Spoiler alert! The following post details important plot points and the ending of “Downton Abbey: A New Era.”
Call it the long goodbye.
After revealing in 2019’s “Downton Abbey” that she is gravely sick, Lady Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) succumbed to her illness in the final minutes of “Downton Abbey: A New Era” (now in theaters). It’s the second film spinoff of the early 1900s British drama, which ended its six-season run on PBS in 2015.
But the famously deadpan matriarch didn’t go down without at least one more withering remark: Lying in bed with her family gathered around her, Violet begins to close her eyes when a maid starts loudly sobbing at her feet.
“Stop that noise at once!” Purple snaps. “I can’t hear myself die!”
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It’s a tartly funny moment in an otherwise tear-jerking scene, as Violet fondly bids goodbye to granddaughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and best frenemy Isobel (Penelope Wilton). She also apologizes to daughter-in-law Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) for doubting she belonged in the wealthy Crawley family after marrying her son, Robert (Hugh Bonneville).
“Violet has always been an essentially just character: quite severe in her prejudices and absolute judgments, but reasonably just,” says “Downton” creator Julian Fellowes. “She does feel that she was unjust to Cora and before she goes, she feels the need to say that she was wrong. We’ve never heard Violet admit she’s wrong, but I think that’s reasonably truthful. When people get to the end, they often have one or two things they want to get off their chest.”
Fellowes talks about the decision to kill off the franchise’s iconic Dowager Countess and whether Smith, 87, could still return for future films:
Question: After the first “Downton Abbey” movie, it seemed inevitable that Violet would die in this new film. Was there ever any world in which she survived her illness?
Julian Fellowes: When we did the first movie, we didn’t know there’d be a second one. Nevertheless, having laid the groundwork for it in the first film, we couldn’t have shirked it in the second. Assuming Violet was 77 at the beginning (of the TV series), she’s now in her 90s. And I think that’s enough, really.
Q: Some viewers thought that Violet should have died during the show. Was that ever considered?
Fellowes: I don’t think we ever did. We didn’t seem to have covered the sufficient number of years yet. Maggie comes across as a very strong character (in the show), so I didn’t feel any reason for it before. But it did feel right this time.
Q: You’ve said it was “quite emotional” shooting Violet’s death and funeral procession. Did Maggie get a farewell party afterward?
Fellowes: It was strange filming in the time of the COVID. All those wrap parties and shindigs were delayed or canceled, and everyone was just sort of eating alone in their trailers. But Maggie was very much part of the company on set. She sits and plays those terrible word games with everyone: Bananagrams or whatever they call it.
And I was always struck at the beginning of the series, when a lot of (her younger co-stars) were very inexperienced and found themselves playing scenes with Maggie Smith. It was very, very daunting, and (the situation) needed Maggie to accept the role of kind of “mother” of the set. And she did to an extraordinary degree – I was rather impressed.
Q: In the movie, the Crawleys allow a film production to shoot at Downton Abbey so they can raise money to repair the estate. And Lady Mary steps up as the head of the family after Violet’s passing. Why did these seem like the best ways to reflect “a new era?”
Fellowes: I wanted to have a real sense that the 20th century could no longer be kept at the gates – it was now finally pushing in. Not only in the obvious way, of having a uniquely 20th-century artform push in, but also seeing Mary as a grownup. She has come a long way from the rather spoiled, entitled young lady at the beginning of the series, and by the end of the film, we know that Downton is safe in her hands.
Q: So if there’s a third film, is there any way Maggie could return as Violet in flashbacks?
Fellowes: I mean, I’ve said goodbye to these characters about four times now. We all meet, have a party, everyone cries, and then two years later, I’m back at my desk banging out another story. So I wouldn’t be nearly rash enough to say, “No, that’s it. It’s finished.” I don’t know if it’s finished and I think on the whole, the viewers tell you whether it’s finished or not. I can’t quite see Violet coming back as a ghost, although I have no doubt that Violet will haunt the proceedings. That’s a slightly different thing.
Q: Many fans have speculated that at the end of the movie, Tom (Allen Leech) and Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) name their new baby Violet. Can you confirm or deny?
Fellowes: (Laughs.) I never talk about plot. I know it only gets you into traps, so that’s that.