Downton Pic
Downton Abbey. Image: ITV

Each year we celebrate Halloween in October and Christmas in December, and since the start of Downton Abbey four years ago, there’s also cause for celebration in September, when a new series of the successful drama begins airing to the delight of its millions of global devotees.

This year was true to form and Sunday night heralded the first episode of the fourth series. While the ‘will they, won’t they?’ love story of Lady Mary and cousin Matthew largely kept the show progressing for the first few series, audiences now have to come to terms with the golden couple only being half of what it used to be. The tragic death of Matthew Crawley predictably coloured the first hour of the episode, where a series of scenes involving a mourning Lady Mary and the quibbles of Lord Grantham, back to his old tricks, seemed the order of the day. Meanwhile in the nursery, Mr Barrow used his famous sensitivity to spot foul play with the rather pompous Nanny, but, to our immense relief, by the end of the episode baby George and little Sybil were in safe hands once more.

Meanwhile, downstairs, the arrival of St Valentine’s Day proved too exciting and confusing for most, as Daisy tried to decide which footman, the good-looking or the gormless, had sent her a card. Ivy merely proceeded to get wasted at the local pub with Jimmy.

In the long tradition of Carson keeping secrets, it emerged that one of his stage-buddies was wasting away in a workhouse. This allowed Mrs Hughes to maintain her own patterns of meddling while playing Florence Nightingale with an unusually, but understandably, reluctant Mrs Crawley.

While Lady Mary has retreated back to her cold persona, reminiscent of the first series, Lady Edith seems to finally be breaking free of her austere demeanour with the help of her dishy, but unfortunately married, editor. Mr Rochester’s bright method for obtaining a divorce involves moving to Germany and gaining citizenship in order to take advantage of their more relaxed marital laws. One suspects the Second World War must be just around the corner.

As one thoroughly nasty woman leaves the series (O’Brien, in the dead of night, bound for India), another arrives. An old flame of Branson’s takes up the post as Cora’s lady’s maid, which could prove tricky for all involved in her departure, the series previously, from Downton.

So, Downton Abbey has returned and, in a similar fashion to most first episodes, not a huge amount has happened. Many new storylines have been set up however, and Lady Mary has been seen through the worst of her grief. The end of the episode marks her return to her former self, dressed in lilac once more, and making snide remarks to her sister. There is hope.

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