It’s been four years since "Downton Abbey" finished its sixth season of upstairs-downstairs melodrama. But the exquisite drama series, created by Julian Fellowes, did not come to its final resting place with all loose ends tied up. Which is why the upcoming film continuation offers so many possibilities for fans of rich, complex and soapy storytelling. Before DOWNTON ABBEY arrives in theaters, on September 20, we wanted to take a look back at the state of that estate. It's a good time to remember where the characters were, and see where they may be going, leading up to the theatrical revival of the show.
The main plot of the film (what we know if it so far, anyway) involves a visit to Downton Abbey by King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James). This throws both the Crawleys, who reside in the house, and their servants, into a tizzy of excitement. Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) have long presided over the grounds with dignity and benevolence, but will that be enough to impress the Royal family? No one yet knows, but their daughter Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) seems poised to step in, if needed, to ensure that the estate is cleaned, organized and brought to a brilliant luster befitting the Royals. Meanwhile, Mary’s sister Edith was happily married to Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton) at the end of Season 6. Are the responsibilities and rewards of being a wife and mother enough for her, however, or will she try to elbow her way into preparation for the visit?
Meanwhile, there’s Lady Violet (Maggie Smith), the calculating matriarch of the Crawley family. She always wants to be involved in everyone’s business, and frequently complicates things in spectacular, mischievous fashion. She remains a quick-witted figurehead for the family, but for how long can she maintain her authority over younger generations? And will her equally incisive but decidedly more compassionate sister Isobel (Penelope Wilton) be there to keep her in check before Violet’s killer conversational instincts get the family in hot water with the Royal visitors?
Among the Crawleys, the odd man out is Tom Branson (Allen Leech). He's a socialist Irish nationalist and former family chauffeur. Despite his open political ambitions, he won the heart of Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), the youngest daughter of Robert and Cora, before she died giving birth to their daughter. Though he’s been accepted by the Crawleys as a member of their family, Tom remains an outsider, personally and politically. That sets the stage for a potential conflict when the King and Queen arrive. Will he maintain decorum and be loyal to the family, or will his own impulses get the better of him?
If Tom is the bridge between the Crawley family and their servants, it should also be interesting to see how he views their efforts to spruce up Downton Abbey. But after Charlie Carson (Jim Carter) was forced to retire in the series finale, there's reason to wonder if he has grown restless with domestic life, after marrying Elsie May Carson (Phyllis Logan), and retiring as he suffered palsy.
Surely, Carson's decades-long tenure as butler will inspire some feelings of obligation, and ownership, of Downton’s look as the Royal family arrives. The event should also inspire some feelings from Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), who, after repeatedly conspiring to complicate the lives of his fellow servants, settled into a surprising role as butler after Mr. Carson retired.
The rest of the servants will undoubtedly have their own mini-dramas as the King and Queen arrive. After Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) fell in love with footman Andy Parker (Michael C. Fox) towards the end of the series, will they continue to find happiness, or will the stress of the visit test their relationship? Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle), meanwhile, left Downton by the end of the series to work as a schoolteacher. The former butler and valet often got into trouble thanks to his fierce protectiveness towards Downton. We know that he returns to help with the preparations, but will that spell success or disaster?
Finally, there’s Downton itself, which has gone through its own ups and downs over the years. As time passes, the need for such an estate, not to mention its role in English aristocracy, continues to change. Will the King and Queen’s visit herald new developments in its ownership, and among those who are its caretakers and stewards? Suffice it to say we’ll probably find out on September 20.
Regardless of what happens with that grand estate, or how each character’s story unfolds, DOWNTON ABBEY promises irresistible drama on the silver screen. Julian Fellowes continues to develop and explore one of the richest and most interesting ensembles in television history, and the movie will extend their stories, to give audiences more immersive time in this unique, elegant world.
All images courtesy of Focus Features.