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Downton Abbey: A New Era's Creator Addresses Some Fans Thinking Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess Should Have Died On The Show

Dame Maggie Smith smiling in a sitting room in Downton Abbey: A New Era.
(Image credit: Focus Features/Carnival Films)

WARNING: spoilers for Downton Abbey: A New Era are in discussion. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to refrain from reading any further. 

One of the questions that’s accompanied the release of each Downton Abbey movie is whether or not Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess would be taking her final bow. With the end of 2019’s first motion picture giving Violet Crawley a terminal diagnosis, a ticking clock was set into motion for that eventual heartbreaking moment Peacock subscribers are probably still expecting. However, some fans think that Smith’s character should have died during the original six season run, and creator Julian Fellowes has addressed those feelings. 

Speaking with USA Today (opens in new tab) on behalf of Downton Abbey: A New Era’s recent release, Fellowes was asked about this notion expressed by fans of the ITV hit drama. Quite frankly, and with a nod towards the events that did transpire in this year’s cinematic sequel, he laid out his reasoning for waiting until the movies as follows: 

I don't think we ever did [consider it]. We didn't seem to have covered the sufficient number of years yet. Maggie comes across as a very strong character (in the show), so I didn't feel any reason for it before. But it did feel right this time.

Character death is a very serious matter for Julian Fellowes, as he previously explained how he wrote deaths into Downton Abbey’s TV run. Apparently, he and the rest of the team behind the hit series didn’t see it as prudent to kill the Dowager
Countess off during those storylines. Considering how much of a crown jewel Maggie Smith was in the Downton cast, that’s another factor that probably kept Violet Crawley alive and well for as long as she was.

Of course, the ending to Downton Abbey: A New Era changed that, with Violet passing peacefully at the Downton estate. Surrounded by friends and family, her final moments were bittersweet, and even included a hint of her usual comedic timing. Who else would tell their weeping maid, "Stop that noise at once! I can't hear myself die?" Further explaining why director Simon Curtis’ current theatrical entry into Downton canon was the time to send Violet Crawley to the great beyond, Julian Fellowes elaborated thusly: 

When we did the first movie, we didn't know there'd be a second one. Nevertheless, having laid the groundwork for it in the first film, we couldn't have shirked it in the second. Assuming Violet was 77 at the beginning (of the TV series), she's now in her 90s. And I think that's enough, really.

Though fans and creatives alike would probably want to keep inviting Maggie Smith back to star in Downton Abbey sequels, it appears her character has run her course. While Julian Fellowes is reluctant to make any definitive judgements on whether the Dowager Countess’ story is complete, it’s a fair assumption that Dame Smith will not be back for any further theatrical adventures. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Violet Crawley’s death will have meant something, and it gives him time to beef up classic characters once again, just in time for a potential Downton Abbey 3.

Just as you should never expect to get the last word with the Dowager Countess, much to the chagrin of A New Era castmate Penelope Wilton, don’t assume that anyone’s Downton story is truly over. With the possibility of flashbacks, or more likely prequels that could explore the Dowager Countess’ past, there’s so much more story that could be told.

Downton Abbey: A New Era continues to entertain audiences in theaters, with a potential streaming debut presumed for early July. Again, if you’re a Peacock subscriber, you should keep your subscription up to date. Not only will it be your ticket to seeing this sequel, but at the time of this writing the entire Downton dynasty exists on that platform. 

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