The waiting game has brought us one bright spot, however – with the start of production on Series 4 this means that we’ve finally got some news about what the next season of everyone’s favorite costume drama will look like – and who we’ll see in it (as well some tidbits about who we won’t).
Here be spoilers, obviously, so proceed at your own risk.
First, the good news – with the advent of Series 4 filming have come a flurry of confirmations and news reports about casting for the new season. You may have all heard the vague rumors that the show was planning to add more diverse characters this year, but this is the first official announcement that has been made about new characters or cast additions.
Six Downton newbies have been confirmed to date, but the big news is really about a return – the indomitable Shirley MacLaine will be back as Martha Levinson next year. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see Round 2 of Martha vs. Violet until the Series 4 finale, but given that MacLaine’s initial appearance was quite popular, this news should make many fans happy.
As for the new faces, they do certainly seem to be going for a variety of character types:
Tom Cullen will be playing Lord Gillingham, an old family friend of the Crawleys who visits the family as a guest for a house party. (Since this actor appears at first glance to be pretty easy on the eyes, the odds of Lord Gillingham in some way turning out to be a suitor for the newly widowed Lady Mary seem quite high.)
Nigel Harman will be playing Green, who is identified only as a valet. Harman will be quite familiar to everyone that’s watched popular soap opera EastEnders. Since this actor’s quite well known, look for Harman to stick around for a while. Who at Downton could use a new valet? (And what of Molesley?!) Curiouser and curiouser.
Dame Harriet Walter will be playing Lady Shackleton, an old friend of the Dowager Countess of Grantham’s. I feel compelled to put that as "friend," but that's only because it's a bit difficult to imagine the Dowager having friends.
Joanna David will appear in a guest role as the Duchess of Yeovil. David is the mother of popular young actress Emilia Fox, and has appeared in a wide variety of series, including Rosemary & Thyme, Midsomer Murders, Bleak House, Pride and Prejudice and a ton of other things.
Julian Ovenden will be playing an aristocrat named Charles Blake, about whom we know absolutely zero more backstory. He’s also easy enough on the eyes that he has to be entered into the Lady Mary Romance Pool Sweepstakes on basic principle. Ovendon will be familiar to many from his roles as Ernest Hemingway in Any Human Heart or as Andrew Foyle, son of the titular character from mystery series Foyle’s War.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is listed simply as a guest who sings at the house. Google tells me she’s a trained opera singer. So, let the speculation begin here. (ETA: Things the internet has taught me? She's apparently awesome and kind of a big deal and I should really investigate her music!)
And, of course, it’s also already been confirmed that Lily James will be sticking around for the season as Violet’s somewhat headstrong and occasionally rebellious niece Rose.
Now for the big spoilers – the Downton Abbey cast has always been on the larger side, so it makes a certain amount of sense that we might have to say goodbye to a few familiar faces to make room for the new folks. (Stop reading this article and skip straight to the comments if you don’t want to know!)
We’re all still brokenhearted that neither Jessica Brown Findlay nor Dan Stevens will be back next year, but we’ll also be saying farewell to a couple of other Downton regulars. It’s been officially confirmed – to the relief of yours truly and probably a lot of other people – that Ethel’s storyline has officially been all completed and wrapped up. Actress Amy Nuttall tweeted over the weekend that she is officially not part of Series 4, so I think we can all safely assume that Ethel is busy getting to know her son again somewhere offscreen.
The second departure is also probably not an unexpected one – in fact, I guessed this was coming after the season finale – but Siobhan Finnerman is officially out as everyone’s favorite scheming, spiteful trouble-maker-in-chief O’Brien. Finnerman straight out told the Mirror, “I’m not doing any more,” calling O’Brien “a thoroughly despicable human being” who was “great to play.” Finnerman sounds very final, so its’ likely we won’t be seeing O’Brien again. Ostensibly, it seems safe to assume that she successfully stole the position of lady’s maid to Lady Flintshire and will subsequently be shipped off to India to see a bit of the world beyond Yorkshire or what have you. O’Brien will certainly be missed, though to be honest, once you try and have your best friend thrown in jail, I’m not sure where you can go as a character. Still, it’s a shame that we won’t ever seen O’Brien get a true comeuppance (or even public rebuke) for her many horrible actions – and I’m also sorry we won’t get any real closure for her relationship with Thomas. (Though, again, the aforementioned jail thing might be the closure.)
What say you, folks? Excited to see any of these new faces? Sad to bid adieu to any of the folks that won’t be returning? Would love to hear your thoughts.