Consider the worst kept secret in the U.K. film world to be finally over: Downton Abbey (the movie) is getting a sequel. Of course, it is, much like the first film, the energy was always there. It was just a matter of getting all the actors to align a large enough hole in their schedules simultaneously to make it happen. With so many projects canceled, on hold, or otherwise pushed back in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it only took months, not years, to make such an alignment happen a second time.
Hugh Bonneville was the one to - unofficially - let the cat out of the bag. Speaking to BBC Radio 2 last week, he announced the scheduling alignment was just about complete for the entire ensemble cast, and filming is expected to happen soon.
"There is certainly the intention to do it. We would love to do it, we are desperate to do it, and I think it's the sort of pleasurable release of a movie like the first one was that audiences would enjoy after all of this mess we have been through."
The first film certainly benefitted from a four-year wait since the show went off the air in the U.K. (Three and a half for Masterpiece viewers.) The film pulled in a stunning worldwide total of $194.2 million dollars, which is on par with a small-time superhero film.
Certainly not the sort of numbers anyone would have expected for a modest Focus Features film aimed at those who contribute yearly to their local PBS station. Yet, it was the production company's highest-grossing film of all time, pulling in a full $88 million in profits. Of course, there would be a sequel.
But what exactly will a sequel cover? One of the movie's clever conceits is that it went somewhere the show regularly refused, bringing in the topline historical royalty of George VI and Queen Mary for a visit to the illustrious Grantham residence. A royal visit was enough of a plot to drive the action, even without Imelda Staunton getting a seat in ITV's biggest franchise and spending it going toe-to-toe with Maggie Smith. But royal visits are rare enough that the show now needs some other major event as an excuse to return to the Downton house.
One hint comes via the Daily Mail, which has the first bit of casting rumor regarding the new film. According to its report, Downton Abbey: The Movie: The Sequel (Downton 2: The Return?) will bring aboard a new legendary actress to fill out the guest roster: Nathalie Baye. The French actress is a four-time César Award winner, whose career extends back to 1970. Netflix fans will recognize her from the French part of the ambitious three-continent series Criminal from 2019, but she's most famous for films like The Young Lieutenant, Strange Affair, and La Balance.
Exactly how a French storyline will work itself into Downton Abbey remains unclear. (Perhaps in a pre-World War II plotline?) But fans can rest easy knowing the Crawleys are coming back to the big screen soon.