Wednesday 26 October 2016

Downton Abbey rings the changes as final season kicks off

Published 21/09/2015 | 01:00

The Downton Abbey cast for the sixth and final series
The Downton Abbey cast for the sixth and final series

Downton Abbey's final season kicked off with a fox hunt, with servants on hand and the local aristocracy decked out in their finest hunting outfits against the background of Highclere Castle, where the series is shot.

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But from the first scene of the hit ITV show, it was immediately clear that times are changing: Mary has given up riding side-saddle, sitting astride her horse like the men.

Changing times will be a major theme of the sixth series, set in 1925 - and Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), found himself reflecting on the future of Downton as his friend and neighbour Sir John Darnley (Adrian Lukis) is forced to sell his Mallerton estate.

Watching Sir John's family silver being auctioned off, and hearing his cautionary tale of how he tried to hold on until it was too late, was a sobering wake-up call for Robert. Thinking of the wage bill, he mentioned to a shocked Carson (Jim Carter) that he may soon slim down the staff even further.

The auction also proved dramatic for Daisy (Sophie McShera), whose father-in-law Mr Mason is set to be evicted by Mallerton's new owners, the Hendersons. Robert agreed to argue his case, but to no avail. Angered at the injustice, Daisy lost her temper at the Hendersons - but just made things worse for Mr Mason.

Upstairs, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) was having problems of her own. A mysterious woman appeared during the hunt, causing Mary to lose focus and tumble off her horse into the mud. Later, the woman revealed herself as Rita Bevan (Nichola Burley): she worked at the hotel where Mary stayed for her tryst with Lord Gillingham, and she has the guest register to prove it.

Mary agonised over whether to let herself be blackmailed, and decided to refuse Rita's demands for a large sum of money - but her father found out about the "proof" and saw her off with a small payment. Mary was embarrassed, but her father was understanding, and praised her good judgment in handling the attempt at blackmail.

The end of the last series saw Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) finally engaged to Mr Carson, but Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) noticed something wrong, and determined to find out why. Mrs Hughes is putting off setting a date, but admitted to Mrs Patmore that she needs to know whether her fiance is expecting a "full" marriage - that is, involving a sexual relationship.

Mrs Patmore agreed to find out, and after an awkward chat with Mr Carson, discovered that he does indeed hope for more than "companionship". Ultimately, his explanation of his hopes for the marriage brought Mrs Hughes around to the idea of overcoming her embarrassment.

At the end of series five, viewers were left on tenterhooks about the fate of Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) and Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle), under suspicion for the murder of Mr Green, Anna's rapist. Anna had also suffered another miscarriage, which leaves her upset and grieving.

But now new evidence - and a confession - has come to light, and Sergeant Willis (Howard Ward) visited the Abbey to share the good news. The family came downstairs, there was music and champagne and dancing - and Robert even stole a snack from Mrs Patmore's fridge.

:: Downton Abbey airs on Sundays at 9pm on ITV.

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