In Review

Downton Abbey Christmas Special trailer: a happy ending?

Trailer reveals tear-jerker episode of joy and heartbreak - but will Edith find love at last?

ITV has released a trailer for the Downton Abbey Christmas special, the last ever episode of the hit period drama. So will the Downton household live happily ever after, or are there more surprises in store?

The Downton Christmas special, set to air on Christmas night, is one of the most anticipated shows of the season. It is also the final episode of the sixth series and serves as the finale for Julian Fellowes's hugely successful drama.

The two-hour episode is set in later 1925 and on the eve of 1926. The trailer shows the New Year's Eve setting with Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) leading a chorus of Auld Lang Syne.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_original","fid":"87741","attributes":{"class":"media-image"}}]]

It also shows Lady Mary's new husband Henry Talbot adjusting to married life, and sees the return of Lily James as Lady Rose.

Fans have been promised "love and loss, happiness and heartbreak", says the Daily Mail. "But the question of Lady Edith's happy ending is deliberately left unanswered."

Edith (Laura Carmichael) receives only a fleeting part in the festive trailer, featuring an awkward encounter with Bertie Pelham - though it does seem like Lady Mary will try to patch up her relationship with Edith, after she ruined her sister's engagement to Bertie at the end of series six by revealing Edith's illegitimate daughter.

The trailer also raises the question of whether Mary will find happiness in her own recent marriage, as we see a pensive Henry (Matthew Goode) trying to take on the role of stepfather to Mary's son, while also dealing with the death of close friend Charlie Rogers (Sebastian Dunn).

Meanwhile, the tear-jerking trailer hints at heartbreak for Daisy, who misses a chance with an admirer. But there's some happiness in romance for Anna and Bates who celebrate "a day they have been waiting for", which some have speculated could be the arrival of their first child.

And following on from the sad scenes of Thomas Barrow's (Rob James-Collier) attempted suicide in series six, the trailer suggests he will finally depart Downton.

Apparently, Jim Carter's Carson is also struggling to come to terms with new developments –  "if it means the end of Downton, then us too", says Rachel Moon in the Daily Mirror.

Even Michelle Dockery, who plays "queen of the put-down" Lady Mary, has described the final take as "terribly emotional", says Moon.

She adds: "What everyone's really hoping for from the Christmas special is a happy ending for secret single mum Lady Edith."

Yes, one Christmas present to Downton fans would be if unlucky-in-love Edith were reconciled with her ex-fiancee, Bertie, says Amy Blumsom in the Daily Telegraph.

It's true that the trailer shows very little of Edith or Pelham, says Blumsom, but a prop reportedly left behind at an Oxfordshire church during filming hints that Edith may finally have found some happiness.

Downton Abbey: the Finale airs on Christmas Day at 8.45pm on ITV.       

Downton Abbey's 'horror' dinner party scene shocks fans

19 October

Fans of Downton Abbey, used to the demure swish of silk petticoats and the clink of fine bone china, got a nasty shock on Sunday night when episode five of the hit ITV period drama featured a gory dinner party scene.

The usually genteel drama became "a horror story fit for Halloween" when Robert, Earl of Grantham, (Hugh Bonneville) suffered a burst stomach ulcer right in the middle of a large dinner party, reports What's On TV. Viewers were warned that the episode contained some "shocking scenes" but there was no mention of the one-man bloodbath that was about to erupt.

The earl told his wife he was "feeling a bit rough", and then, in "scenes worthy of The Exorcist", says the website, stood up and started spewing blood all over the table, before anyone had time to take cover. "There's a dinner that delivered more than you bargained for," said former chauffeur Tom Branson to Neville Chamberlain – "more than viewers bargained for, too," says What's On TV.

Indeed, viewers reacted immediately to the scene, sharing their views on Twitter.

Many complained there was not enough warning for such a gruesome scene and they were left reeling, reports Digital Spy. "Has the whole of the UK just uttered 'Holy sh*t!' in unison!!?" asked one fan.

Others, however, seemed to appreciate a bit of excitement. "Just when I thought Downton Abbey was being a bit slow – someone vomits blood on a future prime minister. Blimey," wrote one tweeter.

There were some viewers though, who maintained a stiff upper lip. "So the 'shocking scenes' in Downton was a bit of coughing up blood? Presumably it was shocking because he did it before brandy," wrote the media blog.

Commentators were also thrown off balance by the uncharacteristic grisliness of the scene. Some saw it as the beginning of the end.

"It was positively ill mannered," says Gerard Donovan in the Daily Telegraph. Especially in the presence of His Majesty's government. "Has Lord G no shame?"

But ultimately, says Donovan, it's just another example of the bitter realities of the times, from failing stately homes and Bolshevik kitchen maids to lady magazine editors. "The Twenties was the decade when the upper classes really began to let standards slip. It was then that the rot set in."

In the Radio Times, Ellie Walker-Arnott says she was reaching for the smelling salts. It's not that Robert's illness has come as a shock, she says. He has been clutching his stomach in discomfort for weeks now. But no one could have imagined it would all "come out" so "disgustingly". And all over the dinner table.

But Walker-Arnott wasn't complaining. It shows that Downton Abbey can still pack "a few gut punches", she says. That episode was "more Game of Thrones than Downton Abbey", she adds. But it "woke me up from a Downton Abbey daze. I can't wait to see what next week has in store."

Downton Abbey: five things we can expect from series six

10 September

The sixth and final series of Downton Abbey starts this month, with audiences bidding farewell to the much-loved period drama with a special episode on Christmas Day.

As the debut episode approaches, plot details have begun to emerge from the usually tight-lipped actors and producers.

Creator Julian Fellowes has confirmed the series takes place six months after last year's Christmas special, but what else can we expect?

Downton is downsizing

The Crawley family is forced to lay off some of its faithful staff and get used to doing menial tasks, as cost-cutting gets under way in the country house. "It is a scene that would no doubt horrify the Dowager Countess: Lord and Lady Grantham venturing below stairs to prepare a snack, without the aid of a single servant," says the Daily Telegraph. The change is being driven by family patriarch Robert Crawley, played by Hugh Bonneville, who is struggling to hold on to the stately home with dwindling finances. "The final season very much has a flavour of the end of an era," says the actor.

Love is a major theme

Does imperious widow Lady Mary, mother of Downton's heir George, finally find true love, asks The Guardian. "It's the main part of the final season," says the show's executive producer Gareth Neame, but he remains tight-lipped on whether the final series will end with her getting married. Meanwhile, wedding bells are expected for Carson and Mrs Hughes after he proposed in last year's Christmas special. "Although he refuses to call her by her first name while at work," says the Telegraph.

There's an 'epic catfight'

Expect an almighty row between Lady Mary and her sister Lady Edith as the show winds to a close. Joanne Froggatt, who plays ladies' maid Anna, spilled the beans: "There's a great argument between the sisters. They've sort of mellowed a bit over the years, but this is a reminder of how things were. I can't say what it's about, but it's great. Everyone's going to be [saying] 'I can't believe she actually said that!'"

Mary's past comes back to haunt her

Last series saw Lady Mary embarking on a secret tryst in Liverpool with love-struck suitor Lord Gillingham. After taking Gillingham for a risqué test drive, she decided to ditch him and pursue her budding romance with Charles Blake. And now it seems her scandalous pre-marital affair might not be as cleverly hidden as she imagined. An "unwelcome visitor delivers an ultimatum" to Lady Mary in the first episode of the series. Is Mary about to become yet another Downton blackmail victim?

Goodbye for Thomas?

Thomas Barrow, Downton's resident scheming footman, was once the show's undisputed downstairs villain, but his struggle to live with his homosexuality has also won him plenty of fans. Whether you love him or hate him, most viewers would be sorry to see the Abbey's biggest troublemaker go – but that may be exactly what's in store. Actor Robert James-Collier told the Daily Telegraph that the show's creator, Julian Fellowes, told him: "I hope you're prepared to be the tragic hero" at a script read-through. "Am I going to die? I don't know," Collier-James teased.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_original","fid":"84371","attributes":{"class":"media-image"}}]]

Downton Abbey series 6 previews: Grantham 'on the brink'

14 August

Anticipation is building for the sixth and final series of Downton Abbey, which starts next month, and will conclude with a Christmas Day special.

Selected members of the press were given a glimpse of the first episode in Mayfair yesterday – and most were happy with what they saw.

The action begins in 1925, with the aristocracy teetering on the brink – although at the outset, it seems that very little has changed, says Ben Lawrence in the Daily Telegraph. As the household set out on "a beautifully shot hunt", only Lady Mary's insistence on no longer riding side-saddle hints that "change is afoot".

Yet it isn't long before we hear of belt-tightening, says Lawrence. The Abbey is having to make do with less servants, tenant farmers might lose their land, and the cottage hospital is threatened.

But, as usual, adds Lawrence, Julian Fellowes's script soon sprinkles in "a potpourri of plot-lines", from blackmail and an unsolved murder to conjugal rights and female emancipation. Lady Edith even takes tentative steps into London literary life, meeting Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey.

The decline of the British aristocracy appears to be the main theme of this final series, says Julia Raeside in The Guardian. The calendar days almost visibly fly past and characters constantly mention what year it is, "just in case our attention wanders".

The Crawley family still enjoy their hunts and parties but can no longer ignore the changing times, says Raeside. "Your lot's finished," spits one new character, who arrives "to thoroughly ruffle the feathers of her posh overlords". 

Meanwhile, adds Raeside, the daughters of Downton, Lady Mary and Lady Edith are now both single parents looking to further their independence, "so for once, we are given respite from their love lives, although suitors are bound to surface again before the end of the series".

Yes, the first episode offers "a fairly typical compilation of the sort of thing that has made Downton Abbey both so beloved and so easy to lampoon", says Gabriel Tate in The Times. There is "ravishingly filmed" expository dialogue and yet "another working-class character with a chip on their shoulder, scuttling out of the woodwork with mischief in mind", as well as the odd "nonsensical plot twist". 

As expected, there was plenty of romance, melodrama and thwarted ambition, painted with the broadest of brush strokes, says Tate, who adds that the elegiac tones and themes of resolution aren't applied with a lot of delicacy. Still, Tate admits "Downton is too long in the tooth, too set in its ways and too successful to bother about attracting new fans".

Meanwhile, it was a cast photo for the series that got fans talking. After a promo picture for the final series emerged online on Thursday, The Wrap reports that fans have been in a "frenzy" about the characters who are missing from the shot. Some have demanded in caps lock: "Where is Tom Branson?" while others asked: "Where are Tom & Sybbie and Lady Rose?"  

If it's any consolation to Tom Branson fans, The Wrap notes that Allen Leech, the actor who plays Tom, will appear in at least one scene in the upcoming season. But fans will have to wait until September to see what exactly happens to their favourites.

Downton Abbey to 'end on a high' after next series

27 March

This autumn's series of Downton Abbey will be its last, ITV has announced. The decision to make the sixth series the hit drama’s last has provoked protests from fans but a murmur of relief from some of the show's critics.

Since it first aired in 2010, Downton has won a string of awards, including two Baftas, three Golden Globes and 11 Primetime Emmys, but producers of the show say it's time to bring the saga to a close."Inevitably there comes a time when all shows should end and Downton is no exception," said the programme's executive producer Gareth Neame at a press conference. He added: "I think our feeling is that it's good to quit while you're ahead."

Julian Fellowes, creator and writer of the series about an aristocratic British household in the early 20th century, told Reuters he has nearly finished writing the sixth season. "Obviously, I am sad," said Fellowes. "It has been an extraordinary part of my life and career."

The news has prompted mixed reactions among viewers with some already mourning the end of the series and others rejoicing in its demise. Many viewers are already speculating on how it will end.

It is a black day for PBS, the show’s distributor, says Deadline Hollywood. Downton single-handedly put its Masterpiece franchise back on the map and in the black. A PBS spokesperson said the series has been "a game-changer" for the franchise that struggled for years to find a corporate sponsor, "until Downton came along and turned it back into the prettiest dress in the shop".

No doubt many viewers will also be in mourning, writes Ben Lawrence in the Daily Telegraph. In the UK alone, each episode has been watched by an average of 11 million people. "But could Downton's departure from our screens actually be a good thing?" he asks. Certainly the recent series has been showing signs of fatigue, says Lawrence. Lady Mary has had a seemingly endless carousel of suitors and other plots have drifted without a satisfying resolution. No series can last forever and it's best to bow out while ratings are still high. "Fans should refuse to mourn Downton's passing."

Yes, it's the right time to say goodbye, says Tim Teeman on the Daily Beast. There are only a certain number of tense dinners, lost letters, and nervous breakdowns over spilled consommé the most skilful screenwriter can spin dramatic gold from. But how will it end?

"There will be no mass apocalypse or poisoning by one of Mrs Patmore's Victoria sponges," says Teeman. "Fellowes is happier writing in sepia than the harsh contours of the present day." Teeman believes the show’s writer and producer has a sadistic streak but thinks his vision of Downton will end "with rose-tinted glasses intact." He concludes: "That being said, if he gives 'Poor Edith' a storybook-happy ending I'll choke on my cucumber sandwich."

I won't be shedding a tear, says Viv Groksop in The Guardian. Downton "has taken its place in the British psyche and become a bizarre, reactionary cultural ambassador for us across the globe occasioning Chinese oligarchs to engage butlers and housemaids, and American fans to host Downton parties", says Groksop.

She adds: "Maybe it's worth shedding a tear of frustration here because, yes, there will be yet another sodding season".

But is it really all over for Downton? Perhaps not. Producers have said there are no plans for spin-offs, but they haven't ruled out a Downton Abbey movie.

Is Downton Abbey ending? Maggie Smith exit prompts rumours 

3 March

Dame Maggie Smith has revealed plans to hang up her pearls and bow out of the popular ITV series Downton Abbey, fuelling speculation that the series might end this year.

The report comes after NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt announced that Fellowes's new show for the US network, The Gilded Age, will launch "next season".

Greenblatt's statements prompted commentators to conclude that Downton Abbey is coming to an end, though the show's fate has yet to be confirmed by ITV or producers Carnival Films. A spokesperson for the channel told Digital Spy: "We wouldn't comment on speculative stories about our programmes."

But the news that one of the shows biggest stars Maggie Smith, who plays sharp-tongued dowager countess Violet Crawley, is set to leave, is "now adding more fuel to the fire", says the Daily Mail.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Smith, 80, said that she couldn't see how the programme could continue after its upcoming sixth season. She added:  "I mean, I certainly can't keep going. To my knowledge, I must be 110 by now. We're into the late 1920s."

The news has prompted some to consider how the series will end. In Forbes, Neil Midgley writes that "Fellowes must already be storylining those final episodes, and viewers will be expecting a satisfying conclusion".

Midgley goes on to predict what some of those plot-lines might be including the death of the Earl of Grantham. "The one clear way to signal the end of Downton as we know it would be to kill off the earl," says Midgley, adding: "It is, perhaps, no accident that Fellowes gave the earl a health scare in the Christmas episode." He also suggested that Lady Mary might take over the estate, with Mr Talbot in tow.

Whatever happens, writes Tim Teeman of the Daily Beast, "we will bitch about its infuriating plot twists and inconsistencies. And we will say it's done, and tired, and get frustrated at yet another misplaced letter". But Teeman admits, the show drives us mad, and "happily so", because of these fiendish games and occasional, surprising moments of sweetness.

Viewers will have to wait and see which, if any, of the rumours about the show are true. But fans mourning the imminent end of the show might take heart that the ultimate plot twist might be a series revival a few years down the track.

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