NEW YORK – A smaller number of cast members from “Downton Abbey” made their way to New York on Monday evening for an annual screening and Q&A than did in 2013. The audience, at the Hudson Theatre, however, was certainly no less enthusiastic.
Why shouldn't they be – as everyone was told at the outset, season four of PBS' British import was the highest rated PBS drama ever. Now, this year, the network is planning on leveraging “Downton” to help expand its “Masterpiece” umbrella by 20 hours (or about 50%). In part, this will occur by airing a second “Masterpiece” series at 10pm following 9pm airings of “Downton” in January.
That discussion, however, took place before the audience got to see roughly 45 minutes of the season five premiere (set to air on PBS January 4th at 9pm). It was after the screening that cast members Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), Robert James-Collier (Thomas Barrow), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore), and Gareth Neame (executive producer) took the stage in a discussion led by NBC's Jenna Bush Hager (filling in for planned host, Natalie Morales).
Also present on stage, and the man who may have gotten the most questions, was Alistair Bruce. It is Bruce who serves as the historical advisor on the series – he is the man who explains the way life was back in the 1920s to both the cast and the crew to ensure that the portrayal of the world offered by “Downton” is as accurate as possible.
In what was arguably the best moment of the night, Bruce addressed the water bottle incident. He explained, quite simply, that wasn't there when it took place.
Perhaps in an effort to not spoil the upcoming season, the cast was not terribly forthcoming about what we can expect from season five (which has finished airing the season proper in the UK, with only the Christmas special remaining). But, if you're looking for spoilery information there were some vague bits and pieces of it offered, but nothing terribly in-depth (if you don't want to know anything in the slightest, don't continue reading).
For instance, when Carmichael was asked if there was more heartbreak in store for Lady Edith in season five, it was Bonneville who indicated that things weren't going to go particularly well for the character. Lady Edith, as you may recall, has already had to undergo much including having the man she fell in love with disappear and learning that she was carrying his baby, a baby she gave birth to last season.
James-Collier also told the audience that poor Thomas (or villain Thomas, depending on your perspective) will not find love. Actually, that was less of a spoiler and much more due to the fact, as explained by James-Collier and Bruce, that as a gay man living when he did, it would have been exceptionally hard (if not impossible) for Thomas to have a romantic relationship in full view of the world.
One of the great relationships that does exist on “Downton Abbey” is that of Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter). We should not, we were informed last night, expect that relationship to head in a romantic direction. That tidbit was from Bruce as much as anyone as he explained that people who went into service at the time of Hughes and Carson would have given up any expectation of love and marriage, opting instead to put the family for whom they were working ahead of their own personal desires.
Finally, one of the great questions of any series that has enjoyed a long run-when it will all come to an end-was broached, but not really answered. A sixth season has already been ordered, so not immediately, but Neame was not willing to divulge much beyond that.
Eventually, of course, all will be revealed. But, until that happens we can just keep tuning in.
Season five of “Downton Abbey” starts January 4th at 9pm on PBS.