By Maureen Lee Lenker
December 20, 2018 at 11:00 AM EST

Shine the silver and ring the butler bell: cultural phenomenon Downton Abbey at last transitions from the small screen to the big. As creator Julian Fellowes puts it to EW, “It seemed a nice idea we should come back for a final curtain call.”

That curtain call is Downton Abbey, out in fall 2019. It’s directed by Michael Engler, who’s helmed episodes of other hit shows like Sex and the City and 30 Rock, on top of four in the Downton series. The film picks up approximately 18 months from where the 2016 series finale left off (at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 1926).

“Life is settling into these new realities when this event happens at Downton that brings everybody together,” teases Engler. “The story line has expanded the scale of it. It takes the things you love about Downton – the romance, the intrigue, the pageantry – and makes it bigger.”

A Downton Abbey movie had been rumored since the series ended stateside in 2016, but until this past July, it was unclear whether this would only ever remain hearsay. “I always felt that there was unfinished business because it felt that people weren’t quite done with it,” reflects star Michelle Dockery, who portrays the haughty, fiercely independent Lady Mary.

Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

Still, the production team is counting on absence making the heart grow fonder. “If we’d gone straight into production on the movie, it would’ve been too quick for everyone involved. It wouldn’t have felt special,” says executive producer Gareth Neame. “People are really hungry to be reunited with the characters.”

Characters that number upwards of 20, presenting a unique challenge — condensing the 10-11 hours of storytelling of the television show into a concise, satisfying two-hour tale. “When you’re doing a series, you give a proper story to four or five characters a week and the others join in those proper stories,” explains Fellowes. “It’s like a country dance; you’re always exchanging the emphasis. Whereas with a film, everyone has to have their own story that is then completed and that is quite a jigsaw to arrange.”

Allen Leech, who portrays chauffeur-turned-Crawley family member Tom Branson, says this was the primary concern of the cast as well. “The one worry we all had was whether Julian could bring 22 characters and bring them to life again within the confines of only two hours,” he says. “The minute we read it, already the story had gained in scale and in size so much, and Julian’s done a very clever thing…Everyone has to come together and combine as a household for the story.”

While no one from the team will elaborate too deeply on the tightly held plot details, Engler notes the experience of directing the film, with over 50 percent of the original crew returning, was akin to the mysterious event at the heart of the story. “Making the film felt very much like the story of the film in that all these people came back together, almost 200 people, to make it bigger and better than ever,” he reflects.

If it sounds like you’re getting more of the same, that’s a fair estimation of things. “It’s a lovely return to something that feels familiar,” notes Leech. “People will get an opportunity to see their favorite characters, and even those they hate, back in the world again and in this whole new story and given a whole new life.”

Whether you crave the upstairs glamour, the downstairs drama, or the Dowager Countess’ bon mots, Downton Abbey the movie promises a familiar homecoming. After all, if there’s one thing Downton Abbey (or at least Lord Grantham) is resistant to, it’s change.

Downton Abbey arrives in theaters on Sept. 20, 2019.

Click here to see more exclusive first-look images from Downton Abbey.

To read more on 2019’s most anticipated TV shows and movies, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy it here now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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