In a rare appearance, the Dowager Countess herself graced journalists with her presence at the screening of the first episode of Downton Abbey’s final season this afternoon in London. Maggie Smith delighted the assembled press corps, sounding every bit as quippy as her Downton character — even if she swears all of the lines on the show are provided to her by creator Julian Fellowes. Smith said she was looking forward to a rest now that the show has wrapped. Asked what she would do next, the Oscar, BAFTA and Emmy winner said: “I’m going to be lying down. I believe for quite some time.” She also said she hasn’t watched much of Downton as the years have worn on — “certainly” not her own contributions — but would delight in a box set now that she has the time.
Smith was joined onstage by Joanne Froggatt (Anna) and Hugh Bonneville (Robert) following the screening of the episode which I won’t spoil. Except to say, it’s pretty much everything a Downton fan would hope for. There is drama and emotion packed into the season launch and enough intrigue to indicate how it may move forward as it draws to a conclusion after six years. The U.S. debut on PBS has been set for January 3, but locally, ITV has not yet committed to a date; although we can expect it in September.
In the audience, Rob James Collier (Thomas) and Jim Carter (Carson) wielded microphones and fielded questions including how Smith would feel about doing a movie that’s been mooted for several months now, even if no plans are in place yet. Saying she was “just surprised that I got to the end,” she added a movie “would be fun.” Queried as to how much she resembles Violet Crawley, she laughed, “I’m like that all the time. I never let up.” The popularity of perhaps Violet’s most famous line ever — “What is a weekend?” — was a shock, she said. “I was unaware” of the impact it would have when she first uttered it.
Smith also praised the crew, “It was extraordinary and incredibly reassuring to see these people day after day and know that they were the first people there and they were the last people to go… And there they are, all of them, and always in a very good mood, which I can’t say for myself.”
Ahead of the actors’ panel, Downton creator Julian Fellowes was onstage with producer Liz Trubridge and exec producer Gareth Neame. Fellowes said he was happy with how he’s concluded things and has “shown a chunk of what everyone’s life would be.” But, he did quip, “Life is a slightly open-ended story. You can’t just kill the entire cast.”
Neame and Trubridge again noted how they knew this was the right time to go. In fact, they all knew 18 months ago, Bonneville (who’s soon to reprise a Pirate King cameo on ABC’s Galavant) later said. Trubridge also spoke with pride about the BAFTA award the show was given this past week — the period drama has never won a major above the line prize from the UK org. The U.S. and global recognition has been “wonderful, but we were feeling ‘gosh it would be wonderful to have that from the UK’,” Trubridge said. The show is up for eight Emmys next month after several previous wins along with SAGs and Golden Globes.
Speaking of possible future incarnations of Downton, Trubidge said (half-jokingly?) that she’d like to see the characters in the 1970s. Neame suggested a story about Master George (the son of Lady Mary and the late Matthew) running the estate in the 1950s.
He added, “Last night at 7 PM we wrapped all of the servants. They shot their last scene. It’s an incredibly emotional, moving scene in the very last episode. It was very cleverly scheduled that they had that scene to do and then we clapped them all off the stage. I can tell you that quite a few tears were shed by grown men in the form of butlers and footmen that I never expected to see.”