Details of the Downton Abbey Christmas special have been released and the full cast are set to return for a two-hour feature. The festive episode takes place in the early autumn of 1924, when grouse shooting season is in full swing. Lady Rose's father-in-law Lord Sinderby has rented out Brancaster Castle in Northumberland and invited the Crawley family to a shooting party. While good sport is enjoyed, Stowell, the Sinderbys' butler, has an axe to grind and threatens to undermine the merry holiday with a scandalous secret. Surprises are in store as the families become better acquainted with each other and some new faces arrive on the scene.
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The Downton Christmas special will see the cast enjoy a shooting party in Northumberland
New characters set to make their debut include the much talked about Princess Irina, wife of Prince Kuragin, who is played by BAFTA Award nominee Jane Lapotaire. Also joining the cast is Alun Armstrong from New Tricks, Braveheart and Sleepy Hollow, who will take on the role of butler Stowell. Meanwhile back at Downton, uncertainty surrounds Anna as she faces a future behind bars, while Bates takes drastic measures in a bid to clear her name. Baxter and Molesley are busy on a joint plan and Carson and Mrs Hughes consider a business venture.
Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery, and young George decorate a Christmas tree
The episode will air on Christmas Day on ITV, and feature returning stars Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael and Lily James among others. James Faulkner and Penny Downie as Lord and Lady Sinderby will also return, alongside their son and Lady Rose's husband Matt Barber as Atticus Aldridge. Rade Sherbedgia will reprise his role as Prince Kuragin and Michael Fox will play footman Andy.
George Clooney is set to make a special appearance on Downton Abbey before Christmas
As previously reported, George Clooney will also be making a special appearance on the hit British period drama before Christmas. The Hollywood actor will play an American wedding guest in a special show written to raise money for charity fundraiser Text Santa. An ITV spokesperson confirmed that George would appear in a sketch, but would not act in a full Christmas episode. The 53-year-old heart-throb is reportedly a big fan of Downton Abbey, and is good friends with Hugh, who plays Lord Robert Crawley. The pair became close while working together on Monuments Men.