Downton Abbey series 5, first look review: Granthams face 'destruction of everything they stand for'

Socialism, workers' rights and characters sleeping in the wrong bedrooms set for September

The denizens of Downton Abbey have survived a World War, the scandal of an illegitimate child and a brutal rape. But it is the shocking rise of socialism which threatens to destroy the world’s favourite English country house for good.

Politics plays a central role in the fifth series of ITV’s much-garlanded drama, which mixes high-class soap with sedition as the new revolutionary political creed gives Lord Grantham sleepless nights.

The action has moved on to 1924 and the first Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald has shaken the estate to its core. Labour’s hostility to the land-owning classes will lead to the “destruction of us and everything we stand for,” Hugh Bonneville’s patriarch predicts.

 

Faithful butler Mr Carson (Jim Carter) will be up against the wall come the revolution too. “I feel a shaking of the ground I stand on,” he complains after silencing shouts of “up the workers” from the downstairs staff, who sense the possibilities of a different world approaching.

Matters come to a head when rabble-rousing Socialist teacher Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis), the “Boudica of the North Riding”, dares to contradict the Earl at a dinner party and calls the First World War a waste of young lives and money.

Fortunately Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess is on hand to diffuse the tension with one of her delicious put-downs. “Principles are like prayers,” she tells the firebrand teacher. “Noble, but awkward at a party.”

Yet Downton creator Julian Fellowes’ skill at undercutting moments of high-drama with comedy remains, and viewers who may be alarmed at this diversion into domestic politics will be reassured in the knowledge that business remains pretty much as usual for the series, which is now screened in 255 countries, and which has received 12 Emmy award nominations.

Video: Cast talk about their characters

No opportunity for plot signalling is avoided – an early hours house fire is inevitably used to expose who has tiptoed into the wrong bedroom. The dialogue can be of the sledgehammer variety. “I’m going upstairs to take my hat off,” intones Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) before doing precisely that.

However the Hollywood guest stars (a scenery-chewing Shirley MacLaine, Paul Giamatti) of previous years have been supplanted by distinguished British actors for whom Downton has replaced the Harry Potter franchise as a much-sought sinecure. Sue Johnston, known for her roles in The Royale Family and Waking The Dead, arrives as a feisty new lady’s maid for the Dowager.

Lady Mary must choose between her two suitors and can’t understand why she can’t take them both for a bedroom test drive before committing.

There will be the usual secrets, lies and shocking plot twists to match last year’s controversial rape of Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt), promised Executive Producer Gareth Neame.

“We hope to come back next year,” added Neame, who predicted Downton could run until it depicted “Margaret Thatcher’s landslide”. Spoiler alert for Earl Grantham: Downton Abbey will be around longer than the first MacDonald Government.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'