Now that Downton Abbey: A New Era has been in theaters for a month and reached streaming, most fans know that the film's ending is, well, rather final. Even though the series sets up the possibility of other stories, the "New Era" of the title also means the passing of the old. While some might argue it's long overdue for the series to lose a central character or two, it also feels like the story has reached a natural endpoint. At least, that's what actor Hugh Bonneville, who plays Robert Crawley, believes, suggesting this will be the last installment.
Warning: Spoilers for Downton Abbey: A New Era follow.
The Dowager Countess is dead; long live Lady Violet Crawley, she of the unawareness of weekends and who finds rolling chairs confusing. Maggie Smith, who played the Dowager since the show's inception, has long made fun of how old her character must be in the world of the show by the end of the series' run, insisting she must be 101 by now. (Actually, as the show's lore puts Violet's birthday at 1842, she was 86.) The Dowager Countess of Grantham's funeral was a grand affair, bringing the film to a sad yet fitting close, from Violet's last words, "I can't hear myself die," to Lady Mary's taking up her brooch like a mantle to carry on the tradition.
Lady Mary stepping into the role of the feared dragon lady felt right and natural and gave the franchise a place to focus, should it wish to continue making films. But speaking to The Hollywood Reporter recently, Hugh Bonneville admitted that he saw the exit of Smith as proof it was the right time for the show to lay down its burdens and rest. "I suspect, on a practical level, it's run its course now. I think that was a good time to quit," he said. "I do think it could get a bit thin. I think the second film was such a joyous one and such a good note on which to end the story. And it does feel like it can end. There's still open doors in it, but I think it might be the right time to stop."
As for Smith's exit, Bonneville said filming took multiple days, giving everyone a chance at a proper goodbye. "There were three farewells because there was the death scene," he noted, "there was the last scene in the dining room, which was significant because it was always such a monstrous part of the filming schedule every time we came to it." He added, "Then we have her final shot, which was a very small moment in the hallway and not significant, but nevertheless her departure from the film. So like all good royalty, she got a good three-day send-off."
THR also asked about the Downton Abbey reboot whispers floating around Hollywood with the success of the second film and Peacock looking for new tentpoles. Bonneville denied knowing anything and said if Carnival Films brought the show back in some way, he doubted it also would bring back the original cast. His best guess was, "I think there'll be a whole new generation, like Star Wars spinning off all over the place." However, he'd never say never to a cameo before adding in a self-deprecating way, "I'd do anything for the right money."
Viewers will have to wait and see if a third Downton Abbey movie will get greenlit to form a trilogy or if Smith's departure is the end of the line. All of Downton Abbey, from the original six seasons to the two feature films, are all streaming on Peacock. PBS members can also stream the Downton Abbey series via PBS Passport.