Filming of eight new episodes for autumn 2013 plus an extended special episode for Christmas 2013 begins at Highclere Castle and Ealing Studios in February next year.
The opening and closing episodes will again be feature length with series four continuing the story of the Crawley family and their servants in the early 1920s.
Gareth Neame, Managing Director of Carnival Films, the show’s makers and Executive Producer of Downton Abbey said well-loved characters both above and below stairs will return along with the arrival of some new faces.
“Viewers can look forward to more drama, comedy, love, hatred, jealousy, rivalry, ambition, despair and romance.”
Laura Mackie, Director of Drama at ITV, said: “We’re thrilled to welcome back a drama series that has become a much anticipated part of all our lives every autumn and achieved success around the globe.
“Creator, writer and executive producer Julian Fellowes and the production team, led by Gareth and the producer Liz Trubridge, never rest on their laurels and have exciting plans for the fourth series.”
But first fans of the hit drama should prepare for both laughter and tears in a two-hour special to be screened on ITV1 at 9pm this Christmas Day.
“We hope the Downton family of viewers will gather together to watch this major TV event as a shared Christmas night experience,” said Laura.
“Last year’s special episode set the nation talking on Boxing Day and 2012’s Christmas Day episode is no different. As ever, Downton will take its audience through a whole range of emotions. All of life’s experiences will feature in this episode.“This is one episode you will want to see live with millions of others – and best have the tissues ready.”
It sees Lord and Lady Grantham and family heading for a summer break in The Highlands of Scotland, leaving most of their servants back at home.
The annual visit to his Scottish cousins at Duneagle Castle, where the piper calls the tune for breakfast and dinner, is the highlight of Robert’s (Hugh Bonneville) year.
Duneagle is the home of young, headstrong Lady Rose (Lily James), who was sent home in the last episode of series three after her dalliance with a married man.
The castle is a grander step up from Downton, with deer stalking and fishing also on hand in the stunning surrounding Scottish countryside.
Both Gareth and Laura praised the “genius” of astute observer and master storyteller Julian Fellowes, who writes all the episodes.
“Not only is he a superb craftsman, he also has an extraordinary work ethic. It is a mammoth undertaking to write all those episodes,” said Gareth. “The main credit for the success of Downton is by far and away down to Julian. I’ve not had the fortune to work with anyone else who combines so many talents.” It is no secret that Julian is a lifelong fan of the Rovers Return regulars.
“He has learned an awful lot as a viewer of Coronation Street and has an extraordinary sense of serial drama writing,” explained Gareth.
“Julian knows that you want a core group of characters who almost become an extension of your family. But you also need new blood coming in to shake things up a bit.”
“We’re always very pleased with the audience reaction to the series,” said Laura. “From the very first series Julian created an ensemble of memorable characters. Of course there are some you may like more than others but they’re all incredibly well drawn.
“He knows them all so well and is able to quickly integrate new characters into the drama so you feel as if they have always been there. That’s a real gift.
With the announcement of a fourth series, Laura said there is plenty for the Downton audience to look forward to. Gareth agreed: “Everyone who works to bring Downton Abbey to the screen is incredibly proud of the show and want to cherish it.
“We’re in rude health and have a long way still to go – starting with a not to be missed and truly memorable Christmas Day episode.”
Downton Abbey screens on ITV1 on Christmas Day at 9pm.