Fear has been installed into the heart of Downton Abbey fans today as reports claimed the show's formidable Dowager Countess and the Abbey's resident heartthrob Matt Crawley may not be taking tea in the drawing room in further series.
The Mirror reports Dame Maggie Smith, who plays the elderly Dowager, is considering her future on the Golden Globe winning drama. And they added: "Her agent yesterday confirmed that the Oscar-winning screen legend had yet to sign up or even enter negotiations for series four."
TV Line have reported that most of the principal cast of ITV's period-drama phenomenon — including Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora), Hugh Bonneville (Robert), Joanne Froggatt (Anna) and Brendan Coyle (Bates) — have signed new deals to appear throughout the show's fourth and fifth seasons.
This has led to fears that Dame Maggie isn't planning to return after the third series, which is currently being filmed and is expected on screens in the autumn. Neither, just as worryingly, has there been any mention of a reappearance by Dan Stevens, who plays Crawley.
However, it could be that Stevens, whose character is expected to marry Lady Mary in the new series after their engagement was announced during the Christmas Day special, is just biding his time to see if a fourth and fifth series are commissioned. Or perhaps he and Smith are waiting to see how their storylines develop into series three.
A spokesman for Downton Abbey's UK producer Carnival told The Mirror: "We are currently filming series three of Downton Abbey in which all the cast have returned.
"ITV have not yet commissioned a fourth and fifth series which, if they happen, would be a long way off."
Smith's character, witty matriarch Dowager Countess, earned a place in viewers' hearts with blunt observations such as "what is a weekend?" and "so, that's Mary's replacement. Well, I suppose looks aren't everything."
In series three, her feathers are expected to be ruffled further by the arrival of another older female, played by Shirley MacLaine, who will star as Lady Crawley's American mother.