They Weren’t Kidding. There Really Will Be a ‘Downton Abbey’ Film. Good Job, Blokes.
So maybe they weren’t promising us a Downton Abbey movie just to shut us up.
Months before the beloved Downton wrapped in 2016, it should be remembered, the plaintive wails from its millions of fans forced the producers to plant the first of many rumors that we would revisit the Crawley family in a feature-length film.
That soothing thought served its purpose, providing just enough hope so Downton fans did not turn en masse to heavy drink.
For the last two years, though, the rumor has bounced around like a beach ball at a rock concert, fueled by an offhand remark here, tempered by an official caution there.
So there has been a slowly growing sense of caution, sometimes bordering on skepticism. Historically, that’s not unwarranted.
Producers of popular TV shows that are ending, let’s be honest, sometimes behave like the parents of children who want one more chocolate chip pancake before they go to school.
At a certain point the parent will promise anything — a trip to the ice cream store after school, a fudge cake for dinner, a barrel of M&Ms, whatever — just to get them to go quietly out the door.
When the promise is a feature film, sometimes it happens, like with I’ll Fly Away, and sometimes it doesn’t, like with Deadwood. That’s just how parents and TV producers are.
So it came as a mild shock Friday, albeit a pleasant shock, when the Downton Abbey producers announced this abstract thing is about to become a real thing. Co-producer Gareth Naeme and co-producer/writer Julian Fellowes said they have a script, they have sorted out acting schedules and they will begin filming in September.
They seem to be planning a theatrical release, which may not be the best news for PBS, which doubtless had been hoping to recapture some of that big old Downton audience. If it does start out on the big screen, let us hope that various tie-ins will keep PBS from being shut out of a show it helped turn into a phenomenon.
We shall see, because few details of any sort were provided Friday. While it seems logical the film will be released next year, for instance, the more tantalizing hint involved the expected participation of the “original principal cast.”
To Downton fans, that’s code for “Maggie Smith! Violet! The Dowager Countess! Yes, yes, yes!”
It’s been assumed all along that central characters like Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) would return, and while Dockery has been in high demand since Downton ended, she tweeted yesterday that she’s thrilled there will be a Downton sequel.
The return of the Dowager Countess had been less expected, particularly since Maggie Smith earlier had said that Violet’s age meant her appearance at any future date wouldn’t make sense.
Now that it might, the specter of Smith’s possible return has already quickened pulses. Even if she’s only dropping one-liners, which is occasionally what her role became over the original run, we’ll take it.
Much of the storyline will presumably depend on when the sequel is set. The original series ended on the eve of 1926, which in retrospect we know was a brief window of relative optimism for Britain and landed gentry like the Crawleys.
Those landowners were faced with figuring out how to keep their estates viable in a new and hostile economy. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) had never been much good with money, having squandered most of the dowry from his rich American wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) on a bad Canadian railroad deal, but he was still holding on to Downton while some of his neighbors were folding.
The Downton equation would also be reshuffled with the marriages of the two Crawley daughters, Mary and Edith (Laura Carmichael).
In the larger world picture, which always colored the Downton Abbey story, 1926 was less than four years from the start of the Great Depression. The shadow that cataclysm cast over the world was soon darkened further and more deeply by the rise of Hitler’s Germany, which not much more than a decade later would plunge Britain into a second world war.
A Downton sequel set in 1927 could be very different from a Downton sequel set in 1932.
Or, for that matter, 1942, by which time Violet really would be unrealistically old.
For the moment, however, Downton Abbey fans are entitled to simply dance.