Break out the tea towels! Filming on Series 4 of Downton Abbey has wrapped, and though those of us Stateside won't be able to catch up with the Crawleys until January, photos from the production have been released to whet our appetites for the many heated arguments about the propriety of white-tie attire versus black-tie attire to come. Specifically, we're getting our first glimpse of the three new men in the life of Michelle Dockery's Lady Mary, following the death of her husband Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) at the end of Series 3. “We do see quite a bit of the Mary she was before she met Matthew, that icy iron-maiden quality," producer Gareth Neame tells TV Guide. "It's going to take an awful lot to get her back to life." Let’s get to know the three gents in her orbit better.
Jack Ross (Gary Carr)
The dashing young jazz singer from Chicago, pictured above, meets Lady Mary in the third episode, after Branson, Rose, and Aunt Rosamund force her finally to leave Downton after her extended period of mourning. They take her to a swinging club in London called the Lotus, where Ross helps her come out of her shell. "The spine of the new season is how Mary moves from total bereavement into turning to life again," Neame says. "Ross is very positive, ambitious and charming. And we get to see him perform."
Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen)
Around the same time, Lady Mary reacquaints herself with old family friend Lord Gillingham at one of Downton’s lavish parties. He helps her out with the tangled mess of inheritance taxes surrounding Matthew’s assets. "Mary is not looking for anyone to replace Matthew, but she is, of course, a beautiful, eligible young widow, so inevitably there is going to be quite a lot of male interest," Neame says. "Gillingham is a very useful friend to Mary at a time when she's not able to make decisions."
Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden)
Remember Evelyn Napier? He was the Crawley family friend who introduced them to Turkish ambassador Kemal Pamuk — who died in Lady Mary’s bed — way back in Season 1. Well, he’s coming back. And hopefully the friend he’s bringing with him this time has a healthier ticker. Evelyn’s pal is named Charles Blake, and he’s full of ideas about how to run Downton more efficiently…just like Matthew was before his untimely end. But unlike Matthew Mary despises him. However, if you think about it, she wasn’t really keen on her eventual husband at the start of Season 1, either. "There's a bit of a difference," Neame says. "Mary objected to the law making Matthew the heir to Downton. Blake is someone she just doesn't like. He's modern-thinking but does not share the family's sentimentality about the past."
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
More: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 4: 10 Spoilers About What’s Next for the Crawleys Why Are All the ‘Downton Abbey’ Maids Redheads? Stephen Colbert Mashes Up ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Breaking Bad’
From Our PartnersStars Pose Naked for 'Allure' (Celebuzz)20 Grisliest TV Deaths of 2012-2013 (Vulture)
Ape descendant Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) gets yanked from the Earth by best friend and alien Ford Prefect (Mos Def) seconds before a Vogon constructor fleet destroys it to make way for a hyperspace expressway. Next thing he knows Arthur is aboard the Vogon ship reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (voiced by Stephen Fry) and wondering where he might get some tea. But he and Ford are not in the clear: the Vogons (some of whom look like the nightmarish drawings of Ralph Steadman come to life in S&M leather) want to throw them into the vacuum of space right after they read some of the third worst poetry in the known universe. Luckily the spaceship Heart of Gold picks up the stranded hitchhikers in the nick of time. Stolen by the dim but groovy President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) the ship has an Improbability Drive that causes certain mischief turning the stowaways into loveseats and later two missiles into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale. Also onboard is doe-eyed Earth girl Tricia "Trillian" McMillan (Zooey Deschanel) who previously ditched Arthur at a costume party on Earth to satisfy her wanderlust with Zaphod. The crew then embarks on a quest to find the Ultimate Question to Life the Universe and Everything after supercomputer Deep Thought (voiced by Helen Mirren) found the answer: 42. On the run and without a home Arthur discovers that life's true meaning comes from the answers found within.
The slapstick antics and sharp dialogue evoke enough laughs to make one forget that the characters are rather one-note. Rockwell's Zaphod is a riot at first but the cheeky smile and devilish winks soon wear thin. Deschanel has little to work with playing Trillian though it's fun watching her wield a point-of-view gun on Zaphod. Mos Def mumbles some lines but does manage to act like someone from another planet. Freeman does an amiable job playing the fish-out-of-water Earthman but neglects to express the grief and bewilderment of someone who just lost his planet. Even John Malkovich as Humma Kavular--the spiritual leader of a cult awaiting the arrival of the Big Handkerchief--fails to make much of an impression in his brief appearance. Only Alan Rickman as the perpetually glum robot Marvin and Bill Nighy as the stammering planet designer Slartibartfast remain funny without becoming routine--though unfortunately Nighy only appears in the third act. A half-cocked romance between Arthur and Trillian is thrown in for good measure with the couple merely going through the motions.
Directed with considerable flair by first-timer Garth Jennings whose frantic visual style blends well with Adams' ironic wit the film looks as good as can be. CGI is used to display Adams' universe in ways never seen before: The massive concrete slabs of the Vogon fleet surrounding Earth the Heart of Gold tricked out in 1960's Formica kitsch the stark bureaucratic world of Vogosphere and the eye-popping factory floor on Magrathea are all vividly brought to life. Although the graphics of the Guide look more like Internet pop-up ads than stellar entries from the best-selling book in the galaxy the exposition from the Guide is clever and amusing though one should brush up on the material prior to viewing. Even with all the stunning visuals however the plot is still thin. Jennings and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run) have trimmed the story--and witty banter--to its barest essentials leaving out some of the funnier bits to quicken the pace. Memorable exchanges--like the opening battle of wits between Arthur and Mr. Prosser--are reduced to a few meaningless lines while the always hinted-at love affair between Arthur and Trillian gets the full Hollywood treatment. In the past Adams who died of a heart attack in 2001 has allowed the Guide to change and progress with each incarnation so new additions--like the point-of-view gun and the cult of the Big Handkerchief--are welcomed. But the patchwork of wacky vignettes and neutered banter particularly between Arthur and Ford leave one yearning for something more meaningful.