Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey title card
GenreHistorical period drama
Created byJulian Fellowes
Written by
Opening theme"Did I Make the Most of Loving You?"
Composer(s)John Lunn
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series6
No. of episodes52 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
  • Liz Trubridge
  • Nigel Marchant
Production location(s)Highclere Castle
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time47–93 minutes
Production company(s)
Original networkWebsite

Downton Abbey is a British historical period drama television series set in the early 20th century, created by Julian Fellowes. The series first aired on ITV in the United Kingdom on 26 September 2010, and in the United States on PBS, which supported production of the series as part of its Masterpiece Classic anthology, on 9 January 2011.

The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey between 1912 and 1925, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era—with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy. Events depicted throughout the series include news of the sinking of the Titanic in the first series; the outbreak of the First World War, the Spanish influenza pandemic, and the Marconi scandal in the second series; the Irish War of Independence leading to the formation of the Irish Free State in the third series; the Teapot Dome scandal in the fourth series; and the British general election of 1923, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and the Beer Hall Putsch in the fifth series. The sixth and final series introduces the rise of the working class during the interwar period and hints towards the eventual decline of the British aristocracy.

Downton Abbey has received acclaim from television critics and won numerous accolades, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie. It was recognised by Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed English-language television series of 2011. It earned the most nominations of any international television series in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, with twenty-seven in total (after two series).[1] It was the most watched television series on both ITV and PBS, and subsequently became the most successful British costume drama series since the 1981 television serial of Brideshead Revisited.[2]

On 26 March 2015, Carnival Films and ITV announced that the sixth series would be the last. It aired on ITV between 20 September 2015 and 8 November 2015. The final episode, serving as the annual Christmas special, was broadcast on 25 December 2015. A film adaptation was confirmed on 13 July 2018.

Plot overview

Series 1: 2010

The first series, comprising seven episodes, explores the lives of the fictional Crawley family, the hereditary Earls of Grantham, and their domestic servants beginning the day after the historic sinking of the RMS Titanic on 14/15 April 1912. The storyline centres on the fee tail or "entail" governing the titled elite, which endows title and estate exclusively to heirs male. As part of the backstory, the main character, Robert, Earl of Grantham, had resolved past financial difficulties by marrying Cora Levinson, an American heiress. Her considerable dowry is contractually incorporated into the comital entail in perpetuity. Robert and Cora have three daughters and no sons.

As the eldest daughter, Lady Mary Crawley was to marry her second cousin, son of the then-heir presumptive. The first episode begins as news reaches Downton Abbey that both Grantham heirs perished in the sinking of the Titanic. A distant male cousin, solicitor Matthew Crawley, is from an upper-middle-class family – as his mother reminds him in episode two of series one. Matthew Crawley becomes the new heir. The plot centres on the relationship between Lady Mary and Matthew, who resists embracing an aristocratic lifestyle.

A subplot involves John Bates, Lord Grantham's new valet, and Thomas Barrow, who resents Bates replacing him and causing Barrow to be demoted back to footman. Bates and Thomas remain at odds as Barrow works to sabotage Bates after learning he was recently released from jail for theft. In the story line, Barrow, a gay man in late Edwardian England, aided by Miss O'Brien, Lady Grantham's maid, creates havoc for most of the staff. Barrow is caught stealing but hands in his notice as he has joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. Matthew eventually falls in love with Lady Mary, but she rejects his proposal. Cora becomes pregnant, but miscarries after O'Brien, mistakenly believing she was to be fired, retaliates by leaving a bar of soap on the slippery bathroom floor. The series ends just after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914.

Series 2: 2011

The second series comprises eight episodes and runs from the Battle of the Somme in 1916 to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. During the war, Downton Abbey is temporarily converted into an officers' convalescent hospital.

Matthew becomes engaged to Lavinia Swire, a wealthy solicitor's daughter, and joins the British Army as an officer. William Mason, the 2nd footman, finally gets permission from his father to join the Army and becomes Matthew's soldier servant. Unfortunately, both are injured in a bomb blast. William dies from his wounds after a deathbed marriage to Daisy, the kitchen maid. Daisy does not love William but Mrs Patmore, Downton's cook, pressures her to make William's last days happy by marrying him.

Mary finally acknowledges her feelings for Matthew, but becomes engaged to Sir Richard Carlisle, a powerful and ruthless newspaper mogul. Their relationship is rocky, but Mary is bound to Carlisle after he quashes a story regarding her past scandalous indiscretion. Bates's wife, Vera, repeatedly causes trouble for John and Anna, who is now his fiancée, and threatens to expose a Crawley secret. When Mrs Bates mysteriously dies, Bates is arrested on suspicion of her murder. Matthew and Mary realise they are in love but Matthew honourably remains committed to marrying Lavinia. Unknown to him, a devastated Lavinia overhears Matthew and Mary declare their love. The Spanish influenza epidemic hits Downton Abbey at the end of the war. Cora, taken seriously ill, survives, but Lavinia, also infected, dies. Barrow is rehired at Downton after helping the staff during the outbreak. Mary and Matthew reunite, while Bates is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

Lady Sybil, the youngest Crawley daughter who hates her stifling aristocratic life, falls in love with Tom Branson, the Irish chauffeur with strong socialist beliefs. They elope to Ireland after receiving Lord Grantham's reluctant blessing.

Ethel Parks, a new housemaid, has a relationship with one of the injured officers, Major Bryant. Mrs Hughes finds them together in bed and dismisses Ethel, but takes pity on her and helps her when Ethel realises that she is pregnant. She has a baby boy and names him Charlie after his father, but Major Bryant refuses to believe that he is the baby's father.

Series 3: 2012

In the third series, 1920–1921, Mary ends her engagement to Richard Carlisle, despite his vindictive threats to expose her past indiscretion. Mary and Matthew are married in the series première, but Robert (Lord Grantham) learns that the bulk of the family's fortune (including Cora's dowry) has been lost, due to his well-intentioned but bad investment. In the meantime, Edith has fallen hard for Sir Anthony Strallen, whom Robert discourages from marrying Edith due to his age and infirm condition. At Edith's insistence, Robert gives in and welcomes Sir Anthony, but the latter cannot accept the fact that there is no reservation from the Grantham family, and at the altar on their wedding day announces that he cannot go through with the marriage, devastating Edith.

Meanwhile, due to dislike and increasing tension, Bates's cellmate tries to sabotage him with a crime that will ruin his chances for a pardon, but Bates is informed by a fellow prisoner about the search, which results in the guards not finding what they are seeking. Back at Downton, Mrs Hughes finds out she may have breast cancer, which only some of the household hear about, causing deep concern, but the tumour turns out to be benign. Tom Branson and Lady Sybil, now pregnant, return to Downton after Tom is implicated in the burning of an Irish aristocrat's house. After Matthew's reluctance to accept an inheritance from Lavinia's recently deceased father and then Robert's reluctance in turn to accept that inheritance as a gift, Matthew and Robert reach a compromise in which Matthew accepts and uses the inheritance to invest in Downton, giving him an equal say in how the estate is run.

Tragedy strikes when Sybil dies from eclampsia shortly after giving birth. Tom, devastated, names his daughter Sybil after his late wife. Bates is released from prison after Anna uncovers evidence clearing him of his wife's murder. Tom becomes the new estate agent at the suggestion of Dowager Countess Violet. Barrow and Miss O'Brien have a falling out, after which O'Brien leads Barrow to believe that Jimmy, the new footman, is sexually attracted to him. Barrow enters Jimmy's room and kisses him while he is sleeping, which wakes him up shocked and confused. In the end, Lord Grantham defuses the situation. The family visits Lady Violet's niece Susan and her husband "Shrimpie", the Marquess of Flintshire, in Scotland, while awaiting the birth of Matthew and Lady Mary's baby. The Marquess confides to Robert that the estate is bankrupt and will be sold, making Robert recognise that Downton has been saved through Matthew and Tom's efforts to modernise. Mary gives birth to the new heir, but Matthew dies in a car crash while driving home from the hospital.

Series 4: 2013

In series four, 1922–1923, Cora's maid Miss O'Brien, desiring adventure and travel, leaves to serve Lady Flintshire in India. Cora hires Edna Braithwaite, who had previously been fired for her interest in Tom. Eventually the situation blows up, and Edna is replaced by Miss Baxter.

Lady Mary deeply mourns Matthew's death. Matthew's newly-found will states Mary is to be his sole heir and thus gives her management over his share of the estate until their son, George, comes of age. With Tom's encouragement, Mary assumes a more active role in running Downton. Two new suitors — Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake — arrive at Downton, though Mary, still grieving, is not interested. Middle daughter Lady Edith, who has begun writing a weekly newspaper column, and Michael Gregson, her editor, fall in love. Due to British law, he is unable to divorce his wife, who is mentally ill and in an asylum. Gregson travels to Germany to seek citizenship there, enabling him to divorce, but is killed by Hitler's Brownshirts during riots. Edith is left pregnant and with help from her paternal aunt, Lady Rosamund, secretly gives birth to a daughter. She intends to give her up for adoption in Switzerland and places the baby with adoptive parents, but reclaims her after arranging a new adoptive family on the estate: Mr and Mrs Drewe of Yew Tree Farm take the baby in and raise her as their own.

Anna is raped by Lord Gillingham's valet, Mr Green, which Mr Bates later discovers. Subsequently, Mr Green is killed in a London street accident. A local schoolteacher, Sarah Bunting, and Tom begin a friendship, though Robert (Lord Grantham) despises her due to her openly vocal anti-aristocracy views. In the final Christmas special, Sampson, a card sharp, steals a letter from the Prince of Wales to his mistress, Rose's friend Freda Ward, which, if made public, would create a scandal; the entire Crawley family connives to retrieve it, though it is Bates who extracts the letter from Sampson's overcoat, and it is returned to Mrs Ward.

Series 5: 2014

In series five, 1924, a Russian exile, Prince Kuragin, wishes to renew his past affections for the Dowager Countess. Violet instead locates his wife in Hong Kong and reunites the Prince and his estranged wife. Scotland Yard and the local police investigate Green's death. Violet learns about Edith's daughter, Marigold. Meanwhile, Mrs Drewe, not knowing Marigold's true parentage, resents Edith's constant visits. To increase his chances with Mary, Charles Blake plots to reunite Gillingham and his ex-fiancée, Mabel. After Edith inherits Michael Gregson's publishing company, she removes Marigold from the Drewes and relocates to London. Bricker, an art expert interested in one of Downton's paintings, shows his real intentions toward Cora and is thrown out by Robert, causing a temporary rift between them.

Mrs Patmore's decision to invest her inheritance in real estate inspires Carson, Downton's butler, to do likewise. He suggests that head housekeeper Mrs Hughes invest with him; she confesses she has no money due to supporting a mentally incapacitated sister. The Crawleys' cousin, Lady Rose, daughter of Lord and Lady Flintshire, becomes engaged to Atticus Aldridge, son of Lord and Lady Sinderby. Lord Sinderby strongly objects to Atticus's marrying outside the Jewish faith. Lord Merton proposes to Isobel Crawley (Matthew's mother). She accepts, but later ends the engagement due to Lord Merton's sons' disparaging comments over her commoner background. Lady Flintshire employs underhanded schemes to derail Rose and Atticus's engagement, including announcing to everyone at the wedding that she and her husband are divorcing, intending to cause a scandal to stop Rose's marriage to Atticus; they are married anyway.

When Anna is arrested on suspicion of Green's murder, Bates writes a false confession before fleeing to Ireland. Miss Baxter and Molesley, a footman, are able to prove that Bates was in York at the time of the murder. This new information allows Anna to be released. Cora eventually learns the truth about Marigold, and wants her raised at Downton; Marigold is presented as Edith's ward, but Robert and Tom eventually discern the truth: only Mary is unaware. When a war memorial is unveiled in the town, Robert arranges for a separate plaque to honour Mrs Patmore's late nephew, who was shot for cowardice and excluded from his own village's memorial.

The Crawleys are invited to Brancaster Castle, which Lord and Lady Sinderby have rented for a shooting party. While there, Lady Rose, with help from the Crawleys, defuses a near–personal disaster for Lord Sinderby, earning his gratitude and securing his approval of Rose. A second footman, Andy, is hired on Barrow's recommendation. During the annual Downton Abbey Christmas celebration, Tom Branson announces he is moving to America to work for his cousin, taking daughter Sybil with him. Mr Carson proposes marriage to Mrs Hughes and she accepts.

Series 6: 2015

In series six, 1925, changes are once again afoot at Downton Abbey as the middle class rises and more bankrupted aristocrats are forced to sell off their large estates. Downton must do more to ensure its future survival; reductions in staff are considered, forcing Barrow to look for a job elsewhere. Lady Mary defies a blackmailer, who is thwarted by Lord Grantham. Lady Mary becomes the estate agent. Edith is more hands-on in running her magazine and hires a female editor. Lady Violet and Isobel once again draw battle lines as a government take-over of the local hospital is considered.

Meanwhile, Anna suffers repeated miscarriages. Lady Mary takes her to a specialist, who diagnoses a treatable condition, and she becomes pregnant again. Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes hold their wedding reception at the schoolhouse, during which Tom Branson reappears with Sybil, having returned to Downton for good. Coyle, who tricked Baxter into stealing, is convicted after she and other witnesses are persuaded to testify. After Mrs Drewe kidnaps Marigold when Edith is not looking, the Drewes vacate Yew Tree Farm; Daisy convinces Tom Branson to ask Lord Grantham to give her father-in-law, Mr Mason, the tenancy. Andy, a footman, offers to help Mr Mason so he can learn about farming, but is held back by his illiteracy; Mr Barrow offers to teach Andy to read.

Robert suffers a near-fatal health crisis. Previous episodes alluded to health problems for Robert; his ulcer bursts and he is rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. The operation is successful, but Mary and Tom must take over Downton's operations. Larry Merton's fiancée, Amelia, encourages Lord Merton and Isobel Crawley to renew their engagement, but Lady Violet rightly suspects Amelia wants Isobel to be Lord Merton's caretaker in his old age.[3] Daisy and Mr Molesley score high marks on their academic exams; Molesley's are so exceptional that he is offered a teaching position at the school. Mary breaks off with Henry Talbot, unable to live with the constant fear he could be killed in a car race. Bertie Pelham proposes to Edith, but she hesitates to accept because of Marigold. Lady Violet, upset over Lady Grantham replacing her as hospital president, abruptly departs for a long cruise to restore her equanimity.

Bertie Pelham unexpectedly succeeds his late second cousin as marquess, moves into Brancaster Castle, and Edith accepts him. Then Mary spitefully exposes Marigold's parentage, causing Bertie to walk out. Tom confronts Mary over her spitefulness and her true feelings for Henry. Despondent Barrow attempts suicide, and is saved by Baxter, causing Robert and Mr Carson to reconsider Barrow's position at Downton. Mary and Henry reunite and are married. Mary apologises to Edith, and the sisters reconcile. Mrs Patmore's new bed and breakfast business is tainted by scandal, but saved when the Crawleys appear there publicly. Mary arranges a surprise meeting for Edith and Bertie, Bertie proposes again, and Edith accepts. Edith tells Bertie's moralistic mother about Marigold; she turns against the match, but is won over after all by Edith's honesty. Barrow finds a position as butler and leaves Downton on good terms, but he is unhappy at his new post.

Lord Merton is diagnosed with terminal pernicious anemia, and Amelia blocks Isobel from seeing him. Goaded by Lady Violet, Isobel pushes into the Merton house, and announces she will take Lord Merton away and marry him – to his delight. Lord Merton is later correctly diagnosed with non-fatal anemia. Robert resents Cora's frequent absences as the hospital president, but eventually comes to admire her ability. Henry and Tom go into business together selling cars, while Mary announces her pregnancy. Molesley accepts a permanent teaching position and he and Miss Baxter promise to continue seeing each other. Daisy and Andy finally acknowledge their feelings; Daisy decides to move to the farm with her father-in-law. Carson develops palsy and must retire. Lord Grantham suggests Barrow return as butler, with Carson in an oversight role. Edith and Bertie are married on New Year's Eve. Lady Rose and Atticus return for the wedding. Anna goes into labour during the reception, and she and Bates become parents to a healthy son.

Crawley family

The series is set in fictional Downton Abbey, a Yorkshire country house, which is the home and seat of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, along with their children and distant family members. Each series follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, their friends, and their servants during the reign of King George V.

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