1. Life & Culture

Why 'Downton' had such a happy ending

Julian Fellowes: “Downton was essentially an optimistic show ... And I felt that we had to have an ending that went on in the tone of that warmth.’’
Julian Fellowes: “Downton was essentially an optimistic show ... And I felt that we had to have an ending that went on in the tone of that warmth.’’
Published Mar. 7, 2016

Downton Abbey bid farewell on Sunday night in a bittersweet (but mostly sweet) finale. In contrast to the blunt irrevocability of U.S. TV finales (which sometimes come with body counts), Julian Fellowes, the creator and writer of Downton Abbey, said that he wanted a last episode that felt upbeat and open-ended. These are excerpts from interviews Fellowes gave to the New York Times and Los Angeles Times:

Q: It was decided some time ago that this would be the final season of Downton Abbey. What did you want to achieve with its ending?

A: There's a line at the end, when Robert is talking about his mother being shocked at the maid having a baby in Mary's bedroom, and Cora says, "I think the more adaptable we are, the more chance we have of getting through." That is my philosophy. To chart the ending of that way of life — the ordered world of four footmen and all of that — in the 1920s and '30s. The families who were able to go along with the rocking kept their footing. The ones who were too stiff and too grand and couldn't adjust are the ones that went down.

Did you ever consider a conclusion that might feel more definitive — the house shutting down or laying off a large portion of the household staff?

You have to remember, Downton was essentially an optimistic show — that on the whole, these were decent people doing their best, whether they were upstairs or below. And I felt that we had to have an ending that went on in the tone of that warmth.

Are you influenced by fan feedback? Fans certainly wanted Edith to catch a break.

There was one wonderful Twitter thing that I was told about, because I don't do Twitter. It said, "If Edith Crawley isn't happy at the end of the last episode, Julian Fellowes had better sleep with one eye open."

I think (the fans) earned it. They have been with her up hill and down dale. I admire Edith. I think some people are unlucky in life, and some of them are defeated by it, and some of them keep trying. They have a kind of gallantry. I felt that (actress Laura Carmichael's) Edith had earned her good luck, really, by the end. She just kept fighting all the way through.

And of course I wrote to that because Laura produced this performance, which I thought was very, very good. In a series, you're writing to performances you can see. When you write a film or a play or musical, that's not true, you just write it and then they cast it and then the actor plays it. With a series you really develop the characters in collusion with the actors, you're bringing them on together really.

Meanwhile, in the penultimate episode, Lady Mary revealed a malicious side of herself.

They hated each other. I never believe, in television and film, that brothers and sisters always enjoy each other. In real life, that's just not been my experience.

Virtually everyone in the finale gets a happy ending, with the possible exception of Carson.

Carson has a slightly qualified happy ending because I felt I wanted a seismic, emotional way of saying that actually Downton will never be the same again and for me, Carson leaving was the clearest way I could send that message, by giving him a physical condition which may be just a tremor or it may be the beginning of Parkinson's. I don't think I've made him miserable because he's happily married with Mrs. Hughes, and they know where they're living on the estate. But that's the only kind of shadow on the story. I wanted a sort of sad moment when we realized that this era is coming to an end, and giving that scene between Carson and Robert Grantham was a way of marking the moment, that you know the old Downton is finished now.

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You've been done with your work on Downton Abbey for several months. How does it feel now?

There may be a movie — they still haven't decided — in which case we'll jump back in with them. But I can't pretend it's not at all strange, because for six or seven years of my life, the show completely dominated almost every waking moment. I would start writing it in September and I would write until July.

Any particularly surreal moments?

I was in Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue in New York and I was walking around from table to table. This woman was following me and I could sort of see her hovering and following and finally I turned to her and I said, "Can I help?" She looked at me and her lip quivered and she said, "Just let Edith be happy!"


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