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After a tragedy at sea claims the life of the presumed heir, Lord Crawley (Bonneville) is faced with the possibility that the house he's loved his whole life might someday belong to a distant cousin (Dan Stevens, Sense & Sensibility) he's never met. But before that can happen he must deal with his scandalous daughter, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery, Red Riding Trilogy), [who is] considered by many to be the rightful heir to Downton. Even the staff has opinions on the family's affairs. And while most are devoted to the Crawleys, there are others whose selfishness and scheming do more than simply disrupt the well-oiled inner workings of the estate. As the servants' mischief escalates, even the most faithful employees begin to imagine a different life. Pitting hundreds of years of British aristocracy against the tides of social upheaval and technical progress, under the looming shadow of World War I, will the fate of Downton and its family - above and below stairs - be resolved? Or will life be altered so dramatically that its master no longer matters?
Last season opened with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, which had dire consequences for Downton Abbey. The new season picks up in the middle of another disaster, World War I, which affected every aspect of life in England, accelerating the social change that was already transforming an age-old system of class and privilege. As the Great War rages across Europe, discord is sown even into the serene Yorkshire countryside. Simmering tensions behind the gates of Downton Abbey are beginning to come to a boil as the men and women of Downton do their part on both the front lines and the home front. What's more, the brutality and intensity of war seem to inflame more familiar passions - love, loss, blackmail, and betrayal - leaving family and staff alike to struggle in an ever-changing world, against a host of new demons.