Downton Abbey will return to ITV1 in 2013 for a fourth series, it has been confirmed.

Filming will commence at Highclere Castle and Ealing Studios for eight new episodes of the award-winning drama to air during autumn 2013 plus a special episode for Christmas 2013.

Laura Mackie of ITV1 and Gareth Neame of production company Carnival Films talk about the Christmas Day 2012 episode and the upcoming series.

Gareth Neame, Executive Producer of Downton Abbey said well-loved characters both above and below stairs will return along with the arrival of some new faces.

“Viewers can look forward to more drama, comedy, love, hatred, jealousy, rivalry, ambition, despair and romance.”

The opening and closing episodes will again be feature length with series four continuing the story of the Crawley family and their servants in the early 1920s.

Laura Mackie, Director of Drama at ITV, said: “We’re thrilled to welcome back a drama series that has become a much anticipated part of all our lives every autumn and achieved success around the globe.

“Creator, writer and executive producer Julian Fellowes and the production team, led by Gareth and the producer Liz Trubridge, never rest on their laurels and have exciting plans for the fourth series.”

But first fans of the drama should prepare for both laughter and tears in a two-hour special to be screened on ITV1 at 9pm this Christmas Day.

“We hope the Downton family of viewers will gather together to watch this major TV event as a shared Christmas night experience,” said Laura.

“Last year’s special episode set the nation talking on Boxing Day and 2012’s Christmas Day episode is no different. As ever, Downton will take its audience through a whole range of emotions.  All of life’s experiences will feature in this episode.

“This is one episode you will want to see live with millions of others – and best have the tissues ready.”

It sees Lord and Lady Grantham and family heading for a summer break in The Highlands of Scotland, leaving most of their servants back at home.

The annual visit to his Scottish cousins at Duneagle Castle, where the piper calls the tune for breakfast and dinner, is the highlight of Robert’s (Hugh Bonneville) year.

Duneagle is the home of young, headstrong Lady Rose (Lily James), who was sent home in the last episode of series three after her dalliance with a married man.

The castle is a grander step up from Downton, with deer stalking and fishing also on hand in the stunning surrounding Scottish countryside.

During the special episode Lady Edith discovers that newspaper editor Michael Gregson (also happens to be on holiday in Scotland and may not be there just for the sketching and fishing.

 “The Grantham’s do not live at Downton Abbey 12 months of the year. They would go to London for the summer season and also go away on holidays like this. And when that happens the domestic staff of Downton would remain. What will they get up to while the family is away?”

The third series, just broadcast in the UK, premieres on Masterpiece on PBS in the USA on January the 6th.

“Downton has a whole life beyond the episodes themselves. It has leapt out of the television set and become part of both the national and global conversation,” explained Gareth.

“It is now part of culture and society and that’s a very different experience for all of us involved in making the show.”

Both Gareth and Laura praised the “genius” of astute observer and master storyteller Julian Fellowes, who writes all the episodes.

“Not only is he a superb craftsman, he also has an extraordinary work ethic. It is a mammoth undertaking to write all those episodes,” said Gareth.

 “He has learned an awful lot as a viewer of Coronation Street and has an extraordinary sense of serial drama writing,” explained Gareth. “Julian knows that you want a core group of characters who almost become an extension of your family. But you also need new blood coming in to shake things up a bit.”

Possibly one reason why Downton was described by one telly reviewer as “Crossroads with posh frocks.”

“We’re always very pleased with the audience reaction to the series,” said Laura. “From the very first series Julian created an ensemble of memorable characters. Of course there are some you may like more than others but they’re all incredibly well drawn.

“He knows them all so well and is able to quickly integrate new characters into the drama so you feel as if they have always been there. That’s a real gift.”

With the announcement of a fourth series there is plenty for the Downton audience to look forward to ITV state.

Gareth says: “Everyone who works to bring Downton Abbey to the screen is incredibly proud of the show and want to cherish it. We’re in rude health and have a long way still to go – starting with a not to be missed and truly memorable Christmas Day episode.”

Downton Abbey screens on ITV1 on Christmas Day at 9pm.

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