Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) is perhaps one of Downton Abbey‘s most polarizing figures; originally a solid villain of the piece, over the course of six seasons, he gradually became one of the most beloved members of the Crawley family staff, eventually taking over Carson’s position as a butler.
So, by the time we finally got to see Thomas carve out a smidge of romantic happiness for himself in the Downton Abbey movie, it was a welcome moment — but it was one that almost didn’t happen.
“Initially there was an extra scene that’s been removed where maybe the ending wasn’t as nice, and it was sort of like, tragical Thomas again,” Rob James-Collier tells EW. “They made the decision, even though it was a great scene, to remove that and it was the wise decision. Because it’s a movie, it’s not as dramatic as the series because you can’t have two hours of drama and emotion. It’s Downton as we’ve never seen it before and you have to keep it focused and keep it happier to a certain extent.”
As the film stands now, after being rounded up by police for dancing at a secret underground gay jazz club, Thomas is bailed out of jail by the King’s valet, Richard (Max Brown) and the two share a brief surprise kiss back at Downton. That kiss holds the promise of something more, and we end this story on a hopeful note (as in, the ones they write each other) that perhaps these two men will cross paths again.
While no one on the Downton Abbey team will divulge the specifics of the scene, producer Gareth Neame echoes Collier’s thoughts. “There was a slightly more ambiguous ending to that story in the original script. We decided to cut it this way in the end. In the TV series, you could have a sadder ending one episode because the show would be back the following week and you could contrast that with something. The thing with the movie is, this may well be the final installment, or if there is another installment that probably won’t be on screens for another couple of years, so you want happy endings. And you want fairly conclusive endings.”
Creator Julian Fellowes says there was also a more emotional reason for choosing to resolve Barrow’s story more positively. “We felt that Thomas had earned a degree of happiness over the years, and we didn’t want to take it away from him,” he tells EW.
Neame agrees that after putting Barrow through the ringer with stories that included him shooting his hand off and fearing being outed by footman Jimmy (Ed Speleers), it was high-time they just give him a win with no strings attached. “He just had such a difficult experience one episode after another,” the producer reflects. “It just wasn’t easy for him, so the idea of putting his story more to the front of the whole thing and showing he does meet somebody else and that seems to go well… Although he’s arrested and all that kind of thing, he’s in deep trouble, they get him off and he has met a kindred spirit so it’s more positive than stories about his sexuality have been in some of the seasons of the show.”
Though this different ending was the most crucial cut they made, it wasn’t the only one. Neame also fondly recounts a cut scene where Robert Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) had to get his hands dirty helping to fix the broken boiler alongside the plumber. “I can’t really remember why he had to do that, but he did,” he explains. “So you had Robert with the plumber, bonding, and it was quite nice material but we had to cut the script back a bit, it was just too long, and that was an easy bit to take out.”
The script as a whole could have gone in any number of directions. Neame says they explored several different ideas before landing on the central plot of a royal visit. “We decided this was the right thing,” he notes. “It had the right tone. It allowed us to do these grand set pieces and it involves all the characters in this grand mission.”
Fellowes says there was a possibility of uniting all the characters around a central ‘disaster,’ but that felt tonally off from what they hoped to accomplish with the film. Not to mention, he was inspired by real history. “I was reading a book about a royal tour of Yorkshire that King George and Queen Mary made in 1912, and as I read it, I thought, ‘Oh well, obviously this is it, they’re going to make another tour of Yorkshire and they’re going to come to Downton,'” he recounts.