Downton Abbey: Fourth series for 2013 confirmed as we’re promised “tears and laughter” in Christmas special! (SPOILERS)

by Lynn Connolly

ITV have announced that a fourth series of hit period drama Downton Abbey will go into production early next year, and will consist of eight episodes and a Christmas special!

ITV’s press release reads, “The opening and closing episodes will again be feature length with series four continuing the story of the Crawley family and their servants in the early 1920s.”

Gareth Neame, the Executive Producer of Downton Abbey, said, “Viewers can look forward to more drama, comedy, love, hatred, jealousy, rivalry, ambition, despair and romance.”

And Laura Mackie, who is the Director of Drama at ITV, added, “We’re thrilled to welcome back a drama series that has become a much anticipated part of all our lives every autumn and achieved success around the globe.

“Creator, writer and executive producer Julian Fellowes and the production team, led by Gareth and the producer Liz Trubridge, never rest on their laurels and have exciting plans for the fourth series.”

Neame and Mackie also promised that this year’s Christmas special – which is two hours long and will air on Christmas Day at 9pm – would be a real treat for fans of the show.

Mackie said, “We hope the Downton family of viewers will gather together to watch this major TV event as a shared Christmas night experience,” said Laura.

“Last year’s special episode set the nation talking on Boxing Day and 2012’s Christmas Day episode is no different.

“As ever, Downton will take its audience through a whole range of emotions. All of life’s experiences will feature in this episode.

“This is one episode you will want to see live with millions of others – and best have the tissues ready.”

In the Christmas episode, we’ll see Lord and Lady Grantham and the extended family heading for a summer break in The Highlands of Scotland, leaving most of their servants back at home.

The yearly visit to his Scottish cousins at Duneagle Castle, where the piper calls the tune for breakfast and dinner, is the highlight of Robert’s (Hugh Bonneville) year.

Duneagle is the home of young, headstrong Lady Rose (Lily James), who was of course sent home in the last episode of series three after her affair with a married man.

The castle is much bigger and more grand than Downton Abbey, with deer stalking and fishing a regular pastime in the stunning surrounding Scottish countryside.

During the Christmas special, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) will discover that newspaper editor Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) also happens to be on holiday in Scotland, and may have an agenda to be there that is nothing to do with country pursuits!

However, Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary (Michelle Dockery) will disagree about Mr Gregson’s motives towards unlucky-in-love Edith.

Meanwhile, servants John Bates (Brendan Coyle), his wife Anna (Joanne Froggatt), Molesley (Kevin Doyle) and O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) will accompany the family on their trip, and O’Brien will discover a “kindred spirit below stairs” in the form of her opposite number, lady’s maid Wilkins (Simone Lahbib).

But who will be left reeling at the Gillies’ Ball?

Here’s the rest of the ITV press release about the Christmas special…

The Scottish scenes were shot on location at Inveraray Castle, the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell.

Meanwhile back in Yorkshire, estate land agent Tom Branson (Allen Leech) has stayed behind at Downton with young daughter ‘Sybbie’.

In spite of the family’s attempts to integrate the former chauffeur into their world, he continues to live between the Crawleys and the servants below stairs. He’s still grieving for wife Sybil, the youngest daughter, who died after giving birth to their first child.

Butler Mr Carson (Jim Carter) faces the task of keeping the household servants concentrated on their work polishing the silverware and cleaning the rooms.

But with the family away, minds begin to wander to other things – including the forthcoming Thirsk Country Fair.

“While the cat’s away, the mice will play,” explained executive producer Gareth.

“The Grantham’s do not live at Downton Abbey 12 months of the year. They would go to London for the summer season and also go away on holidays like this.

“And when that happens the domestic staff of Downton would remain. What will they get up to while the family is away?”

In a not to be missed special episode, wise housekeeper Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) tells Mr Bates: “Life is full of surprises.”

And that is certainly true at the great house this Christmas Day.

Could there be romance in store for cook Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol)?

New housemaid Edna (MyAnna Buring) joins The Restless servants around their big table as they look forward to the country fair.

O man I cannot wait for the Christmas special! Are you excited?! Here’s a reminder of last year’s festive offering…

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.