Carnival Films and ITV announced Friday that three new characters will be appearing on Downton Abbey 's Season 5, which is expected to launch in January of 2015. The lucky three stars who portray these characters are Richard Grant, known for his performances in Doctor Who and Gosford Park; Anna Chancellor, who appears in What a Girl Wants and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; and Rade Sherbedgia, who, much to my delight, played Gregorovitch the wandmaker in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
Grant will appear in Downton Abbey as Simon Bricker, a guest of the Granthams, while Chancellor will portray Lady Anstruther. Sherbedgia, meanwhile, will play a Russian refugee who leaves his home country during the Russian Revolution. Perhaps Downton Abbey wants to answer the Sochi Opening Ceremonies with their own take on early twentieth century Russia. Perhaps Sherbedgia will arrive wrapped in a rainbow quilt, his sole reminder of the country he has fled. Perhaps he and Thomas will, upon spotting one another across the room, fall deeply and madly in love. Then again, perhaps his presence may fulfill other, less salacious functions, such as weaving Downton and its occupants into the larger social and historical framework of the time. As this imaginative romp demonstrates, however, the presence of three new characters begs us to predict the roles they will inhabit as the show continues.
First, let us consider Grant's character, Simon Bricker. On the most recent season of Girls, Grant appears as Jasper, Jessa's friend and mentor in rehab. His shift from "supportive father figure" to "drugged-up hopeful lover" further underscores Jessa's alienation in rehab, and reveals his ability to exude manic energy and desperate (if rejected) passion. If we translate this recent work to Downton, perhaps Grant as Bricker will seduce a member of the upstairs or downstairs with his gentility, only to withdraw with callous indifference and wittily devastating retorts. After all, Grant did voice Barkis Bittern, the villain in The Corpse Bride. Depicting evil is one of his strong suits. As for other strong suits, he recently defended Lena Dunham's use of nudity in Girls . You go, Glen Coco.
Second, let us consider the esteemed Anna Chancellor. As she discusses her character Lix Storm on BBC's "The Hour," Chancellor admits, "I like being so old." While far from ancient, she does bring gravitas with a bite to the character of Lix Storm. In What a Girl Wants, she portrays the stuffy, oft-offended wife of prime minister Colin Firth, intent on driving Amanda Bynes' character out of the picture. Her character in Downton Abbey, we can only surmise, will not hold back on delivering dignified judgements of the general goings-on.
I can see her snippily advising Cora on how to keep the family in order, and making life difficult for the servants by demanding a specific temperature for her tea. Here she is (left) as the stuffy headmistress of a girls' school in comedy St. Trinian's (2007). May she carry over the brooch and scarf to her Downton character, Lady Anstruther.
Finally, and lest we forget, Rade Sherbedgia will be joining the cast. My original thought when I looked up his photo was, "the most interesting man in the world." While he may not be advertising Dos Equis in Downton, he nonetheless brings in an element of exoticism and historical upheaval. I can imagine that he and Tom will either become fast friends or sworn enemies, depending on how his experience in the Russian revolution colors his opinion of communism, socialism, and people in general. In addition, I can imagine him trying to bridge the "upstairs" and "downstairs" worlds with a boozy memorial service to his fallen Russian compatriots, with hilarious and uncomfortable results.
As this season of Downton Abbey wraps up on Feb. 23 and another year of waiting, tea parties, and nail biting begins, all fans of the show can look forward to the contributions of these fine actors. Grant, Chancellor, and Sherbedgia will bring delicious accents, earnest performances, and splashes of intrigue, regardless of whether or not these predictions bear out. I, for one, look forward to their contributions to the fine Downton collection of zingers. Nobody does sarcastic like the British.
Images: PBS; Warner Bros. Pictures; Entertainment Film Distributors