Everything you need to know about Downton Abbey before watching the movie
Downton Abbey is back in a big-screen way (Sept. 20), and there are so many things to remember about the events that transpired during the show’s six seasons. And while it’s not mandatory to watch the Julian Fellowes drama series to enjoy its feature film “sequel,” it’ll definitely help.
Let’s start from the top, shall we? Downton Abbey is a fictional estate located in the Northern England countryside that’s inhabited by the Crawley family and their domestic workers. The series opens in 1912 and weaves many current events into their stories, including the sinking of the Titanic during its debut season, and World War I during its sophomore run.
The expansive estate shows how different two classes of people can live under one roof: the aristocrats enjoy the rich comforts of the upstairs, while the workers share tight quarters downstairs. The upstairs residents treat their staff with dignity and respect, and those downstairs dote on their employers — with some even forming friendships and familial bonds.
When the film picks up, it’s 1927 (18 months after the series finale) and the King and Queen of England are coming to Downton Abbey for a visit.
Who’s who? Grab a spot of tea and some biscuits to get acquainted (or meet for the first time) Downton’s residents.
Robert Crawley is The Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) — patriarch of the Crawley family and Viscount Downton. He married American Cora Crawley, the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) with whom he has three adult daughters: Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith Pelham (Laura Carmichael), and Lady Sybil Branson (Jessica Brown Findlay). Lady Sybil died from eclampsia after the birth of her daughter in season 3.
Lord Grantham is the son of Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), beloved by fans for her sassy quotes on all sorts of topics. She is prim and proper, and always says what’s on her mind.
Tom Branson (Allen Leech) once lived downstairs and served as the family chauffeur before falling in love with and marrying Lady Sybil. After her death, he honored his beloved by naming their daughter Sybil and raises her with the help of the Crawleys. He later becomes the agent of the estate, with the family’s blessing.
Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) wed Lady Mary in season 6. Mary and Henry are pregnant by the final Christmas special that wrapped up the series. This is Mary’s second marriage; she was previously wed to a distant cousin, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), until his death from a car accident in season 3. His mother, Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton), stays with the family at Downton and becomes close with Violet throughout the series.
Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton) is The 7th Marquess of Hexham and married Lady Edith in season 6, giving her a long-awaited happy ending. His title elevates Lady Edith to a higher position than that of her relentless sister Mary. She has an illegitimate daughter named Marigold from a love affair, who is welcomed into the fold by her new step-father at Brancaster Castle.
Charles Carson (Jim Carter) is Downton Abbey’s butler, a trusted, loved, and well-respected employee. He’s been with the family since he was 19 years old and witnessed all three of the Crawley children’s births. Carson has a close and special bond with the oldest daughter Mary.
Carson married head housekeeper Elsie Hughes (Phyllis Logan) during season 6.
He announced his retirement due to medical issues when the series wrapped, handing the reigns to Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier). Barrow caused loads of trouble throughout his time working at the estate as both a valet and footman. But by series end, he had worked hard to regain the trust and respect of Mr. Carson and Lord Grantham. Barrow also had a complicated personal life, challenged as a gay man during the post-Edwardian era. He attended gay conversion therapy treatment in London and also attempted to take his own life during the series.
Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), who became Lord Grantham’s valet during season 1, was the victim of one of Barrow’s evil schemes after being hired for the position he coveted. Not many people downstairs were fond of Bates at first because he used a cane to walk. It is later learned that Bates is an old friend of Lord Grantham and fought alongside him in the Boer War. Multiple attempts by the staff to get him fired fail, and as time passes he grows closer to lady’s maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), whom he later marries.
Anna has a close relationship with Lady Mary, who helps her get the medical attention she needs from private doctors in London when she is unable to carry a pregnancy to full term. Thanks to her employer’s generosity, Anna and Bates welcomed a baby boy by series’ end.
Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) runs the kitchen and clashes often with Mrs. Hughes. She spends a lot of time with Daisy (Sophie McShera), who goes from kitchen maid to kitchen assistant throughout the series.
Daisy is a widow who wasn’t very lucky in love. She does find a mate in second footman Andy Parker (Michael Fox).
To learn more about the series, watch the 60-second “recap” above, or the deep dive video below.
Downton Abbey opens Friday, Sept. 20.