How Branson’s ‘Downton Abbey’ Movie Storyline Sets Up A Potential Sequel
Spoilers for the Downton Abbey movie ahead. If there isn't — at some indeterminate time in the near future — a sequel to the Downton Abbey movie, there's one person you definitely can't blame: Allen Leech. Yes, the adaptation of the beloved TV series just came out last Friday, but the actor behind former chauffeur Tom Branson is up for more. But he's also trying really hard not to get ahead of himself — at least, not much further than the vacation he has planned and the impending birth of his first child with wife Jessica Blair Herman.
"Let's just get through the next couple of weekends," Leech says with a laugh of a potential sequel when we speak on the day of the movie's release. (Now, the results are in. Downton Abbey brought in $31 million on its opening weekend — $10 million more than was expected, according to The Hollywood Reporter.)
Still, the actor's excitement at the prospect of Tom's story continuing is clear. Looking at the journey so far, it's no wonder he's anticipating the future. On the series, Branson went from a chauffeur to a member of the aristocratic Crawley family to managing the Downton estate with Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). At the same time, Leech went from signing on for three episodes to becoming a series regular to having perhaps the meatiest storyline in the film.
"I was definitely surprised that Branson had so much to do," Leech says about reading the script for the first time. "I had hoped that certain questions would be answered within the storylines for Branson, and I’m very happy to say that they were."
In a film that involves many cast members' roles being drastically reduced as compared to the series (inevitable when you have a massive ensemble cast cramming into a two-hour film), Tom gets to stop an assassination attempt, fall in love again, and explore his political beliefs as an Irish republican.
"I'm delighted that they even ever thought that they would put an Irish character into such a very British television show," says Leech, who hails from County Dublin. "I love that Julian [Fellowes, Downton Abbey creator and writer] has brought up so much of what was happening in relationship to Ireland and the troubles at the time and the 1916 rioting. It's given me a great sense of pride that I could bring that story that maybe a lot of people haven't heard, and it might pique their interest to go and read up on the history of the Republic of Ireland and how we became Ireland the nation."
A new love story is also something Leech wanted for Tom, who was one of the only characters who wasn't coupled up by the end of the series. "He’s such a soulful character and that is something that I've always loved playing about Tom. Very caring. And I hated the idea of him being lonely," he says. "I was delighted to see him find love again and with someone who was so like-minded and of a very similar status."
That someone is Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), a new character, who, like Tom, joins the upper class through a twist of fate. Their story ends with a dance at sunset on a picturesque balcony.
"He never closes a story and then that’s the end of it. It actually opens a whole new avenue," Leech says of Fellowes' writing. The actor believes "somewhere squirreled in the back of [Fellowes'] mind is already a script for a sequel." And, when it comes to Tom's potential story with Lucy, "there would be quite a lot of drama if that was the story Julian went with."
"As a couple, they suddenly would inherit this massive grand estate," Leech explains, referring to Lucy suddenly becoming an heiress. "Tom would find himself as the lord of the manor, which I think would be fascinating to see him do. Two people who never lived that life or wanted that life are suddenly thrown into that world."
Leech says a sequel — potentially with that very intriguing storyline — will only happen "if the appetite is there from the fans." But, he's confident that the rest of the cast would come back if it made sense to, because they had "such a lovely time making this movie."
"It’s such an important part of all of our careers and I think even Maggie [Smith] would admit that. So, why wouldn't we come back?" he says. "If people keep welcoming us back, we definitely would consider it, if not definitely do it."
The premise of Downton Abbey the series made it feel like you could follow the characters forever. They aren't working toward any goal in particular, they're just living their lives as the 20th century unfolds around them and brings changes to the household. (Changes and a ton of unexpected drama.) And that's also the case with the movie, which doesn't even hint at a conclusion to these stories. By the end, you'll feel ready for a more decades, a few more love stories, a few more affairs-turned-shocking deaths. Why not?
Still, there was no promise of a continuation when the series concluded in 2016. "We all said goodbye to each other like it was the end, and it was a pleasant surprise to come back," Leech remembers. "I definitely feel we have closure now." So while he says it would be "very interesting to see what would bring us back story-wise," the movie is, in his opinion "a lovely way to close out Downton."
If the saga continues, however, you can expect Downton Abbey: The Tom Branson Chronicle in theaters September 2024.