Nearly three years after its Masterpiece series finale, Downton Abbey is coming back — this time in movie form. Which means we’ve got some business to attend to. Pour the Earl Grey! Steam the newspapers! And, OK, one last little thing: bring back all those characters who got killed off.
I know, I know. They’re dead and gone! It’s absurd. But what’s Downton if not a montage of confounding circumstances that all work out in the end? Roseanne’s Dan Conner came back from a fatal heart attack. Fox Mulder returned from the great spaceship in the sky. Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Spike couldn’t be stopped. Lady Stoneheart is — uh, well, TBD?
You get it. But before we get to Downton’s to-be-resurrected, here are some candidates who will not be welcomed back to the land of the living: the O.G. Mrs. Bates, the scoundrel proclaiming himself as “Patrick Gordon” (he did not die on screen but most definitely perished, rightfully, in a ditch sometime after Season 2, probably after telling another offensively gratuitous lie), Alex Green (NEVER), and Lavinia Swire (sincere apologies, but we’re not risking another flu pandemic).
And now, let’s talk about the reborn.
Say what you will for Matthew Crawley, a.k.a. the original Mr. Lady Mary, but this much is indisputable: He was perfectly set up to be a villain. The first episode of Downton Abbey opens with word of the sinking of the Titanic and, with it, the heir to Downton and the Grantham fortune. The fate of the mansion and of the occupants and domestic staff therein, thus, falls to “the new heir,” as Matthew, played by Dan Stevens, is first called — a distant cousin whom none of them have ever set eyes on. (“She’s a girl, stupid,” the ever-eloquent Miss O’Brien explains of Mary, the eldest of the three Grantham children — each and every one, alas, cursed with a vagina. “Girls can’t inherit.”)
This isn’t really Matthew’s fault, of course — primogeniture wasn’t his idea. Still, though: He arrives as an interloper to what we’ve been led to believe was a life of peaceful, bucolic wealth (at least for the aristocrats ringing service bells). He turns out to be a basically nice guy whose chief personality trait is “blond”; that Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) should find herself falling in love with the man in a perpetual state of mild hanger feels just a tad convenient.
But then, of course, fate — or at least an all-too-sudden car crash that coincided with Stevens’s stated desire to “do other things” — intervened, and Matthew left us (and a pregnant Mary) for good.
Or did he? Cousin Matthew reborn as the villain he was always meant to be might be just the sort of tension that the gentry’s decades-long roll into a post–upstairs/downstairs world has sometimes lacked. The movie wouldn’t even need to invent a workaround for the Crawley heir’s survival — Downton’s braintrust could just follow my colleague Kate Halliwell’s suggestion and reintroduce a newly goateed Stevens as Cousin Matthew’s evil twin:
Poor, poor Sybil. All she ever wanted was to tear down the patriarchy, the aristocracy, and capitalism. And what did she get? Eclampsia! Let that be a lesson to us all. Just kidding — actress Jessica Brown Findlay simply wanted to step away (and thank goodness). But still!
I’ll accept that there aren’t a lot of terribly plausible ways to bring back the middle Grantham daughter, whom we more or less watched bleed out on screen after delivering her first child. But talk about a mortal soul with unfinished business — ever heard of the middle class, buckos? Bring back Sybil (and Findlay), and let her haunt lesser revolutionaries into action.
Matthew, of the non-villain variety, has his defenders — and look, I get it. Steadfast, forward-thinking, blue-eyed, the literal only option for keeping your family in their ancestral home? Sure. And his eventual successor, Henry Talbot (Matthew William Goode), was both dashing and, yes, the father of Mary’s second child. How nice! I hope they’ve been very happy since we last saw them.
But what about Lady Mary’s first, ahem, object of affection? If you recall, the hunky Turkish diplomat, played by Theo James, turned up at the Grantham estate early in the first season for a fox hunt, and graciously — if, maybe a little persistently, however readily it was welcomed — offered himself up for a night of guilt-free passion in Mary’s bed. And then, just as Mary was beginning to think of England … he had a heart attack and died, right then and there.
Poor Mary! But especially poor Mr. Pamuk, who had so many joyous adventures ahead of him. (Penicillin would be discovered just a decade and a half later — hang in there, my indubitably itchy friend.) The coverup of the diplomat’s death occupied much of the show’s first two seasons — but what if things were grimmer still? Say the apparently dead body that Mary and Co. staged to seem like a solo departure wasn’t actually dead? I’m not saying this was a Romeo-and-Juliet kind of thing — but also, what if it were? Let’s say — just for the sake of argument — that our boy just seemed to have no pulse, and then, having been sent off to morgue and summarily shipped back to Turkey, awakens in the port of Istanbul. What would he do? Would he resume his diplomatic duties? Or would he begin work on a Count of Monte Cristo–esque revenge upon the Grantham-Crawleys that would only reveal itself many years later? Reader, I leave this choice to you.
Either way: what a scandal! Also, for Mary, maybe the opportunity to carry out what was always meant to be.
The Dowager Countess
I know, I know — the sixth and final season of Downton came and went with imperious materfamilias Violet, played by Dame Maggie Smith, still in blessedly sound health. But if the movie makes a time jump of any significance — something that would make some sense, given the show has skipped a couple years before and that even a late-2019 movie release would mean four real-world years have elapsed since we last saw the Grantham clan — we could be facing a post–Dowager Countess reality. (What else would be as effective at getting the gang back together for one last garden party as the funeral of dear, sweet — OK, maybe not sweet — Grandma Violet? Perish the thought.)
Smith has already been confirmed as one of the returning cast members — let’s make sure it’s not merely in a flashback.
When the Granthams’ faithful yellow lab suddenly developed cancer in Season 5, rumors swirled that the poor pup had been shoved toward a premature end for a cruelly modern reason: Isis’s name, meant to invoke the Egyptian goddess, instead seemed to point to the insurgent Islamic State. An ITV spokesperson insisted the name was nothing more than an “unfortunate coincidence,” while the Daily Mail ran the remarkable headline, “If you think Downton is killing off Isis the Labrador because of Islamists you are a complete berk says Hugh Bonneville.”
All fictional dogs never go to heaven, because they can live forever on the screen. Good news, Lord Grantham: Your dog-pulse-reading skills are terrible. The vet charged with disposing of the supposedly deceased Lab instead nursed her back to life and cared for her all these years. May you stroll the Downton grounds together forevermore. (Or at least until they’re converted into a public park.)