Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone, and that means just one thing: “Downton Abbey” is returning, on Sunday, January 5 on PBS. (OK, one last SPOILER ALERT here, but note that in future posts I’m just going to come right out and talk about what happened at the end of Season 3 — so if you don’t want to go there, run away!) Because I’m electing to watch along with fellow U.S. viewers (what fun would it be if I couldn’t talk to anyone about it?), I don’t know much about Season 4, though rumor has it that it’s soapy. That’s not a criticism, in my book — for Heaven’s sake, as the Dowager Countess would say, we’ve already been through Matthew’s miraculous recovery, the wildly convenient death of Plot Device, I mean Lavinia, and the death of the heir to Downton Abbey MERE MOMENTS after the birth of his son. So of course this show has always been soap, but of the highest order. This season, I’m looking forward to some snappy ’20s outfits (let’s hope Mary gets out of mourning soon), and some intriguing new cast members. Here are a few I’m eagerly anticipating:
— Paul Giamatti, as Cora’ s brother Harold. This character has been mentioned a few times in the past but never seen; we know that he is “rich as Croesus” (which I imagine is very rich indeed) and likes to mess about with yachts.
— Harriet Walter, as Lady Shackleton, an “old school friend” of the Dowager Countess (wish I’d gone to that school). I love Harriet Walter, who was the scheming sister-in-law in “Sense and Sensibility” (“I am exceedingly fond of a cottage.”)* Let’s hope she’s got some schemes here.
— Kiri Te Kanewa, as opera singer Dame Nellie Melba — the show’s first real-life character (though I hear we’ll see Virginia Woolf this season as well). Dame Nellie, word has it, performs at a “Downton Abbey” house party, so we’ve got a few arias in store.
— British television actor Gary Carr, who’ll play jazz singer Jack Ross — the show’s first black character.
And, because we’ve all missed the Dowager Countess . . . a few of her best moments from Season 3:
“Are you really that tall?”
*Update (12/30/13): A kind reader has contacted me to let me know that I am, horror of horrors, misremembering “Sense & Sensibility.” Harriet Walter’s Fanny did not say “I am exceedingly fond of a cottage”; that was spoken by her brother. Fanny herself said “A cottage is always very snug,” with a very Harriet Walter emphasis on the word “snug,” like she’s strangling it. P&P regrets the error, and now really feels like watching “Sense & Sensibility” again.