In more shocking Downton Abbey cast news (of the exiting kind), Siobhan Finneran has recently told the press that she will not reprise her role as the dastardly Mrs. O’Brien, the lady’s maid everyone loves to hate, in the show’s fourth season. The announcement comes on the heels of two other major cast departures this season, and it looks like Julian Fellowes‘ Edwardian drama, the reins of which he’s handing over next year, is going to need to start casting quickly. A few new characters have already been revealed:
- Tom Cullen will appear as Lord Gillingham, described as an old family friend of the Crawleys (aren’t they all?) who may or may not be helpful in mending Lady Mary’s heart.
- Nigel Harman will play a valet named Green.
- Harriet Walter plays Lady Shackleton, an old friend of the Dowager Countess (Shirley Maclaine as also been said to be rumored to return, but seeing the Dowager with someone she actually likes will be a treat).
Hit the jump for my speculation on the future of O’Brien and a few more casting updates.
According to Salon, the show many also be looking to include a black cast member to portray a jazz musician, introducing the idea of race relations in the 1920s (and I’m sure it will be Rose who brings him to Downton, n’est pas?). Other new cast members (via TV Fanatic) will include Joanna David in a guest role as the Duchess of Yeovil, as well as Julian Ovenden as aristocrat Charles Blake (who is extremely handsome).
As for O’Brien, Downton Abbey has maintained a particularly high mortality rate over its three seasons, though it’s uncertain how O’Brien might be written off the show. She has served great narrative purpose (more than many of the characters) since the show’s beginning as the only truly malevolent occupant of the house. Who will take her place, now?
I have often argued that the Rise and Fall (and rise and fall) of Thomas Barrow is one of the best long-range narratives of Downton Abbey. (The Downstairs is not as glamorous as their counterparts Upstairs, but they tend to have more fulfilling stories). He has managed to find depth and redemption where O’Brien hasn’t. While O’Brien and Thomas were partners in crime for the first two seasons, during season three the two broke apart, with O’Brien constantly escalating in cruelty towards her former best friend. She also remained the brunt of jokes from the staff and Crawleys as being a known troublemaker, whereas Thomas was at least occasionally considered to be ok.
Still, she had a vice grip on Cora’s mind, and was often able to scheme and finagle things for her nephew Alfred during her particularly agile weaving of the Countess’ bangs. And while in this year’s Christmas special, we got to see Thomas gain the upperhand over O’Brien but telling Bates about the soap (the word, anyway, if not the deed) that more or less put her on notice, we’ve never seen O’Brien get the public comeuppance she’s deserved for several seasons.
It looks like we won’t get to see that, though. Finneran said of the role, “I’m not doing any more. O’Brien is a thoroughly despicable human being – that was great to play.” (via MSN) But … what’s dead may never die?
When the Crawley’s went to Duneagle in the Christmas Special and O’Brien was so enamored with the idea of going to India with that family, I thought she might switch places with her Scottish lady’s maid counterpart, particularly with her hair styling skills in such demand. Might we discover that she has taken off to warmer climates after all? Or will the show find a way to kill her off suddenly and dramatically and soap operatically as well? Here’s an idea: merge the fourth season with Agatha Christie’s Poirot! I am going to guess the culprit was Jimmy in the study with the candlestick … but Thomas takes the blame.