Dame Maggie SmithSeveral Downton Abbey actors have yet to sign new contracts to remain with the ITV period drama beyond its third series.

Production on the third series of Downton Abbey is currently underway and it will cover the early years of the 1920s. However, producers are already thinking beyond the third year; offering contracts for a fourth and fifth season – despite the fact ITV have yet to order them – to key cast members. According to reports actors such as Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Joanna Froggatt and Michelle Dockery have all signed new contracts.

However, according to TVLine several high profile actors on Downton Abbey have yet to sign contracts to remain beyond the third year. The entertainment news website reveals that Dan Stevens (who plays Matthew Crawley), Siobhan Finneran (who plays lady’s maid Miss O’Brien), Jessica Brown Findlay (who plays the rebellious Lady Sybil) and Dame Maggie Smith (the Dowager Countess) have not signed new contracts.  The fact that several of the actors – including Maggie Smith whose character is hugely popular with fans for her witty one-liners and put-downs – is said to have panicked producers who fear they might quit the drama.

‘Downton Abbey has a history of major surprises, and the producers are not opposed to changing casting within the show to add to the drama. But it’s hard to imagine the series without Maggie Smith or Dan Dan StevensStevens involved in some way. To write the Dowager Countess out of the series, or even kill off the character, would be Downton’s boldest storyline yet.’ A ‘source’ quoted in The Mirror

Creator Julian Fellowes had previously stated he only had a three-year arc in mind when creating Downton Abbey which led to some speculation the third season would be its last. However, given the continued success of the drama its likely, should the third series rate well, that ITV would want a fourth season – which is why producers on the show are already keen to secure the cast.

The third season will air on ITV1 in the Autumn followed by a second Christmas Special.

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