A Look Ahead to Season 5 of ‘Downton Abbey’


Keeping Downton Abbey under wraps is its own job.

For better or worse, the beloved British television series continues to air first in the U.K., traveling to fans in the USA months later for Masterpiece on PBS. That means that across the pond, the secret’s out about Season 5, with the always-anticipated Christmas special broadcast just last week.

PBS insists on the schedule, yet even creator Julian Fellowes is tired of the time delay. “If it was left to me it would start on the same day. The world is a very small place now,” says Fellowes. “The BBC and Sherlock demonstrated that it could be done. I feel it’s testing our audience.”

Try even keeping the secrets locally, says Michelle Dockery, whose Lady Mary has (finally!) left her mourning shrouds behind this season. At home in London, “even my mum and dad really enjoy the show and I don’t really tell them anything because I want them to see it for the first time and not have anything spoiled,” she says.

When we left the cast of Downton, the downstairs servants were basking in the sun at the beach, toes in the water, gaze on the horizon. In Season 5, the tidal wave of change has begun in earnest as sexual morals are loosened, women are seeking advanced levels of employment — and even Edith is rebelling.

With the Labor Party’s first prime minister elected in 1924, “the pace of change is gathering momentum,” says Fellowes.

Here’s are a few story lines to keep your eye on in Season 5:

Edith bonds with her baby

Where we left her: At the end of Season 4, Edith had lost hope that her lover, editor Michael Gregson, would ever return, but was determined to bring their love child home. “We have this dynamic choice from Edith that she’s going to bring the baby back,” says Fellowes. “That is, in a sense, a kickoff point.”

In Season 5: Edith spends time with her daughter, who is living locally in secret. Though there were always rebels like her sister Sybil (who shocked her family by marrying Tom the chauffeur) says Fellowes, “what changed in the 20th century is that ordinary women who weren’t very rebellious or revolutionary wanted more out of life than they were getting out of the old system. In a way, Edith is a much more illustrative character of that than Sybil would have been.”

Lady Mary is back in the game

Where we left her: At the end of Season 4, Lady Mary was being hotly pursued by both Lord Tony Gillingham and Charles Blake, but proved unready to move on.

In Season 5: “We have Mary’s romances, of course,” says Fellowes. And Mary’s widowed status means she can spend time alone with men far more freely than did unmarried women of the time, leading Lord Gillingham to a rather indecent proposal. “She decides she’s going to sleep with him,” says Fellowes. “Of course, always the sexual license allowed a widow was marginally greater than that allowed a virgin or unmarried girl … but at the same time you couldn’t afford to have any scandal attached to your name.”

Sarah Bunting still has her eye on Tom

Where we left them: Tom, leading a productive but lonely life as a de facto Crawley managing the land’s crop rotation, befriends outspoken local schoolteacher Sarah Bunting. After she insists he give her a tour of Downton while the family is away, ever-scheming servant Thomas Barrow spots them and reports the indecency to his father-in-law.

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Andrea Mandell

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