Just when you thought the world’s demand for professionally trained butlers had peaked, “Downton Abbey” returns with a big-screen conclusion to the acclaimed BBC series about the upstairs-downstairs drama between an aristocratic family and its domestic servants.
The series debuted on British television in 2010 and arrived in America in 2011 — and the show became a smash hit on both sides of the pond. For six seasons, audiences were fascinated by the rising and falling fortunes of the Crawley family and their hired help. Now, the cast of characters returns one last time in DOWNTON ABBEY, opening in theatres on September 20.
Here’s everything we know about the upcoming film, which promises not to dial back any of the juicy twists and turns that made its six seasons such irresistible television.
Does the U.K. Go Back to the Abbey First?
As was often the case with the original television seasons, British audiences will experience DOWNTON ABBEY just before fans in the United States. The film opens in U.K. theatres on September 13, to be followed by a U.S. release one week later on September 20.
The Downton Abbey Trailer Sets the Scene
The first DOWNTON ABBEY trailer features a look at all of the returning characters and sets up the story, in which the King and Queen announce that they will visit the home, setting off a scramble to prepare for the royal arrival.
The World of Downton Abbey
Though the series is largely fictional, creator Julian Fellowes takes inspiration from real events and uses actual history to create a believable framework for the story of the Crawley family. Background events on the show included the sinking of the Titanic to the decline of the British aristocracy. Like many British television series, its seasons were short — just seven or eight episodes — but covered a tremendous amount of ground. The show also introduced viewers to social roles such as the Dowager Countess — as in Dame Maggie Smith’s character Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, who acts as the show’s quick-witted matriarch of the old guard.
For Those Who Never Visited the Abbey
With only 52 episodes, “Downton Abbey” is deceptively short. And yet, we can’t possibly summarize the entire story here. The show starts with the search for a suitable heir for Downton Abbey after a prospective recipient dies in a tragic scenario. As their attendants attempt to serve the Crawley family — and to outmaneuver one another for position in the household — the lives of rich and poor converge while World War I begins, steering the concerns of all toward the world stage.
In Series 2, Downton Abbey is temporarily converted to an officers’ convalescent hospital. The subsequent juggling of the Crawley estate — the physical space as well as the family fortunes — continued over the course of the show. New allegiances, friendships and romances are forged, while lives are lost, tragedies both minor and major strike, and the show’s rich ensemble evolves, transforms, and both gains and loses members.
By the end of the show, the Crawley clan has dispersed to pursue their individual ambitions in an era where the aristocracy no longer has a stranglehold on the responsibilities and expectations of the wealthy. Thanks to those changes, the serving class can fulfill their obligations as a matter of professionalism and courtesy, rather than out of honor and obeisance.
Where Does Downton Abbey Pick Up?
The film is set about 18 months after the series finale, so presumably not too much has changed since fans last saw their favorite characters. But Fellowes’ white-glove treatment of drama is virtually unparalleled — which means that the illusion of constancy might be deceptive. Fellowes has a knack for the skillful subversion of expectation and an extraordinary ability to create conflict that unfolds subtly until it explodes. All of which is to say that DOWNTON ABBEY promises an experience worthy of the show’s impeccable legacy.
A Royally Talented Director
For the transition to film, DOWNTON ABBEY got a terrific director. Michael Engler, who recently directed THE CHAPERONE and previously helmed several episodes of the series, is behind the camera. Notably, Engler made “The Finale” — the 2015 Christmas special which served as the final installment of the series. Until now.
Is the Entire Downton Abbey Cast Back?
Almost everyone has been fitted for their old costumes once again. Returning from the original series cast are Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael and Michelle Dockery. They’re joined by two new cast members, Imelda Staunton and Geraldine James — the latter of whom plays Queen Mary. Simon Jones plays King George V.
Sadly, Lily James, who went on to star in CINDERELLA and MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN, will not be returning for the film, despite her expanded role as Lady Rose in later seasons. However, Matthew Goode, who plays Lady Mary’s husband, Henry Talbot, will make a brief appearance.
We’ll tell you more about DOWNTON ABBEY before the film opens on September 20.