enjoyment?

And as a reward for getting all the way through my rambling thoughts about Downton, click here to see the PBS preview of the first episode of season 4.

Photos copyright PBS and ITV.

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Trench scenes in Downton Abbey

Yesterday I wrote about trench construction (which you can read here) during World War I.  While fragments of the original trenches on the Western Front still exist today and are preserved as reminders of the war, most are long gone, grown over with grass and wildflowers, reclaimed by the earth they were dug from.

But there is one man, a farmer named Jeremy Hall who lives just outside of Ipswich, England, who can walk out on his property and step back in time.  Several years ago Taff Gillingham, a military historian, approached him with the idea of creating accurate trenches along a stretch of fallow land on his farm.  Jeremy Hall agreed, and in ten days’ time they had reconstructed an Allied trench using a 1916 British Trench Building manual.  The structure includes latrines and a system of communication trenches.  In 2006 they added a German trench (making sure that it was dug deeper and on the high ground).  Between the two is an accurately depicted no man’s land complete with shell holes, and trees shattered by shellfire.

Gillingham was charged with instructing the Downton Abbey actors about life in the trenches.  Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) described the experience of filming:

The war scenes were very exciting to film.  There was a network of trenches and it was amazingly authentic and incredibly muddy.  It really gave you a sense of the environment–going over the top, guns firing, bombs exploding, men shouting  and all the while the cameras are rolling.  The adrenaline really went–it wasn’t so much the noise of the bombs as that you could feel it in your chest.  And then you would look up at the end of the take to see the crew completely covered in ash.

Downton Abbey was the first drama filmed at the Ipswich site, but several documentary films have utilized the reconstructed trenches.

You can learn more about the Ipswich site here, as well as see a video of the trenches here.

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Downton Abbey Costumes

Admit it, one of the reasons we love Downton Abbey is the eye candy (and I’m not just talking about Dan Stevens, aka Matthew Crawley).

Sorry Matthew, I couldn't resist.

The gowns worn by the three sisters of Downton are not only gorgeous, but they help set the tone of the times and tell a story themselves.

Susannah Buxton is the costumer of Downton Abbey.  In an interview (which you can read here) she discusses how the costumes convey the personalities of the characters she is dressing.  Mary’s a no-nonsense sort of girl, and her wardrobe reflects this with very few lacy frills.  Edith’s dresses seem overly elaborate for her character, and after reading this interview I understand why.  She lacks the confidence of her older sister, so one would think she’d wear something that helped her blend in to the scenery.  But Buxton purposefully avoided this in order to prevent Edith’s character from becoming too cliche.  She would have had access to the same wealth as her older sister, so of course she would wear the latest fashions as well.

Sybil, Mary, and Edith

That leads us to Sybil, my favorite of the Crawley sisters.  She’s the youngest, and we see her grow up a great deal in the first series.  Buxton dresses her in a lot of floral prints to show her youth.  But Sybil’s progressive thinking and interest in women’s equality begins to shine through.  One of my favorite scenes in the first series is when Sybil enters the room, dressed for the evening meal in this:

Everyone’s jaw drops as she shows off her (gasp!) legs AND ankles.  In Buxton’s interview she explains that her inspiration for costumes came from Paul Poiret, a Parisian designer who took his inspiration from the Russian ballet company Ballet Russes.  Poiret introduced “harem” pants in 1911, a design highlighting American and European fascination with Turkish dress.  Here is a 1910 photo of a Ballet Russes costume designed by Leon Bakst:

I love how Sybil even strikes a similar pose when she shows off her new look to her family.

I have no doubt that costumes will play a major role in telling the story of the second series of Downton Abbey.  And I can’t wait to write about it!

Until then, I'll just have to wait...

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