Downton Abbey Roundup: Series 3 Filming Continues and All Sorts of Rumors Are Flying!

As filming continues on the highly-anticipated third series of Downton Abbey, the internet is alight with rumors about what will happen in these upcoming episodes and what would we could expect from the show should it continue – as we all hope – into a Series 4 and beyond. Consider this the first in what will likely be a series of Downton gossip roundups, where we try and fill the Crawley-shaped holes in everyone’s lives while we wait for the hiatus to pass. 

WARNING: Everything past the jump could be considered a bit spoilery, so please proceed with caution. While nothing has been officially confirmed about the majority of the speculation that is about to follow, the bulk of it is based on a few facts that we do know about the upcoming season. So, decide for yourself if you’re interested in such things before going further.

Still interested in some pretty unsubstantiated wild internet gossip? Then click right on through for a roundup of all-things-Downton from the past few weeks.

To say that there’s already a lot of talk out there on the internet about what sorts of things future episodes of Downton Abbey might hold would be quite the understatement. So, let me try to sum it all up for you. 

What Do We Know So Far About Series 3? Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton appeared at fundraising event earlier this year in Florida and offered up a few tidbits about the upcoming season.

First things first: “Matthew and Mary do get married,” Eaton said. (Let’s pause here while everyone gets the shrieks of fannish joy out of their systems.)  She went on to explain that, in the new season, the Crawleys are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Cora’s mother, the character played by Oscar-winner Shirley MacLaine for reasons that go beyond wedding festivities. Apparently Downton’s main family – particularly Dowager Countess Violet – is in need of money again. (Remember, it was Cora’s fortune that saved the estate when she married Robert, and the expenses associated with keeping Downton running during the war were probably substantial.)

Eaton further teased that “Somebody will be born, and somebody will die, somebody pretty key in the cast, unfortunately not going to make it. It’s the 1920s now.”

Other spoilers have slowly started to surface by way of filming shots and reports from those lucky enough to be nearby to the series’ filming location, including hints that another major event will be taking place. SPOILER WARNINGS HERE, obviously, but this bit is by far the most interesting.

Will There Be a Series 4? While there has been no official word from UK network ITV about a series renewal for Downton beyond Series 4, certainly no one would be surprised to see the show continue for further series as long as it remains such an international phenomenon. Most of the principal cast has re-signed contracts through a possible Series 5 – including Michelle Dockery (Mary), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora), Hugh Bonneville (Robert), Joanne Froggatt (Anna) and Brendan Coyle (Bates). To date, Dan Stevens (Matthew), Jessica Brown Findlay (Sybil), Siobhan Finneran (O’Brien) and Maggie Smith (Violet), have all yet to sign new contracts with the production, though of course note that that’s yet and not won’t.

That Big Rumor You Might Have Heard: A few weeks ago, the UK newspaper The Daily Mail reported that Downton star Dame Maggie Smith told creator Julian Fellowes that she’d like leave the show after Series 3.  "Maggie has asked Julian to write her character out," the Mail’s source claimed. "She is filming until August and then wants to leave, going out on a high. She thinks that three (seasons) is enough and she wants to get back to the stage and big screen." The Mail goes on to speculate that Dowager Countess Violet may fall victim to an illness by the end of Series 3. 

Now, it should be noted that the Mail is hardly what you’d call a super reliable source, so I would generally advise everyone to take anything coming from one of their “sources” with a big grain of salt anyway. To be fair, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Smith might want more time to focus on other projects, and, unfortunately, as the show itself moves forward in time, the Dowager’s advancing age will eventually become a problem. And they have already added Shirley MacLaine’s new character to the canvas – it could be argued that Cora’s mother is being prepped to take over a “Dowager”-style role, should it become necessary and Smith decide to depart the cast. (I would be so heartbroken about this, personally, but I would understand.)

However: Producers Deny the Mail Story; Say Dame Maggie is Staying Put. A spokesperson for Downton Abbey producer Carnival Films dismisses the Mail’s report as “complete nonsense,” claiming that, while they do not comment on future storylines, “there is no truth in the story that Maggie is leaving the show.”  Smith’s press representatives have apparently declined to comment. 

But, still, it looks so far, so good for keeping everyone’s favorite acid-tongued aristocrat at Downton. We’ll have to wait and see where Series 3 takes us – as far as Fellowes himself has said, he’s not even finished writing it yet.  Series 4 is a long way away  – if there even indeed is  a Series 4, remember nothing is officially confirmed yet on that score, either and wouldn’t most of us have predicted a third run of Upstairs Downstairs too? – so I think anything could happen between now and then. I desperately want Smith to stick around as long as the show is on-air, as the Dowager Countess is my favorite part of the show, so I’m choosing to be positive about it.  I think everyone involved wants this to work out for the best for the show and the fans, so I hope expect that Dame Maggie won’t be going anywhere just yet.

Filming on Downton Series 3 is ongoing. It’s expected to air in the UK at some point this Fall, and premiere Stateside in January 2013.

Sources: The TV Guy, TV Line, MSNBC, BBC News and the New York Times