Everything You Need To Remember Before Seeing The Downton Abbey Movie

It’s been three and a half years since we bid adieu to the Crawleys, their servants, and the august old house they all call home. That’s 42 months without a glimpse of Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) artful sneer, 1,282 days without a Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) quip, and 30,768 hours without a single person being wrongfully accused of murder, or dropping a soup bowl (missteps of equal importance on this show). In other words, it’s been a while, and you could be forgiven for not remembering every single detail of where we left off. 

But with the Downton Abbey movie just days away from its theatrical release, it’s time to catch up with our favorite British aristocrats and those who dress, serve, and cook for them. Picking up in 1927, just two years after the end of the show, the film centers largely around one major event: a visit to Downton Abbey by King George V and Queen Mary. But don’t worry, there’s lots of room for the intrigue, banter, and romance we’ve come to expect from this lot. Just add a tiara or two! 


Ahead, we’ve broken down each character’s story arc from the series finale. (If you want a more narrative recap, you can find that here.) From Daisy and Andy’s fraught courtship, to Mr. Molesley new career, and Lady Edith’s “English version of a happy ending,” it’s all here to refresh your memory ahead of the royal visit that will undoubtedly put everyone on edge, and re-open wounds we thought long-closed. 

Welcome back to Downton! Now what is a week-end?

Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features.

Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) & Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode)

If the penultimate episode of Downton Abbey focused mainly on Henry and Mary’s rocky road to the altar, the finale finds them settled and happy. Well, mostly. After watching his friend die in a fiery car crash, Henry’s lost his taste for racing and is struggling to find a new purpose. Meanwhile, Mary’s feeling guilty about her role in Edith’s current unhappiness, having spilled the beans about her daughter Marigold to Bertie Pelham on the eve of their engagement, causing him to run for the hills. 

Both find a solution by the end of the episode, however. Henry decides to go into business with Tom Branson, founding a car dealership in Thirsk that will allow him to continue working with cars without actually risking his life. Mary swallows her pride and sets up a surprise meeting between Bertie and Edith in London with the help of Aunt Rosamund.

With both of their futures looking bright ahead, the two sisters can finally put their differences behind them. Edith is married and off on her honeymoon, soon to take over her very own estate as the Marchioness of Hexham. Mary is expecting a baby with Henry, and more secure than ever in her role as custodian of Downton’s legacy and prosperity. 

Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features.

Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael) & Bertie Pelham, Marquess of Hexham (Harry Haden-Patton)

If you’d told me back in season 1 that the series finale of Downton Abbey would focus primarily on Lady Edith Crawley, I’d have burst out laughing. Poor sad wallflower, Edith? And yet, it’s a testament to how much she’s grown as a character that we’re not only happy to see her get her happy ending, but actively rooting for it. 

At the beginning of the episode, she’s trying to figure out a new direction for herself and Marigold, now that Bertie is no longer in the picture. Her plan is to send her daughter to school in London, and live there during the school term. That way, she can oversee the magazine she owns (left to her by the late Michael Gregson), and spend some time away from the family (i.e. Mary). But lo and behold, Mary sets out to fix things for her, and Edith and Bertie end up not only reconciled, but engaged. 

But nothing’s simple where Edith’s concerned — there’s still the hurdle of Bertie’s mother, who doesn’t know about the circumstances of Marigold’s illegitimate birth (her father was the late Michael Gregson), and seems extremely concerned with positioning her son as a moral leader in the community. This all comes to a head when Edith invites her parents to Brancaster Castle (her potential future home) so they can all meet. Bertie’s all for hiding the truth, but Edith’s tired of running, and tells her future mother-in-law everything. For one tense moment, it looks as if they might have to break off the engagement once more, but this is Downton Abbey, so everyone rallies, and the wedding is announced for New Year’s Eve. Lady Edith Crawley becomes the Marchioness of Hexham, and goes off on her honeymoon, shining with newfound happiness. 

Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features.

Lord Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Lady Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), the Earl & Countess Of Grantham

Much of the final season pit Cora in a battle of wits with the Dowager Countess over the best way to run the local hospital. In the end, the latter loses her position as president of the board, and Cora is installed in her place, with far more responsibility. And what’s more, she takes it very seriously. It’s come at the perfect time — her daughters are settled and moving on with their lives, and she’s at a place where she needs something to stimulate her mind, and make her feel useful. Robert, of course doesn’t understand any of this, and sees it as an affront to his own vanity. Why should his wife spend all this time out of the house? Won’t she get tired? What if they’re taking advantage of her?

This causes a whole lot of tension, until, on the day before Edith’s wedding, Lady Rose drags him along to a meeting Cora’s hosting for the villagers to ask questions about their healthcare. Seeing his wife so confident and capable in action mellows Robert out, and he realizes he’s proud of her. These two are in it to win it. 

Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features.

Tom Branson (Allen Leech)

Tom’s had quite the journey on this show. He’s been a chauffeur, a hidden lover, a husband, a would-be revolutionary, on the run from the law, an Irishman in exile, a widower, a father, a reluctant member of the Crawley family, and the proud manager of their estate. In the finale, he finally seems content in his new identity. He loves his ersatz relations, even as he holds on to the part of himself that might wish for a different way of life. He’s got a new business partner in Henry, a true friend and ally in Mary, and a young daughter who adores him. The one thing he lacks is a romantic partner. But between you and me, that may soon change. (Wink wink!)

Photo: PBS/Photofest.

Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan)

Carson fans (and who isn’t one — show yourself!) got a bittersweet ending in the series finale. After years of service, Downton’s beloved butler realized that he was developing a condition known as “the palsy,” which would leave him unable to continue in his duties. And though he tries to hide it, there’s only so many times one can drop the wine during dinner without his lordship catching on. Eventually, he confesses, first to his wife, housekeeper Mrs. Hughes, and then to Lord Grantham, to whom he offers his resignation — as soon as a suitable replacement can be found, of course. 

The answer comes in the shape of Thomas Barrow. Having left Downton for a new position nearby, he finds that he is unbearably lonely. When he returns for Edith’s wedding, he’s in the right place at the right time to catch Lord Grantham’s eye. Lighting strikes: Thomas can come back to Downton as butler, and Carson can retire on the property and supervise when needed. It’s a win-win, and Mrs. Hughes celebrates by leading the gang in a tearful rendition of Auld Lang Syne as the clock strikes midnight.  

Photo: PBS/Photofest.

Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier)

Thomas enters the series finale with a new lease on life. Having survived a suicide attempt, he’s determined to take Anna’s advice and make the best of things. In an attempt to start anew, he takes a job as a butler in a smaller house nearby. But in a cruel twist of fate, the man who always thought he was better off alone suddenly finds that he misses the company of the Downton staff. Luckily, a trip home for Edith’s wedding brings a new opportunity: With Carson indisposed, Lord Grantham offers Thomas the job, allowing him to return to the place he’s called home for over a decade. Now, here’s hoping he finally finds a sexy man to love him back!

Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features.

Anna (Joanne Froggatt) & John Bates (Brendan Coyle)

Anna and John Bates have suffered much over the course of this show (multiple stints in jail, murder accusations and a horrifying sexual assault are just some of the things they’ve had to endure), but all’s well that ends well. Nine months pregnant, Anna is still working for Lady Mary, and hopes to continue on after the baby is born — which happens on New Year’s Eve, in her employer’s bedroom! The way Mary reacts is indicative of just how much the rigid social stratifications governing British society have leveled out since the pilot. In 1912, it would have been unthinkable for an aristocrat to untie her maid’s shoes so she can give birth in her bed. “None of that matters now,” Mary tells Anna. 

As for Bates, he’s overjoyed to finally be a father — and to be fair, it has been quite the journey.  The two close out the year, and the show with a bottle of Champagne, courtesy of Lord Grantham. Both will continue working in the house, and their son will spend his days in the nursery alongside the Grantham children. Times really have changed!

Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features.

Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle) and Phyllis Baxter (Raquel Cassidy)

Mr. Molesley’s backwards career trajectory from butler, to valet, to footman, finally comes to a halt in the series finale when he’s asked to step in as a teacher at the local village school. As a self-educated man, this is a huge vote of confidence, and he hesitates over whether or not to leave service and venture into the unknown. Miss Baxter, meanwhile, comes as close to a declaration of love as is possible on this show when she encourages him to do so. Following Thomas’ advice, she’s decided not to go visit Mr. Coyle in prison, leaving her past as a thief behind in favor of a brighter future. 

Still, Molesley isn’t gone for good — upon surrendering his livery, he tells Mr. Carson that he’ll be available to come back and help for special occasions. Like…a royal visit, perhaps?

Photo: PBS/Photofest.

Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) & Andy Parker (Michael Fox)

Daisy may now be an educated intellectual with opinions on the War of the Spanish Succession, but she has the absolute worst instincts when it comes to love. After rejecting Andy’s advances, she now realizes that actually, he looks pretty damn good in a sweaty undershirt. The problem is, he’s taken her words at face value, and moved on — or has he?

When Lady Rose (Lily James) — over from New York for Edith’s wedding – comes down to visit the staff, Daisy gets an idea: Why not cut her hair for a more stylish, modern look? Like most of Daisy’s plans, this majorly backfires, and she ends up with an uneven bowl cut. Anna saves the day, courtesy of some scissors and Mary’s brand-new hairdryer, and, to quote Andy, the result is “like Clara Bow.” It seems like those two are finally on the same wavelength — could there be more wedding bells ahead?
Photo: PBS/Photofest.

Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith)

The Dowager Countess always has the absolute best things going on. Freshly back on her feet after a frankly worrisome illness, she is called upon to mitigate a dispute between her lady’s maid, Denker (Sue Johnston), and butler, Spratt (Jeremy Swift), who has been moonlighting as an advice columnist for Lady Edith’s magazine. Denker, in her malice, thinks outing Spratt will get him fired. Quite the opposite — the Dowager Countess thinks it’s hilarious to have a fashion-forward butler. As Spratt triumphantly puts it, “she hates to be predictable.”

As if to prove just that, the episode ends with the cranky old snob surrendering the keys to the kingdom to Cora, finally acknowledging that Downton is in safe hands. But don’t worry, she’s not going anywhere just yet. 

Photo: PBS/Photofest.

Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton)

The wedding bells are working overtime in this episode! When Isobel discovers that Lord Merton (Douglas Reith), whom she had previously been engaged to, and then turned down, is potentially dying from “pernicious anemia,” she’s devastated. All that time, lost! To make matters worse, his horrible son and daughter-in-law are basically holding him captive in his large mansion, waiting for him to die so they can take over. But while Isobel might be too polite to storm in, the Dowager Countess doesn’t have those qualms. Isobel proposes to Lord Merton, and whisks him off to live with her. And don’t you know? Turns out he doesn’t have pernicious anemia after all! It’s just the regular kind, so as long as he watches his iron levels and has a steak once in a while, he and Isobel can live out their lives together.

Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features.

The Children: George, Marigold & Sybbie

George is still the richest little man in the county, and heir to the estate. Sybbie is a darling. Marigold is now an open secret. And soon, Mary and Henry will be adding a new little one to the mix. Looks like Downton will be staying in the family for a while yet. 

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