Cast members (L-R) Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt and Sophie McShera pose for photographers before the panel for "Downton Abbey" during the PBS sessions at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California August 6, 2013. REUTERS/Phil McCarten (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) (Photo : Reuters/Phil McCarten)
It's official: the Grantham family will be returning to television for at least two more seasons.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, members of the cast of "Downton Abbey" appeared at the Television Critics Association on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming fourth season, as well as the announcement that the hit show will be returning for a fifth.
Gareth Neame, executive producer of "Downton," shared some details about the new season along with "Downton Abbey" leading ladies Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Joanne Froggatt, Phyllis Logan and Sophie McShera. The producer and cast members also premiered clips from the fourth season's trailer that gave attendees a little taste of what is in store.
Neame revealed that the PBS "Masterpiece Classic" drama will pick up a few months after the devastating death of Mary's (Michelle Dockery) husband, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) in an auto accident in Sept. 1921. Naeme said that the fourth season will take place between February of 1922 and the spring of 1923.
"Both the audience and the characters have experienced some passage of time," said Neame. "There's been time to mourn."
Although there has been time to mourn, not everyone (including dedicated fans) have fully recovered from the earth-shattering tragedy. The most despondent of them all is Mary, Matthew's widow, who was giving birth to their first child at the time of his death. Mary is shown donning black in the show's teaser, evidence that she is continuing to mourn the loss of her late husband.
The Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith) tries to bring Mary out of her depression by giving her a new job. She convinces Tom (Allen Leech) to let Mary help him run the estate, as she or her son will own half of Downton in the future.
Dockery shared that it will be a long journey to recovery for Mary. Although the actress was initially dismayed at the news of Dan Stevens' elected departure from the show and the resulting death of his character, Dockery grew to like the challenge that the change presented.
"My first reaction was, 'Oh, crap,'" Dockery said, about hearing the news of Stevens' exit and the death of Matthew. "Initially I was concerned, but now I'm not. It's a very different [season] from what it could've been... She's slowly, over the course of the series, coming back to life. It's important for her to move on."
Mary's road to recovery will include some new love interests, including Lord Gillingham, played by Tom Cullen, who is an old friend of the Crowleys.
While Mary is often one of the main focuses of the show, Neame said her oft-slighted sister, Edith (Laura Carmichael), will see the most changes this upcoming season. "It is really a very different season for Edith this year," Neame said. "It's a very active story." Carmichael also shared that Edith's wardrobe becomes more lavish this season as a result of her frequent trips to London to pursue her journalism career.
"Whenever they got me dressed in the first season, they always said 'You look lovely," said Carmichael, in a sympathetic tone, referring to Edith. "She's gone on a real journey -- and since she's going to London more, [costume designer] Caroline [McCall] has gone to town with Edith."
Despite the exit of cast members Stevens and Jessica Brown Findlay, who played recently deceased sister Sybil, it was disclosed that the popular show will return for a fifth season.
"As far as we know, we're all doing series five next year," Dockery said. "Beyond that, it's in the hands of [creator] Julian Fellowes and our producers. If other actors start leaving, it would be a worry, but it's been fine so far."
While fans can be thankful that the end is still nowhere in sight, Neame reminded the crowd of the ominous description in the first series' script that portends a lamentable end to Downton. "It's described as a wonderful house, a stately home in this beautiful park land," Naeme said. "It looks as though it will stand a thousand years. It won't."
Although Downton won't last forever, fans of the acclaimed British series can look forward to a number of more seasons to come.
"The show is so popular around the world now.... It's beloved," said Neame. "The fourth season is extremely good health, and my mind is already in the fifth season. I will say we're not going to World War II, but that's 18 years away. We want to make the show. When we feel it's had its time, hopefully we'll know before you guys. But it's not anytime soon."