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Carry On: How to Fill the Downton Void

With Season 4 over, we ponder what's next and how to fill the time 'til Season 5

By Chris Hewitt | March 10, 2014

The fourth season of Downton Abbey ended on exactly the right note. Now, the wait for Season 5 begins. 

What will it bring? Season 4's conclusion offered hints. 

Servants Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes were on a beach outing. She briskly waded in, but he resisted, perhaps because of the shocking intimacy (for 1923) of baring his feet in front of a woman not his wife. So Mrs. Hughes grabbed the bull by the horns and Mr. Carson by his clenched fist, saying, as they looked out across the water, "You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady."

Love in livery is a tantalizing prospect for Season 5, which has already begun filming. There will be amour upstairs, as well, since Charles Blake and Anthony Foyle continue to be warm for Lady Mary's form. We know the actors who play both suitors will be back next season, so get ready for romantic rivalry, even as Mary insists, "My destiny is to save Downton."

(MORE: The Women of Downton Abbey)

Destiny will take Mary's sister, Lady Edith, away from Downton. She's off to "The Continent" to fetch the love child she gave up for adoption. Edith's kid is bound to cause trouble for the family, as she ominously hinted to her father: "Whatever I may do, it would never be to hurt you."

In a finale full of warnings, the biggest came from Cora's American mother. Tired of straining to keep up with the Countess Dowager in the withering wisecrack department, she leveled her rival by pointing out that the sun was setting on the British Empire: "My world is coming nearer, and yours is slipping further and further away."

(MORE: The 'Downton Abbey' Death Count)

With Season 5 looming far in the distance (word is that we'll see it in the states in early 2015), there's plenty of time to speculate about how those stories will play out.

Meanwhile, here are five suggested entertainments to keep you occupied and in a "Downton" frame of mind:

Cold Comfort Farm — A very young Kate Beckinsale stars in this 1995 movie, along with Eileen Atkins and Ian McKellen, in a hilarious, '30s-set fable about a clever woman who visits her rural relations, confident she can whip their chaotic lives into shape.

Downton on Ice — Figure skating legend Will Ferrell, in a performance on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon inspired by "Downton"'s majestic theme music.

Gosford Park — Stately manor? Check. Haughty wisecracks from Maggie Smith? Check. Waistcoats at dinner? Check. Soap operatics, upstairs and down? Check. Boorish Americans? Check. Robert Altman's period mystery movie — which, like Downton, was written by Julian Fellowes — could practically be renamed Murder at Downton Abbey.

Miss Buncle's Book — In D.E. Stevenson's delightful 1934 novel, a lively (and secretly opinionated) resident of an English village writes a pseudonymous novel based on the exploits of her neighbors. It becomes a surprise hit, and her vexed neighbors want to know who spilled the beans. There's no super-wealthy family to worry about, but think of Miss Buncie's Book as what's going on in the village of Downton while all the toffs at the manor house are busy arranging roses and evicting tenants.

(MORE:  Downton Abbey's 8 Money Lessons for All of Us)

The Queen of Versailles — Part of the charm of "Downton" is that its lifestyle is a distant memory. And maybe it should stay that way. This 2012 documentary, in which a distracted billionaire and his wife lose a fortune building the largest home in the United States, shows why it sucks to be held hostage by a house.

Chris Hewitt is a movie and theater critic who has written for MSNBC.com, Today.com and The History Channel magazine and whose reviews have run in newspapers across the country. The Dowager Countess would be appalled by his ignorance of which fork to use when.