Is a Downton Abbey Movie a Good Idea?


Apparently a Downton Abbey movie is really going to happen. But the real question here is whether or not it should.

With the news that Dame Maggie Smith has apparently signed on to take part, it looks like a Downton Abbey movie is actually going to happen. A feature film version of the mega-popular costume drama has been rumored to be in the works since before the show wrapped its sixth and final season earlier this year. But such chatter has always had a sort of pie-in-the-sky feel to it, like it’s the ultimate kind of wish fulfillment that nobody ever actually thought would come true.

We thought the idea of a movie was probably just one of those things producers say, to make fans feel better about the fact that a favorite series is over. Deep down, we didn’t really believe it possible. We all assumed that the show’s cast would all be eager to go on and do other things. We talked about a Downton movie as an unimaginable nice-to-have, the way people discuss the idea of Netflix miraculously saving their favorite unfairly cancelled series. It’s just not the sort of thing that happens. Except now, it’s actually happening.

To call it a bit of a shock is an understatement.

So now that it looks like Downton Abbey: The Movie really might be making its way to theaters, we need to ask a question. Is making this movie a good idea?

Photographer: Nick Briggs, via ITV

Of Course It Is

As a fan, your first response to news like this is always to say yes, yes, yes! Obviously we want more time with these characters we love. Of course we want to see what their lives look like now, however far along we’ve traveled since the TV series finale. Of course we do! We miss these people, whose story we meticulously tuned in for every Sunday night for six seasons. Obviously, we’ll jump at any opportunity to see more of them.

Plus, Downton Abbey is, at its heart, the story of a family – and though we’ve stopped seeing their story for right now, it doesn’t mean that it’s over. There are plenty of questions still lingering and stories about these characters that fans would love to see. For instance, in six years of the show, we’ve never really seen middle sister Edith happy. At least, not beyond her rushed courtship and wedding to nice-guy-turned-impressive-nobleman Bertie. What would it be like to watch her in a storyline that wasn’t based on her suffering or loss?

There are plenty more questions leftover from the series that a film could easily address. What is life like for Cora and Robert, now that all their girls are grown and married off?  Did Henry and Mary have a son or a daughter? What are the long-suffering Bateses like as parents? How is retirement treating the Carsons, now that he has stepped down as Downton’s butler? Will Baxter and Moseley ever actually get together??

The show also always prided itself on working larger historical issues into its narrative. After all, the series’ original premise incorporated the fact that the heir to Downton Abbey died on the Titanic. Future seasons incorporated World War I, the influenza pandemic, the Grand Trunk Railway bankruptcy, the Irish War of Independence, and much more. The TV series ends as 1926 dawns, which means there are many important historical moments that could still impact the Crawley family. The most obvious is probably the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, but there are plenty of options.

In short: It doesn’t feel like we have to be done with Downton Abbey and its characters yet. So why would we want to be?

Photographer: Nick Briggs, Image via ITV

Heck No, It’s Not

On the flip side, the danger in continuing a show like Downton Abbey is that you always run the risk of its second act not being as good as its first. When the TV series ended, almost every character found themselves in a pretty good place. Sure, not everyone’s dreams came true in the most dramatic way possible, but everyone seemed mostly happy. More importantly, the main storylines are all pretty tied up. Yes, there are things that we, as fans, would love to know about how everyone’s lives continued, how the kids they had turned out, or what sort of new successes they achieved. But those are just nice-to-have character moments, and none of them are essential to the tale that Downton was telling.

What kind of new and different story would a feature film tackle? I have no idea. The limit of a two-and-a-half-hour format means a Downton movie would be like an extended Christmas special at best, but without the emotional heft of a full season behind it. And how would you even introduce these characters to audiences who don’t know them? It just seems such a daunting task.

Worst of all, a movie definitely runs the risk of something awful happening to a character we care about. After all, the writers need to create drama in a limited timeframe somehow. There’s a very real risk that someone like Carson, Anna or Tom could die in the movie, because that’s exactly the kind of thing that happens in stuff like this. Think about the Firefly movie, people.

Do I want a Downton movie badly enough to risk them killing off Violet? Or Carson? No, I certainly do not. Do I want to watch Mary or Edith lose a child in the name of drama? Not really. Would anyone have any interest in watching Mary’s marriage fall apart, or Tom court that nice editor Laura? Maybe. But it’s hard to say whether the story would be worth it, or whether it would simply undo some of the things that were so satisfying about the TV series finale.

Photographer: Nick Briggs, Image via ITV

The Verdict

Is a Downton Abbey movie a good idea? I have no idea. As a fan of the show who loves the characters and the world that Julian Fellowes created, I’m legitimately torn. Getting the chance to go back to Downton feels like visiting old friends. But I’m nervous about what a movie could mean for these characters, story-wise. While I’m curious about what their lives look like now, I don’t want their relatively happy endings taken away from them either.

Next: 17 Excellent British Period Dramas You Can Binge Right Now

All I know is this: If anything bad happens to Carson or Mrs. Hughes, we riot.