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Downton Abbey: A New Era Ending Explained: How The Big Sequel Sets Up Downton’s Potential Future

Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, and Laura Carmichael drinking together at a party in Downton Abbey: A New Era.
(Image credit: Ben Blackall / Focus Features LLC)

Warning: spoilers for the Downton Abbey: A New Era ending are in play. The rules of polite company dictate we invite you to check out non-twist laden coverage at CinemaBlend, should you want to experience the film without anything being ruined.

The tides of change continue to sweep through Downton Abbey, as anyone with a Peacock Premium subscription would tell you. As the ending to A New Era made some bold moves and surprising revelations, the future hangs in an exciting balance of departures and arrivals. It seems that pretty much every corner of Julian Fellowes’ dramatic universe is touched by the events that transpired, and there are some exciting developments for the future. 

Which means it’s time to go deep into spoilers for the Downton Abbey: A New Era ending. If you want to learn more without anything being given away, you can head to our official review of A New Era. Otherwise, we’re going to start digging into the ending of the movie, and what exactly happened in the heartfelt conclusion to the latest chapter in the Crawley family legacy. 

Dame Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey: A New Era

(Image credit: Focus Features)

What Happened At The End Of Downton Abbey 2?

Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Downton (Dame Maggie Smith) naturally provides the keys to the future of the family estate. Thanks to her new inheritance of a villa in the south of France, there’s another bit of security locked into the Crawley's many holdings. What’s more, Downton survived the filming of The Gambler, the (formerly) silent picture that Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), his cast, and crew came to produce.

Just as Downton Abbey: A New Era seems set to joy bomb its audience with warm and fuzzy reveals, the moment we all feared finally arrived. Surviving long enough for one final goodbye with her loved ones, Violet passes away at Downton, surrounded by her family. While this wasn’t a surprise, as the end of Downton Abbey: The Motion Picture set up the Dowager Countess’ terminal illness, watching it all unfold was still devastating. In the aftermath of this heartbreaking loss, the future of Downton has some pretty specific paths it can progress down. 

Kevin Doyle directs Michelle Dockery in reading a script in Downton Abbey: A New Era.

(Image credit: Focus Features and Carnival)

Lady Mary Is Now The Lady Of Downton

As was acknowledged by Violet Crawley, as well as Robert, the 7th earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) is now the captain of the ship. With the knowledge her family has pushed to hand down to her for this eventuality, Mary is now the lady of Downton Abbey.

This may or may not sideline Lady Mary for future adventures, as running the family estate might prevent her from joining on the New York trip the cast pitched for Downton Abbey 3’s story. Even with the possibility of leaving the grounds in capable hands, Mary’s loyalty to her grandmother’s memory may hammer it into her head that the only person she really trusts to keep the ship running correctly is herself. 

Nathalie Baye in Downton Abbey: A New Era

(Image credit: Focus Features)

Who Will Eventually Inherit The Villa In The South Of France?

Despite the initial drama of Madame Montmirail (Nathalie Baye) contesting the Dowager Countess’s inheritance of the villa in question, the story of Downton Abbey 2 sees the will of the late Montmirail patriarch fulfilled. Which means that, as stipulated by the late Violet Crawley, her great-granddaughter, Sybbie Branson, will eventually inherit this property herself.

Sybbie, daughter of Thomas Branson (Allen Leech) and the late Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown Findlay), was the only great-grandchild without an estate of their own. Now that Violet has changed that, the next generation of Downton Abbey’s central family won’t have to squabble over who runs which part of the dynasty. At the same time, the distance might be ripe for time jumps that see future family reunions gathering on the Downton grounds as history progresses. 

The Downton Abbey: A New Era cast

(Image credit: Focus Features)

The Downton Household Staff Is About To Change

Not all of the changes in fortune have taken place upstairs, as Downton Abbey: A New Era sees loyal butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) departing from the post he had always aspired to throughout the original series run. After his previous romance from Downton Abbey: The Motion Picture had fallen apart, Barrow seemed to be unlucky in love. Out of the blue, that changed with the invitation of Guy Dexter (Dominic West) to become his live in boyfriend/butler, in a time when the world was much less accepting of queer romance.

This is the first of many changes that seem to be set up for the household staff in Downton Abbey, as quite a few romances set up such events. Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle) finally proposes to Phyllis Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), and even becomes a screenwriter, while Beryl Patmore (Lesley Nicol) may have finally found love with Albert Mason (Paul Copley). Retirements, changes of employment, and pure love look to shake up the roster of Downton’s professional staff; with an even greater change already defined. 

Jim Carter in Downton Abbey: A New Era

(Image credit: Focus Features)

Mr. Carson Is Downton Abbey’s Butler Once More…For Now

Without Thomas Barrow as the butler in charge of the staff that runs Downton, Lady Mary Talbot makes an important decision. Once again calling the ever dependable Charles Carson (Jim Carter) out of retirement, Mary hires him back to keep things running smoothly. The condition is that this hiring is only temporary, and for as long as Carson needs to train young Andy Parker (Michael C. Fox) to succeed him.

If you’re looking for who the next heartbreaking departure may come from in Downton Abbey 3 and beyond, Charles Carson is probably it. Already dealing with health issues that were introduced in Season 6, Carson first retired so Thomas could take over. Once Andy has the ropes of running the staff, you can bet Charlie will be back to his gardening, with beloved wife Elsie (Phyllis Logan) by his side. 

Elizabeth McGovern and Laura Carmichael lean on the railing of a ship in Downton Abbey: A New Era.

(Image credit: Focus Features LLC/Carnival)

Cora’s Health Scare Could Provide Future Complications

A huge curveball thrown in Downton Abbey: A New Era saw Crawley family matriarch Cora, the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), looking as if she was fatally ill herself. Thankfully, by the time the end of this plotline arrived, it was specified that “pernicious anemia” was the ailment plaguing her. As family physician/friend Dr. Richard Clarkson (David Robb) included with his diagnosis, it’s a very treatable condition. 

While writer/creator Julian Fellowes used this plot to beef up Downton Abbey’s cinematic sequel, it also feels like a convenient trap door. Just as Dame Maggie Smith’s final moments in the previous Downton film set up her eventual exit, Cora and Robert’s love story may have just found a contributing cause to its end. At the very least, it’s a reminder that mortality hits even the Crawley family; as if Season 3 didn’t already teach us that lesson in a way that former Downton star, Dan Stevens, was apologizing for several years after it happened. 

Michelle Dockery and Matthew Goode dance together finely dressed in Downton Abbey: The Movie.

(Image credit: Focus Features/Carnival)

Is Lady Mary’s Marriage On Borrowed Time?

Perhaps the greatest question in the post-Downton Abbey 2 future is that of the fate of Lady Mary Talbot’s marriage. In reality, star Matthew Goode was too busy being a part of The Offer cast on Paramount+ to reprise his role as husband Henry Talbot. That absence was made all the more glaring when director Jack Barber and Lady Mary came dangerously close to what looked like a politely illicit romance. 

Rebuffing the offer, but taking the compliment, Mary still had a moment that made her question whether Henry loves traveling more than his marriage. Though it seemed that their marriage put an end to his cavalier days of automotive adventure, it appears that there’s a chance Lady Mary Talbot could become divorced in the future. 

That’s only speculation based on what was seen in Downton Abbey: A New Era, though how many times can Lady Mary be sidelined by Henry’s lust for life before she puts her foot down? One can’t really tell at this moment, as the latest chapter in the Crawley family history is currently in theaters. Should Downton Abbey 3 happen, these questions and more just might find some answers, and let’s hope we have enough tissues this time. 

If you want to revisit the first Downton film, and all six seasons of Julian Fellowes' iconic creation, it's all streaming on Peacock Plus (opens in new tab) at the time of this writing.

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