It's hard to believe it's already the fourth series of Downton Abbey I'm writing this review about. It seems like yesterday this series first started and now it's become a fixed event on the calendars of period drama fans around the world! After the shocking ending of last year's Christmas Special, series 4 starts with a house in mourning. Mary can barely get through the days, but the estate needs managing. Tom, by now at home in his role of estate manager, tries to coax Mary out of her stupor and interest her in the running of the estate. Edith is set to meet her friend and editor Michael Gregson in London for the first time in half a year. Where will their relationship go? Downstairs, lady's maid O'Brien has suddenly left and the replacement is a familiar face who might cause trouble at Downton. The younger members of staff are still mixed up in their love troubles, while Alfred tries to further his dream of becoming a chef.
I tried to keep this review spoiler free.
The ending of last year's Christmas Special with Matthew dying in a car crash didn't sit well with many Downton fans, including me. Still, as promotion material and trailers for the new series emerged, I began to look forward to dive again in the now familiar world of the Abbey and the lives of my favourite characters. In that expectation, the fourth series did not disappoint as it brought many new stories, new relationships and new pretty scenes to enjoy! I thought the aftermath of Matthew's death was handled well in the first episode, with Mary making a decision to start her life again, but was 'forgotten' a bit in the later episodes, which I though was a missed chance at nuance. Mourning a loved one does not just stop when you decide to wear colourful clothes again! Though I was not a big fan of Mary's romantic plots this season, there were some really lovely scenes (the pigs!!) and I'm glad they decided not to progress to quickly with the romance. My favourite upstairs character this season might well be Branson. His character shows continuous growth and development and I love his friendship with Mary and Isobel. Talking about nuance, I thought it interesting Tom is still looking for his place and calling this season and adjusts, but never completely reverses his views. I also really liked the developing friendship between Isobel and Violet this season. Though Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess is a highlight as always, her best and most humorous (and most quotable!) scenes this season are when quarreling with Isobel! A new(ish) face upstairs is Rose, whom I really liked in the 2012 Christmas Special. Unfortunately her character disappointed me in this series, especially in the second half. I thought the writers could have 'plugged' her as the modern girl in many ways without going into the direction it went, which I though was a cheap choice. Lord Crawley seems to continuously loose fans since the second series and I'm afraid this newest season will not do his image much good. The writers seem to have stuck Robert into the role of old-fashioned landowner, which starts to become a bit repetitive and dull. Julian Fellowes take note: a good actor like Hugh Bonneville deserves better storylines! Last (and doesn't she always seem to come last) of the upstairs characters to discuss is Edith. My goodness, Julian Fellowes really seems to dislike this character. Just when things seem to go up for Edith, she has to deal with heartache again. I really, really would like to see some happiness for her next series!
Downstairs seems to be getting less interesting storylines this season. The romantic quartet of Daisy, Ivy, Jimmy and Alfred drags on and on through the whole series without a real resolution. This means, apart from Alfred, these characters hardly get any development, which is a pity. The direction in which the show takes Anna and Bates's story is another cheap and sensationalist choice and I think one of the biggest mistakes of Downton so far. I really hated this development and hated what it did to the separate characters of Anna and Bates. Two new faces where introduced downstairs this season, both of them lady's maids to Cora. The first one is a familiar face, Edna Braithwaite (MyAnna Buring), the housemaid from the 2012 Christmas Special. Her character stirs up a whole lot of trouble, especially for Branson. More interesting seems to be the second new lady's maid, Baxter. Her character is a bit ambiguous so far, but I'm looking forward to how she develops in the future. The highlight of the downstairs stories is the relationship between Carson and Mrs. Hughes. They continue to be wonderfully warm and wise and funny. Mrs. Hughes is my favourite character this season. She doesn't have many storylines of her own, but the way she helps and rules the roost is just amazing. Everybody needs a Mrs. Hughes in their lives as a friend and confidante, to be warmhearted when you need it and kick your opponent's butt!
Unfortunately, Downton Abbey does not have the same quality the series used to have in the first (two?) seasons anymore. The storylines are sometimes cheap, soapy and unlikely. However, there is still a great deal to enjoy: the touching friendships, the funny and sweet scenes, the picture it paints of a different time and ofcourse the gorgeous costumes cinematography. Fans of the series will no doubt both laugh and cringe at series 4, but will still look forward to their time at Downton Abbey!
What to know: It is implied two characters have sex before marriage, nothing is shown. One character becomes pregnant out of wedlock and thinks about having an abortion, though decides against it. There is a rape, you can hear the victim screaming. A character taking a girl out hints at expecting certain favors, though nothing happens in the end. There are some allusions to a character being gay. There are occasional (British) profanities and a good deal of social drinking.