After six series, numerous Christmas specials and five years, on Christmas Day it was finally time to wave goodbye to ITV’s smash hit period drama Downton Abbey. Following a series full of twists and turns, viewers were left on tenterhooks, with everything to be resolved in this final feature-length episode. The question is – did it disappoint?
Series Six brought its own revelations and shocks, with change affecting Downton to an ever greater degree. From blackmail, murder enquiries, sexual encounters and unlikely marriages to homosexuality, miscarriages and unexpected reappearances from a variety of characters, Downton Abbey continued to add a dash of high-class soap opera to Sunday nights. Despite its occasional predictability, no one saw Lord Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) horror movie-esque blood-spewing coming, which remained one of the series’ most memorable (and most gruesome) moments.
The marriage of stalwart butler Carson (Jim Carter) to housekeeper Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) was a match made in heaven – and with the return of ladies’ favourite Tom Branson (Allen Leech) from America all in the same episode, viewers could hardly contain their joy. Lady Mary, played with malice at times by Michelle Dockery, discovered her sister Lady Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) hidden secret – and in a move that caused Twitter outrage and a hashtag #TeamEdith, ruined her chances of happiness with new Marquess Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadon-Patton), by revealing the fact that Edith had an illegitimate daughter. As Edith so lovingly declared to her sister, what a ‘bitch!’ In other news, the Abbey was opened to the public for charity, allowing the family to exhibit their knowledge (or complete lack of it) of the house. After being, in my opinion, mercilessly bullied by Carson into leaving, the long-suffering footman Thomas Barrow (played with emotion by Rob James-Collier) decided to attempt suicide, before being saved by the other servants. Meanwhile, housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), became pregnant after a number of miscarriages, and, as always, the comedy duo of Penelope Wilton’s Isabelle Crawley and Maggie Smith’s Dowager Duchess shone, with the witty one-liners flowing!
“In my opinion, one of the best things about the final series was the appearance of The Imitation Game’s Matthew Goode, as dashing racing driver Henry Talbot”
Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who thought he was dashing, as a relationship between Talbot and Lady Mary started up faster than his driving! After Mary’s husband, Matthew Crawley’s (played in the first few series by Dan Stevens) untimely death due to a motorcar accident, it was inevitable that racing would come between the lovers – which it did. With that by now, well-known sense of Downton foreboding, Henry’s fellow race driver died whilst Mary happened to be watching. Despite this, and Mary’s complete lack of feeling when kicking a man whilst he is down, the final episode of Series Six was dedicated almost exclusively to the whirlwind romance and marriage of Mary and Henry (lucky lucky lady!) Even Lady Edith was nice to her. Closing with a moving shot of Lady Sybil, the sisters’ deceased sibling’s tomb, Downton left the Christmas ‘Finale’ to tie up a lot of loose ends – the most obvious being the case of the unlucky Lady Edith. Would she ever get her happy ending?
Indeed she did, as Downton creator Julian Fellowes declared this last series and special would be about ‘resolution’. It was moving, it was slightly soppy, but it was perfect, with every character getting their happy ending – or at least the promise of one. After an emotional dinner at the Ritz, orchestrated by LADY MARY (of all people!) Edith and Bertie finally put aside their differences, with the emotional soon-to-be groom in tears over his champers as he told Edith he couldn’t live without her. Not that it was an easy journey, even in this last episode, as Bertie’s domineering mother (played by Miranda’s mum Patricia Hodge) wanted a nice moral wife for her son. Edith with her illegitimate daughter probably wasn’t the best option. Nevertheless, after telling the truth, and a tense dinner table near-confrontation, Edith and Bertie’s marriage was given the go-ahead by his mother. Viewers across the country breathed a sigh of relief, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had a slight tear in their eye, as the culmination of six series of heartbreak finally resulted in a happy ending for the character christened ‘Poor Edith’ by viewers.
With the new year, came new life as the next big shocker (not) was the birth of Anna and John (Brendan Coyle) Bates’ son (Master Bates? Was that a wise decision, Mr Fellowes?), in Lady Mary’s bed no less, as Lord Grantham served her champagne. Another bout of baby news came from Lady Mary, who told the handsome Henry that there would soon be another child running around the nursery.
Many of the characters were also paired off successfully in this final episode, guaranteeing their happily-ever-afters. Isabelle and Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) got married, and his anaemia was found to not be fatal, ensuring a long and happy life together! Hurrah! After an initial misunderstanding, assistant cook, Daisy (Sophie McShera) and hunky footman Andy (Michael Fox) exchanged meaningful glances over dinner preparation. Three more perfect couples were suggested in the form of cook Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichol) and farmer Mr Mason (Paul Copley), the hilarious Mr Molesly (Kevin Doyle) and Raquel Cassidy’s Baxter, plus Branson and Miss Edmunds (catching Edith’s bouquet must have done it!)
The most shocking, and in my mind, tragic moment of the finale came with the onset of Carson’s illness, a ‘palsy’ that left him unable to do his job, due to his constantly shaking hands. After an outburst at Edith’s wedding reception, Carson was given leave to semi-retire by Lord Grantham, leaving the ‘unhappy-in-his-new-job-and-completely-reformed Barrow’ to become the new butler at Downton – the job he’s always wanted!
“As ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was sung by those upstairs and down, it was impossible not to feel a sense of loss at the end of such an iconic television programme”
As the snow fell over Downton, with the promise of a new era beginning, it seems fitting to end the show whilst on a high. Although, if rumours are true, we may be seeing Downton Abbey on the big screen soon…
Whilst clichéd at times, with some things working out too perfectly, this was as fantastic an ending viewers could have hoped for, as everyone got their happy ending.