Changing Times Compete With Old Rivalries In The ‘Downton Abbey’ Movie

by Jasmine Ting
Focus Features

In 2016, the last episode of the hit British drama series Downton Abbey aired. But that wasn't the end of the story. Premiering on Sept. 20, the Downton Abbey movie is set not too long after the the events of the series. The finale occurred on New Year's Eve in 1926, and, according to Entertainment Weekly, the movie meets back up with your favorite characters in late 1927.

In the film, the Crawley family and their staff face the pressure of hosting King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) in their Edwardian country home. And though the usual sibling rivalries and other family drama are still present, it's a new year, a new era, and another new problem arises as Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) brings up the idea of leaving Downton Abbey for good.

"The delicious irony of where we left the TV series was that the most socially vibrant of the family ended up being the one who had the least success in love before," explained actor Hugh Bonneville, who plays Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, in an interview with Vanity Fair, referring to the eldest Crawley daughter. "Little flashes of sibling rivalries still return when Edith visits. But on the whole, the family is pulling together in the right direction and the forces of drama are actually external, which is quite fun. It's sort of Downton versus the world."

According to Town & Country, this plot line involving a royal visit was inspired by an actual trip the British Royals took to Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire in 1912, in a time of increasing industrial tensions in Britain, as guests of the Earl and Countess Fitzwilliam. In creator Julian Fellowes' view, the King and Queen made it a point to visit their subjects during this time in order to, as he explained to Vanity Fair, “restate the importance of monarchy.”

In another VF interview, Fellowes further justified this storyline, saying, "In a film, every story has to be resolved within that film, and you want a unifying bond in a film — so it isn’t too scattered in its focus. That’s what the royal visit has provided us an event that involves everyone in the house." He continued, "And they all have different responses and different duties, but they’re all in that sense working towards the same end, which is that the visit should be a success. So we feel that being played out."

Focus Features

And because the movie was inspired by this true event, the filmmakers actually used Wentworth Woodhouse as a shooting location, per The Yorkshire Post. And, like the real trip, this royal extravaganza will be very grand. According to VF, there's going to be a parade, "with hundreds of extras in period-precise costumes, cannons, and horses." Dockery also told the magazine that there would be "more diamonds and fancier food." It's such a huge event that Carson (Jim Carter), the family's beloved former butler, comes out of retirement to make sure that everything is perfect.

But more complications arrive with newcomers like Lady Bagshaw, played by Imelda Staunton, who is a distant cousin of the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, played by Maggie Smith. It's another great great rivalry for Downton Abbey diehards to look forward to... and will also remind Harry Potter fans of when the two actors went head-to-head as Professor McGonagall and Dolores Umbridge.

Fellowes told Entertainment Weekly in recent interview that the Downton Abbey movie is not the "curtain call" for the series. “I’d never say that. Because one never knows. And anyway show business has a way of tearing up your plans," he said. "At the moment as far as I’m concerned, this is the resolution of what has been a tremendously enjoyable, rather extraordinary ride on a magic carpet."