Members of the national press have seen a preview of the first episode of Downton Abbey Series 4 and many have taken the opportunity to give it rave reviews.
The show will return to ITV 1 in the Autumn with the first episode set in 1922, six months after the death of Matthew Crawley in a car accident, which was revealed in last year's Christmas episode.
The Telegraph writes that fans won't be disappointed by the personal dramas that develop between the servants and the family in Series 4. Neil Midgley says that the series doesn't feel as rushed as Series 3 which included the entirety of World War 1.
– Neil Midgley, The Telegraph
As a piece of TV craft, Downton Abbey really does seem to have turned the clock back: this new series much more closely – and welcomely – resembles that glorious first season, which made itself instantly the most popular TV drama in Britain back in 2010.
These are stories about a family, and stories about its servants. There is love both spoken and concealed; there are new allegiances, new rivalries upstairs and down, old scores to settle, the reappearance of an old flame.
The Daily Mail says the opening episode of Series 4 marks a return to form for Downton Abbey, and hints at rumours of romance for the widowed Lady Mary. As producer Gareth Neame told reporters "Lady Mary isn't interested in men but men are interested in her".
– Christopher Stevens, Daily Mail
Actor Tom Cullen plays the dashing Lord Gillingham, an old friend of the family — and, some rumours say, a possible suitor to Lady Mary. Certainly, he gives her useful advice on the Downton estate and the issue of death duties.
Other financial advice is offered by Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden), a businessman who reopens an ugly wound from Lady Mary’s past. The two take an instant dislike to one another.
The Guardian praises the performance of Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess for raising the spirit of episode 1 as the rest of the cast are still in mourning for the death of the heir to Downton.
– Julia Raeside, The Guardian
Nevertheless, the impeccable timing of Smith's verbal smackdowns continues to buoy proceedings with moment after moment of sublime comic satisfaction.
The presence of Smith is even more crucial this series as newly widowed Lady Mary haunts the corridors of Downton like a sulky wraith, dropping lines from her barely open mouth like great leaden plums.
The Times (£) has an interview with the opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa who stars in Series 4. The singer who performed at the wedding of Prince Charles to Diana told the paper she was "up all night" before appearing in the show.
"I can’t sleep for something like this. It was a long day, but I made it longer by staying up all night" she said. Dame Kiri so enjoyed performing in the show she named her dog Abbey in its honour.