When we were last in the company of the family and servants of Downton Abbey time had just ticked over into the early hours of New Years Day 1926. Now, as we prepare to catch up with them once again in the movie, it will be 1927. Good heavens though, for those of us trapped in the real world almost four years has passed since that final episode. So, begging your pardon, I thought I might offer a bit of a recap. If I may.
The 2015 Christmas Special was largely Lady Edith’s story. After fourteen years of misfortune (six years for us) Edith had finally got her happy ending and, having married into a Marchionesship, was totally winning at life. Although it was all quickly resolved, much of the drama of that last episode was around the potential for scandal that her marriage to Bertie might bring since her ward Marigold was actually her illegitimate daughter. This could yet become an issue in the film and it is even possible that Michael Gregson, the girl’s father, may turn up. He went missing in Season 4, presumably killed by Nazi thugs, but they never found a body and we half expected him to come crashing through the doors during the ‘any just cause or impediment’ part of the wedding. He wouldn’t be the first of Edith’s beaus to apparently return from the grave.
Everything wrapped up nicely for Lady Mary too. She got hitched to Henry Talbot and as things wrapped up they had a child on the way. Henry had given up his job as a racing driver, which relieved Mary as her first husband Matthew had died in a car crash. (She might have moved on but many of us are still feeling that bereavement.) Henry had started a business selling cars with Tom Branson and the two of them were still helping Mary run the estate.
Tom was one of the few not to get his joyous forever after (even Isobel had remarried and become Lady Merton) and that last episode heavily hinted that he might be starting a romance with Laura, the editor of Edith’s magazine. The trailer for the movie suggests that he might be enamoured with a new character called Lucy though so we’ll see how that pans out. (Clearly she’ll never replace Sybil. Now that one definitely still hurts!)
When we left her Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess, was still going strong. In fact she arguably showed more life and vibrancy in that last episode than she did throughout the whole of the rest of the series when, on reading the advice column her butler Spratt had secretly been writing, she burst into hysterical laughter. Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, was settling into what was effectively a life of retirement while Cora took more and more of a role running the local hospital.
Retirement was facing one of those downstairs too, as Carson was forced to step down as head of staff. He had developed the same shaking symptoms that ended the careers of his father and grandfather, a condition that their family simply knew as the palsy. Poor Charlie ‘Mr’ Carson almost certainly has Parkinson’s Disease then and even though this diagnosis had been around for over a hundred years at this stage, it is no surprise that three generations of men who would rather suffer a debilitating illness than make a fuss had never sought a medical opinion on the matter. Towards the end his wife, Elsie ‘Mrs’ Hughes was struggling with being the homemaker in the home of a man who’s profession was to maintain domestic perfection. Now clearly they have different challenges but like all of the pairings in this show, their love is 100% believable and I dare say they’ll manage. The indefatigable Mrs Hughes, with that remarkable balance of respect and healthy distain she has for her employers, always manages.
Carson’s loss was Thomas Barrow’s gain as, in the last few minutes before the credits rolled, he suddenly became the new butler. Barrow had been the dastardly bad guy throughout the whole of the TV show, despite once getting beaten up to save Jimmy and at another time saving Lady Edith from a fire. In the final episodes his character was completely rewritten though. Following the development of a surprisingly sweet connection with the Downton children and then his shocking suicide attempt, he became a new man. It could be that after almost two hours of watching everyone get a neat resolution in that last episode we were all carried along by a growing sense of well being but we all forgot what a cad he’d been and cheered as he was awarded his dream job.
Mr Bates, who for years was Barrow’s biggest enemy, found contentment too after a series of unfortunate events that eclipsed even Lady Edith’s. He and Anna had heartache upon heartache in their relationships but right at the end they had become parents and a life of bliss and servitude awaited them. Daisy looked like she might be at the start of her own path toward domestic contentment as well as she began to accept the advances of footman Andy and decided to make the move to Mr Mason’s farm. Mr Mason in turn decided to make the moves on Mrs Patmore so they might end up as one big jolly family.
Then there’s Mr Molesley who had left service to become a teacher but still seemed to be working full time at the Abbey during the holidays, weekends and evenings. Pleased, no doubt, to be burning the candle at both ends because of the candle he holds for Baxter.
How all of this will play into the plot of the film remains to be seen. The publicity for the movie has given little away. We know that the King and Queen are coming to visit and that the royal butler is a self important, troubling making prig, but other than that we are going in pretty blind.
There are a few historical events that may feature in the story too. In 1927 there was an influenza epidemic in the UK that killed around a thousand people a week and it would be just like Downton Abbey to have that plough it’s way through the house. (Remember Lavinia?) In politics Southern Ireland was recognised as an independent Republic for the first time in this year and it would be odd if this didn’t affect Tom in some way.
Contemporary inventions that could throw the older residents into a tizzy include televisions and talking pictures and early in 1927 it became possible to make a telephone call from England to America for the first time so maybe we’ll get Shirley MacLaine phoning in a cameo. I wonder if those new fangled aeroplanes will feature in some way as there were all kinds of leaps forward aviation in ‘27, including Charles Lindbergh’s first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight.
Of course, in the end, we don’t want exciting and new, what we want is established and familiar. We don’t want to race off into the unknown with these people, we just want to catch up.
Golly Gumdrops, it could be quite a hoot.
Downton Abbey is released on Friday