NEW YORK (AP) — As it returns for its much-awaited fourth season, “Downton Abbey” remains a saga about elegance, tradition and gentility — and the pressures of preserving them.
On the premiere, tomorrow at 9 p.m. EST on PBS, Lady Mary Crawley has buckled under the weight of widowhood six months after her husband, Matthew, perished in a car crash. Inconsolable at the start of the episode, Mary (played by Michelle Dockery) dismisses their infant son as “a poor little orphan.”
Her father, Lord Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), wrestles with business pressures: the death of Matthew and the absence of a will have thrown the Downton manor, already financially fragile, into further crisis.
Meanwhile, the modern world of 1922 bears down on the Downton hidebound. Just consider the encroachment of an electric mixer, the newest threat to the culinary status quo over which Mrs. Patmore reigns in the kitchen.
Even so, Mrs. Patmore remains squat, high-strung yet unbending under the pressures of keeping the Downton nobility well-fed.
In a recent interview, Lesley Nichol, who plays her, recalls filming the series’ original episode with Mrs. Patmore “shouting at everybody and being horrible. As an actor you go, ‘Is she just a plain, nasty piece of work?’”
But Nichol says she was set straight by the series’ historical adviser, who reminded her that the character is “solely responsible for the food in that house. If you go to dinner at Downton, it’s got to be the best you’ve ever had. Sometimes people are harsh because they need things to be right.”