Downton Abbey Season 4 Review

  • Series Title: Downton Abbey
  • Season: 4
  • Episodes:  8, plus “The London Season” special
  • Discs:  3
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Sophie Mcshera, Lesley Nicol, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Samantha Bond, Lily James, Gary Carr
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

This review includes spoilers for Downton Abbey Season 4.

Season 4 of Downton Abbey begins with the family recovering from the horrific events at the end of last season’s special. Lady Mary is attempting to recover from the sudden death of her husband, Matthew. Lord Grantham and Tom Branson are trying to keep the estate from going under. O’Brien has suddenly quit for another job, leaving Lady Grantham, the Countess of Grantham in search of a new lady’s maid. Thomas puts forward a candidate, Baxter, and she is hired by Lady Grantham. It’s clear throughout the season that Thomas has some hold over Baxter, and although at first she gives in and acts as Thomas’ spy on the family, it becomes clear she is decent and knows how and when to keep secrets. Moseley, who rejoins the household officially as a footman, not only treats Baxter kindly but advises her to not let Thomas bully her.

The main continuing story is that at the beginning of the season, the Crawleys’ host a large house party when a famous opera singer comes to perform at Downton. A number of people are at the party, some of whom the family doesn’t know well. Those staying overnight also bring their personal servants – lady maids and valets. Anna is nice to all of the temporary staff because she always goes out of her way to be kind to everyone. On the night of the performance, the staff is invited to listen to the performance as well as the guests. Anna decides to head downstairs to take a headache powder. She encounters the valet there and he rapes her. Mrs. Hughes discovers this immediately, but Anna swears her to secrecy. Anna is shellshocked and unable to have a normal, married relationship with her husband, John Bates. She even moves back into the main house, giving the excuse she’s providing lady’s maid services to both Lady Grantham and Lady Mary. Anna’s distress becomes more and more obvious, even to Lady Mary. Mrs. Hughes keeps telling Anna to tell John, but she refuses, worrying he would kill the man if he knew.

Eventually, one by one, Anna tells people who must know – first her husband and then Lady Mary. She insists that she doesn’t know the man who raped her, it was a stranger who broke in the night of the concert. But when Gillingham continues to show-up with his ill-behaving valet, additional truths have to come out. Anna reluctantly tells Lady Mary the whole truth and Lady Mary later tells Lord Gillingham to sack his valet, though she doesn’t tell him why and just asks him to do it on trust. Mrs. Hughes is also the one to tell John Bates the truth about what happened to Anna, again without using the man’s name. When the valet returns, things click for John. Later, Lady Mary receives word from Gillingham that he couldn’t sack his valet because he was the victim of a hit and run in London, he fell or was pushed in front of a car or lorry. Anna, Lady Mary, and Mrs. Hughes are all worried about this but they know John Bates was in York that day, so they aren’t too worried. Later, Mrs. Hughes asks Anna for old clothes for a charity barrel and she gives her one of her husband’s old coats. Out of habit, Mrs. Hughes checks the pockets and finds a return ticket to London. She talks to Lady Mary who seems determined to make the information public. But when Bates does something extraordinary for the family, Mary burns the ticket.

Alfred, a footman at Downton Abbey who’d had an interest in becoming a chef since he was introduced, also gets a full story this season rather being someone for Daisy and the new kitchen maid, Ivy to fight over. Alfred discovers there’s a new cookery program at the Ritz – applicants must take a test and the best four will be accepted into the program, with no tuition costs and a chance at a job after successfully completing the course. Alfred applies, takes the test, but doesn’t get in, though his letter says he was in fifth place. Later, he gets a letter saying someone dropped out and he’s offered the next place if he can get to London immediately. Alfred jumps at the chance and leaves. He later writes to Mrs. Patmore to say he’s gotten a job as a chef.

Lady Edith also gets a story this season. She has accepted the position working for Michael Gregson, and the two also are immediately attracted to each other. But when Edith finds out Gregson is married, she is willing to quit her job as well as break up with him. He, however, explains his wife is in a lunatic asylum, and he can’t divorce her, because she cannot legally agree to the divorce. Gregson does some research and decides to move to Munich to get a divorce there. Michael and Edith share a last evening together and then he leaves for Munich and disappears. Eventually, they learn he was set upon by brown shirts, whom Edith describes as “saying the most horrible things”. Meanwhile, Edith discovers she is pregnant. Lady Rosamund finds out and helps Edith. At first, Edith considers having an illegal abortion but she changes her mind at the appointment. Lady Rosamund then takes Edith to Switzerland to have the child and convinces her to give it up for adoption. When they return, Edith continues to have doubts. Lady Rosamund tries to convince Lady Edith it would be cruel to take the child back from the loving couple that she promised her too, that she’d be breaking her word. Edith decides to bring back the child and have a farming couple take in the child. That way, she’d be able to see her little girl, even if she couldn’t officially be her mother.

Introduced this season is Lady Rose MacClare, an 18-year old cousin who’s proved to be too much for her family to handle (we met her briefly last season). Rose is a bright young thing who’d rather go to jazz clubs than attend formal family dinners. Although Rose gets on better with Lady Grantham, Lady Mary, and Lady Edith than she did with her own mother, she is still a bit wild. Rose even takes up with a Black band leader. When Rose tells Lady Mary she’s “engaged” to Jack Ross (the band leader) she goes to see him. Mary is actually nice to Jack and in the end, he decides to let Rose go, especially when Mary tells him that Rose is more interested in shocking her mother than actually being in the relationship.

The season special has Rose presented at court to the Queen and King. One of Rose’s friends had a letter she was showing off that showed the Prince of Wales in a bad light. Much of the episode is a bit of a French farce as the Crowleys’ try to obtain the letter from the same man who proved himself a card sharp at a poker game at Downton at the house party at the beginning of the season. It’s Bates who finally recovers the letter. The Prince of Wales himself arrives at Lady Rose’s coming out ball.

I recommend Downton Abbey. It’s a soap opera, but it’s the best kind of soap opera – the acting is top-notch, the writing is excellent, the characters are great fun, and it’s an enjoyable watch. I also like how this program mixes real historical events and people with its fictional characters. Recommended.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 1.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 2.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 3.