Truly a classic! Downton Abbey caught the attention of millions of viewers throughout its six seasons — and fans are still binge-watching the drama well after its finale.
The British series aired on ITV from 2010 to 2015 and was brought to PBS audiences across the pond. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Dame Maggie Smith and more iconic English actors, the show was met with critical acclaim and earned numerous awards, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries.
Not only was Downton Abbey a major hit on the small screen, but it was also transformed into movie magic. In September 2019, several of the original cast members reprised their roles in a feature-length film spin-off of the successful series. The continuing saga of the Crawley family’s estate in the English countryside raked in $194 million worldwide.
Less than two years later, it was announced the cast would return for a second film in December 2021.
“After a very challenging year with so many of us separated from family and friends, it is a huge comfort to think that better times are ahead and that next Christmas we will be reunited with the much beloved characters of Downton Abbey,” producer Gareth Neame said in a statement in April 2021, noting how the coronavirus pandemic impacted the entertainment industry.
When the TV series came to an end in 2015, fans weren’t the only ones who were sad to say goodbye to the beloved characters. Bonneville, who played Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, revealed that he couldn’t leave the role behind without taking a little something to remember him by.
“I did liberate a letter from a character [played by Matthew Goode] called Henry Talbot, who really emerges quite clearly in Season 6, inviting [the Crawleys] to race a car or something,” the actor teased during a 2016 interview with Kelly Ripa. “On Downton, not only is each letter beautifully handwritten or typed if appropriate, but it’s also germane to the scene that you’re doing. It’s really beautiful, that level of detail, because it puts you in the moment, in that era that you are trying to evoke.”
Bonneville’s pilfered prop now hangs in a frame in the downstairs bathroom of his home.
While many fan-favorites returned for the films, Lily James’ name was left off both of the cast lists. Despite viewers’ disappointment, Neame and creator Julian Fellowes revealed that James’ absence from the first movie wasn’t personal.
“She can’t be [in it]; she’s in every other film at the world at the moment,” Neame joked to Entertainment Weekly in December 2018.
At the time, Fellowes added: “Lily is now a big star, and it would’ve been incredibly difficult for her to find time in her schedule to come and play essentially a supporting role in Downton when her career was in a different place when she was with us. … She’s our greatest success story from the cast of the show.”
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