Unlike Season 3 of Downton Abbey, which wrapped on a heartrending note with the death of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), Season 4 ended on a high note. The staff spent a delightful day at the seaside, courtesy of the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) took Mr. Carson's (Jim Carter) hand and told him, "You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady."
When Season 5 returns on January 4, 2015, it will be six months later and life has gone on, especially for Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), who is through the initial grief of husband Matthew's death. While she may never get completely over the tragedy, she is moving on, embracing her responsibilities as a mother and as one of the keepers of the Downton estate for her son, and, generally, enjoying her life.
"She's looking for the next love of her life, and a father for her son," Dockery said at the Television Critics Association press junket in Beverly Hills, CA. But there is a catch. She continues, "Her son is the heir to Downton Abbey. She can't just marry anyone. There has to be a certain social criteria. She's very rational and she's practical. She has to make decisions in that way. They can't just be emotional, impulsive decisions. As you've seen in the past, when she makes decisions from impulse, they're not always the best ones."
One decision Mary has made, along with her brother-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech), is to modernize the way that Downton Abbey is run. As a result, the two have become great friends — but not as people are gossiping about, lovers.
"They both want to see Downton survive and become completely self-sufficient," Leech says. "Branson wants it as well, because he wants it for his daughter [Sybbie played by Fifi Hart]. She is part of that family, so he has a vested interest in making sure that Downton is self-sufficient and sustainable. He gets involved in a project to redevelop a lot of the village to make it more sustainable for the long term."
Even so, Season 5 will find Tom very conflicted. At the end of last season, he told Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) as he led her out on the dance floor at Rose's (Lily James) coming-out ball, "This may be my family, but these are not my people." The family, of course, are to the manor born, but Branson isn't that far removed from the chauffeur who married the Earl's youngest daughter.
Leech points out that while the family was very good to him when Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) died in childbirth and when he was ostracized in his own country, he is struggling to find a balance between his status in the house and the beliefs by which he was raised. So does he stay, so his daughter can reap the benefits of her birthright, or does he go?
"He doesn't want to take her away, but he has to look and say, 'Are we really getting the most out of life by staying where we are? Should we go elsewhere?,'" Leech says. "That's his main issue in Series 5. He has to figure out whether to take her away or keep her where she is."
Joining the Granthams at Downton Abbey for Season 5 will be Lady Anstruther, played by Anna Chancellor, who visits the manor and creates havoc, as well as Simon Bricker, played by Richard E. Grant, who comes in search of something, but what it is has not yet been revealed. Also, Rade Sherbedgia will join the cast as a Russian refugee, Prince Kuragin, who is from Lady Violet's past. Who knew she had a past?
As for the downstairs staff, it remains to be seen if that lighthearted, hand-holding moment at the seaside will develop into anything more intimate between Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson. But Anna (Joanne Froggatt) has been forever changed by her rape at the hands of Mr. Green (Nigel Harman). Froggatt says, "I feel she has lost a little spark because it's not something that just goes away." That said, there is talk of a possible baby for Anna and Bates (Brendan Coyle).
In addition, Daisy (Sophie McShera), who refused to go to America to cook for Cora's brother, is continuing her studies, and trying to find her voice and her place in the world. Thomas (Rob James-Collier), who still holds onto his animosity toward Branson, has a "very interesting" storyline this year, teases Froggatt, but she is mum on what direction it takes.
New staff downstairs will include Sue Johnston as a character named Denker and Michael Fox, whose role has not yet been revealed.
Fans of Downton Abbey can expect Season 5 to be a mixture of drama, comedy and love, according to Froggatt, who says, "Those elements are still there really, really strongly…. There’s new. There's old. There's those stories we want to find out about, and there's new stories happening as well. So, I think, everyone is going to really enjoy Season 5."
Downtown Abbey Season 5 premieres on January 4, 2015 on MASTERPIECE Classic on PBS.