Downton Abbey Creator Julian Fellowes Admits He Beefed Up Two Classic Characters In A New Era Because They Were Underused In The Previous Films

Warning: spoilers for Downton Abbey: A New Era are in play. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to check out one of our other lovely articles. 

The cast of Downton Abbey is a large ensemble that is impressive in a multitude of ways. That sort of advantage can cut both ways, as some characters once central to the plot of a TV series can sometimes get lost in the cinematic shuffle. Writer/creator Julian Fellowes recently admitted to feeling a couple of characters had gotten the short end of the stick in the first movie. So when it came time to write the story for the upcoming movie A New Era, he consciously used the opportunity to beef up a couple central figures in the Downton dynasty, Robert and Cora Grantham. 

Again, it cannot be stressed enough that we’ll be going deep into details involving a plotline that runs throughout this film, connecting straight to the ending. So if you haven’t seen the movie, you can always read something like my official review of Downton Abbey: A New Era to remain informed, but unspoiled. Now that we’ve got that formality out of the way, it’s time to revisit my talk with Downton Abbey writer/creator Julian Fellowes. 

Taking place on the press day for A New Era, Robert and Cora’s story was something I had to ask about another health scare, this time in reference to Cora Crawley, the Countess of Grantham. In light of the “iconic character” death promised in Downton Abbey’s sequel, that choice felt like it had a specific purpose. Julian Fellowes confirmed as much to CinemaBlend, revealing he’d woven in this obstacle with the following intent: 

With Cora and Robert, who both have quite emotional storylines this time. I felt that in the earlier film, although they were in it a lot, they were on-screen but they didn’t have their own particular emotional journey. And so I did want to give them both something with sort of meat on the bones for them to get their teeth into. So that was conscious.

Powerful rumors surround a movie like Downton Abbey: A New Era during its production cycle, because of how anticipated the next chapter’s developments happen to be. This time out, the subject of great interest happened to be speculation that an “iconic character” was going to die in Downton Abbey 2. Immediately that whisper seemed to point out that Dame Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, was going to be the one saying goodbye. 

The ending of 2019’s Downton Abbey movie practically sets this up, as Violet revealed to Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) that she was terminally ill, with no specific timetable as to how long she had left. Trailers for A New Era fueled that speculation, but the surprise involving Cora's illness not only draws attention from that assumption, it also strikes a crucial chord.

Throughout the latest Downton story, we see Cora going for medical tests that recall the Dowager Countess' recent developments all too well. Frequently seen as tired and not feeling well, McGovern's iconic Downton Abbey characters eventually arrives at one of the hardest-hitting moments in the sequel. Upon learning of Cora’s medical concerns, husband Robert (Hugh Bonneville) has a moment where he breaks down into tears during a party at the French villa they had travelled to together.  

Paying homage to their sometimes-complicated-but-always-loving marriage, it's also a moment that calls back to certain developments mentioned throughout the series' history. Eventually, all turns out to be well, as resident physician Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) reveals that Cora is suffering from the very treatable pernicious anemia. Strangely enough, this wasn’t the first diagnosis of this particular condition, as Downton Abbey’s series finale initially saw Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) given that same news. 

Certain characters in the firmament of this fan-favorite series will always be standouts. Much as Julian Fellowes knew Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess was always a huge win for the series, strengthening the relationship of Downton's beautiful pair continues to pay off for the fans. 

As always Downton Abbey 3 isn’t a sure thing, but should there be another return to the lives of the ever-growing Crawley family, the foundation continues to provide ample opportunities. All that has to happen is for the fans to embrace A New Era, and that day could come sooner than later. 

Downton Abbey: A New Era is currently in theaters, ready to soak up the tears and the laughter of its eager audience. Whether you’re heading out to the movies or have already seen Julian Fellowes’ latest, you can still revisit the stories that came before. Peacock Plus subscribers can access the entire series, as well as Downton Abbey: The Motion Picture, at the time of this writing.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.