"Downton Abbey" returns Sunday, in an episode that's big, ambitious and (as usual) well-crafted. There are surprises ahead ... which, actually, shouldn't surprise us. From the beginning, "Downton" has sometimes managed to startle its viewers and its cast. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
is back and ready to surprise us ... again.
It does that a lot,
defying the traditions of British costume dramas. “The death of
Mr. Pamuk – in the third episode of the first season – was an
incredibly important storyline,” said producer Gareth Neame. “It
showed that we weren't that dusty old genre that everybody was
The show has kept
surprising viewers ... and its cast; Joanne Froggatt, who plays Anna,
has seen that: “Gareth said, 'Well ... there's a really big
storyline happening for Anna in Season 4.'”
She never imagined
how big: Anna (a “lady's maid) was raped by a visiting valet.
Fearing that her husband Bates would take vengeance and return to
prison, she kept it a secret. Then – on a day when Bates had
mysteriously disappeared – the villain was pushed to his death.
All of this caught
Froggat by surprise ... just as Allen Leech (who plays Tom) keeps
“I was hired for
three episodes” in the first season, Leech said, and “was lucky
enough to come back for the second, and thought that might be it. I
was expecting the 'you're fired' papers around the corner.”
Instead, Tom (the
chauffeur) and Lady Sybil (youngest of the three Crawley sisterts)
fell in love, married, moved to Tom's native Ireland and returned
after protests went bad. It was rich material ... that evaporated
when Jessica Brown Findlay, who plays Sybil, decided to leave the
“I thought that
might be it for me,” Leech said. Julian Fellowes, the “Downton”
embraced it,” Leech said, “and he engaged with what that poor man
had to do.” Sybil died while giving birth. Now Tom is a single dad,
raising his daughter amid his former employers.
“He's still the
guy stuck in no-man's-land, between these two worlds,” Neame said.
But the Crawleys are
gradually accepting him. Even Lady Mary, Sybil's eldest sister, has
warmed up. “Mary couldn't bear the idea of Sybil uniting with (Tom)
in the beginning,” said Michelle Dockery, who plays her. “It's
amazing how their friendship has evolved.”
They have a common
cause now: Like her late husband, Mary feels the estate's farming
must be modernized; Tom agrees – and now that he's estate manager,
he can do something about it. “The character's been on an
incredible journey,” Leech said.
More surprises are
coming, he said. Such as? “Well, the unicorn farm .... Definitely
out of left field.”
Leech is like that,
with a droll humor that stands out in any drab PBS discussion. He's
become the show's social-media star, someone the others would like to
emulate -- within reason.
“I need to just
sort of relax (and) let my personality come out a little bit more
like Allen does,” Froggatt said of social media. “But not quite
as much as Allen does.”
There may be plenty
of time for that. “Downton Abbey” has a large audience and high
interest; it's currently in 1924, separated from us by 90 years and
Classi: Downton Abbey,” 9 p.m. Sundays, PBS.
-- Eight-week season
goes from Jan. 4 to Feb. 22; most episodes are an hour, but the
season's opener and finale are longer.
-- Previous episodes
are available at www.pbs.org.
-- The opener is
followed at 10:15 by “The Manners of Downton Abbey,” hosted by
Alastair Bruce, the show's historical advisor.
-- For more history,
“Million-Dollar American Princesses” is 8 p.m. on three Sundays,
beginning Jan. 4, on the Smithsonian Channel. It views people similar
to the show's Cora Crawley – American heiresses who married into