Downton Abbey: Road to A New Era

Virginia: With the latest Downton Abbey film hitting theater screens this week, fellow Downton superfan Blabbering Collector had the idea for a piece celebrating the franchise. After six TV seasons and now two films, there’s a lot to look back on and appreciate in this story of family, legacy, and sociopolitical change. I’ll let you start, Blabs; what do you love about Downton Abbey? What attracted you as a fan of the series? 

Blabbering Collector: I started to watch Downton Abbey when I was in high school. From the very first scene, I was hooked on the music. If I remember correctly, there was no intro in the first episode; it was just the train taking Mr. Bates to Downton Abbey, which was enough for me! Then, the first episode ended, and you meet this vast variety of characters, all so very different from one another. How could you not love it? The costumes, the history, the repercussions of the Titanic sinking… It was fabulous! Not to mention, I adore Dan Stevens and his portrayal of Matthew Crawley. From the moment I clapped eyes on Matthew and Mary, I was rooting for them.

V: The series does have a delightful array of music, thanks to composer John Lunn. The historical setting, costumes, and language just suck me right in. I feel the same way about Game of Thrones, for example; the acting is good, and the characters are usually well-written (before ~season 7), but the trappings of the genre (or time period in DA) do a lot of the heavy lifting for me. Many of the costumes in the series and films are authentic historical pieces, which is just crazy to think about. Someone wore these extravagant gowns back in the day, unlike in costume dramas that make everything from scratch. It adds to the ambiance of it all. 

BC: Yes, I love how the drivers of all the vintage cars are either mechanics or the owners of the vehicles. It just makes it that much more authentic. I love how they brought on so many historical advisors to look at everything, from how the dinner table was set to the way people walked back in the day. There’s just so much detail, even if it’s in the scene for, like, a second. Alex will laugh at me, but the amount of detail reminds me of Harry Potter

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V: Yes, I agree. The attention to detail in both recreation and the use of genuine artifacts is spectacular. Harry Potter isn’t a bad comparison; it’s a modern, fictional world, as opposed to the historical fiction of Downton Abbey. But the same principles apply; it’s all about creating a time and place through the props, language, costumes, etc. It’s one of the most underappreciated, least understood facets of filmmaking because if they do an outstanding job, you don’t notice it. Perfection. The cast of Downton Abbey also keeps me coming back for more, both the phenomenal performances and the actual characters. My favorite character is Mary. I’m also the oldest of three sisters (although we also have two much younger siblings) and am used to having a lot put on my shoulders. She’s also just beautiful and an example of the wonderful job they did casting the family. Michelle Dockery looks a lot like Elizabeth McGovern as her mother, Lady Grantham/Cora Crawley. My other favorites are Lady Violet the Dowager Countess, Lord Grantham/Robert Crawley, and Carson, the butler. Matthew (Dan Stevens) was one of my favorites ever, and I loved him with Mary. His death is one of the first times I remember crying during a TV series. None of her subsequent boyfriends (and eventual husband, Henry) have compared. 

BC: My absolute favorites are the Dowager, Sybil, and Tom. I loved Sybil and Tom, and cried for ages when she suddenly died. I hate the actress for leaving… she tortured us all! 

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And Maggie Smith is just a treat in everything she does. From Tea With Mussolini to Harry Potter, to the rom-com Mum’s The Word to Downton Abbey, she nails every single role. I was furious at Dan Stevens for deciding to leave Downton Abbey. I don’t particularly like Mary’s new husband; he’s very bland. And he is not even in this film due to the actor’s scheduling conflict. 

And speaking of Tom, what ever happened to him and Edith’s editor, Laura Edmunds, at the end of season six? It was very obviously hinting that the two of them liked each other.

V:  Tea With Mussolini is a good movie that more people should check out. I liked Sybil a lot too, certainly more than Edith, whom I can’t stand, and she was good with Tom. Sybil saw people for more than their class and social standing, which is more than you can say about most people even today. I agree with you about Henry. He’s not interesting and has no chemistry with Mary. I hate will-they-won’t-they storylines, but Mary and Matthew had undeniable chemistry. I feel nothing when Henry is around. I don’t think the role or the actor is good enough to replace Matthew, and I probably won’t miss him in the movie even as his wife has such a prominent role. Is it bad that I forgot about Edith’s editor? Things having to do with Edith don’t stick in my mind as much since I don’t like her. I need to do a rewatch because I also barely remember the woman Tom is marrying from the previous film. 

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BC: I don’t particularly like Edith either, but I like her a lot more now that she’s calmed down and settled herself. I hated her in the beginning. She was a selfish, entitled brat. I liked her new editor, though; she was spunky and fun, and there was a bit of “girl power” without it being a slap in the face. 

Only Sybil was kind to everyone. I liked Lucy, the new chick Tom will be marrying. She’s beautiful and innocent, and honestly, he needs someone after Sybil died. I hope this new film will do them all justice. I don’t like that he will be moving out of Downton, as she is inheriting a nice fortune and a mansion.

V: I have to agree there; they have at least toned Edith down. She made me so angry in the TV show when she was more worried about her dress than poor Carson. I also didn’t like how man-hungry she got in the middle and later seasons, chasing every man who crossed her path. And she was always jealous of Mary’s dalliances, which was uncomfortable to watch. Sybil was undoubtedly the most forgiving and kind of the sisters. I wonder how Tom moving out will impact future installment(s); I believe I saw series creator Julian Fellowes discussing a third film already.

BC: Yes, Jullian had discussed three films, and I doubt Maggie Smith will be in this new one (third film). She isn’t in the wedding photos or scenes that we see in the promotion for the new movie. I think her character passes away at some point in this film.

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V: What a sad thought. I have trouble imagining people watching the future movies without Lady Violet. I feel the same way about Mary and Lord Grantham. Downton Abbey is stuffed with popular characters and talented actors, but this trio of intergenerational Crawleys forms the show’s crux. Before we wrap up here, do you have anything you’d like to say about the show, the films, or hopes for the newest installment?

BC: I hope that they continue to make Downton Abbey films as long as it stays true to the characters and the time period, and has as much detail as the first film and the original six seasons. It could be interesting to see either a prequel or an epilogue show based on a young Violet Crawley or even George Crawley (Mary and Matthew’s child). 

V: That’s an exciting idea. We’re so used to watching the passage of time through this tight-knit clan and their servants that I hadn’t even thought about a different time period/cast of characters. I would like to see a conclusion down the road, as long as they end it the right way. In the meantime, I’ll be in line for every film they produce, and I’ll tune in if they ever revive the series (not that they necessarily should). 

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