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Fleet actress Raquel Cassidy is looking forward to a bigger role in the long-awaited new series of Downton Abbey.

Her extended role in the international hit period drama begins with the first episode on Sunday September 21.

The major mystery that has been intriguing viewers is what is the dark secret from the past of lady’s maid Phyllis Baxter, played by 46-year-old Raquel, that gives nasty Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) such a hold over her.

“Baxter’s troubles with Thomas and Cora form a major storyline in the fifth series,” said Raquel, a former pupil at Farnborough Hill, who went on to study at Cambridge University where she was part of the Footlights drama group.

In the coming series, Phyllis is faced with the choice of giving in to Mr Barrow’s sinister plans to target John Bates or resist him, but risk exposure. During the last series Phyllis fed him tittle tattle but now she is having second thoughts about betraying the employer she has grown to like.

Raquel said: “I think it is probably best to face him head on.

“I mean he’s a bully, isn’t he? So if you show them fear or you let them get in and feel you’re weak then they’ll keep on going – they’ll keep gnawing away until they see blood.

“Ultimately that’s what she tries to do and the consequences are very grave but at least she is being true to herself finally.”

Raquel said this is in a large part thanks to her new friend Molesley (Kevin Doyle).

“I don’t think she would have had the courage to do it alone, coming into this big house and Thomas being her main source of contact,” she added.

Raquel, whose first breakthrough in television was in Channel 4’s acclaimed drama Teachers, has played many classical parts on stage including a world tour as Lady Macbeth and Anna Karenina.

She has also won awards for her film roles, but is currently concentrating on Downton Abbey, which is shown in 250 countries.

“We had moments filming during series five when I’d look at Joanne Froggatt and blurt out ‘I’m on Downton Abbey’ and she’d laugh at me. It’s a really wonderful experience, I have to say.”

The new series starts on ITV at 9pm on Sunday.