American viewers are still a ways off from having the upstairs-downstairs bunch of “Downton Abbey” over as guests in their homes through the telly, but we have some crumpets of information to hold you over before then.
Executive producer Gareth Neame and cast members Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Allen Leech and Joanne Froggatt appeared before reporters recently as part of PBS’ session at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills.
After a trailer of the upcoming fifth season — Lady Mary riding a horse! Talk of Dowager Countess having a “past”! Bates talking children! — was shown, the group talked about what lies ahead (though they were about as tight as Lady Edith’s finger wave with giving too much detail).
“I think for all of these characters, everything is just ratcheted up,” Neame told reporters. “Everything is much more complicated.”
The new season of the British period drama, which rolls out Jan. 4 on PBS, will take place in 1924, about six months from where the finale left off. Here are some bits we gathered of mostly what not to expect.
■Forget the pigs? With Season 5 not yet airing across the pond in Britain, Neame and the cast were careful about revealing too much about what’s in store. Then Leech, who quickly became the rock star of the panel, let it slip: “Well, the unicorn farm, no one expects it.”
■Blinded by love? Helping hands Anna and Bates have weathered their share of turmoil — murder charges, prison, rape, then the cliffhanger that left fans wondering whether Bates murdered the man who raped Anna. Heading into Season 5, Froggatt said: “There are a lot of questions for Anna and Bates still. They’re both keeping secrets from each other in order to protect the other person. ... I think in her heart of hearts, she really does feel that Mr. Bates hasn’t done anything because she doesn’t think that Mr. Bates knows that it was Mr. Green who raped her. However, she has this doubt, and it doesn’t leave her. It’s something that haunts her in Season 5.”
■Back for more? Asked whether Shirley MacLaine, who played Cora’s mother, or Paul Giamatti, who played Cora’s brother, would revisit the series in Season 5, Neame shot down those dreams but added, “They may well be in future seasons of the show.”
■Parent swap? Internet theorists are never in short supply, and those who follow “Downton Abbey” with a close eye have wondered if Lady Edith is really the biological child to Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond). Hello, they basically have the same hair color. But it’s a notion that Carmichael said has no truth to it, though she understands it: “I think it comes from those moments when Edith says, ‘You won’t understand, Rosamund, because you’re not a mother.’ And the pain that Sam Bond played in that moment, I think, is she’s a childless woman and so she cares for Edith in that way.”
■New faces. Two new characters — Simon Bricker (Richard E. Grant) and Lady Anstruther (Anna Chancellor) — will appear in Season 5. Lady Anstruther, who is the former employer of rascally footman Jimmy, is a “troublemaker,” Dockery said. “She comes to the house and, yeah, she creates havoc.” To which Leech added, “She’s looking for something.” As for Bricker, an art historian and house guest at the estate, “He’s looking for something as well,” Leech teased. “Something similar and a painting. Oh, I’ve said too much.”
■Lady Mary is ready to bite back. After spending Season 4 in mourning over the death of her husband, Lady Mary will have some fun this season with all her suitors. “I think this series, she’s quite impulsive and she’s embracing her life, really,” Dockery said. “She’s kind of through the grief now. ... She’s got a bit of her bite back that we had in (Season) 1, which I’ve enjoyed playing.”
■Keeping track. Neame jokingly acknowledged, when asked by a reporter, that staying in the know about who has renegotiated their contracts is an important element to plotting out the fate and/or exits of characters on the show to avoid a situation where the writers are scrambling. To which Leech interjected: “You’re expecting the ‘Downton Abbey’ Red Wedding, aren’t you?” Uh, wouldn’t that be something?
■Meet the Brarys? Eh, not so fast. Leech is well aware there are die-hard fans that hope to see a relationship bloom between Branson and Lady Mary. And he’s one step ahead of y’all. He’s given the characters a nickname: the Brarys. “I just christened them that,” he said. “Damn Brarys.” But more seriously, Leech offered this thought: “At the end of the day, they are after the same thing for Downton, which is sustainability. They want to see Downton continue into the future, not only for themselves, but obviously now for their offspring.”
“Yeah,” Dockery added. “And they are both looking for love.”
“They are, but not with each other,” Leech clarified.
“But they are happy to talk about love with each other, but not with each other. Brarys.”
OK. If not them, maybe Mrs. Hughes and Carson? The two held hands in the finale; could love be in the air? The question caused Dockery to clear her throat. Leech was less shy: “We all hope that they get together. I think everyone does. It would be a lovely story, but let’s see.”
For those looking to brush up on their etiquette, PBS will air “The Manners of Downton Abbey,” a one-hour documentary featuring the show’s on-set historian Alastair Bruce, prior to the Season 5 premiere.