The Sweet Conversation Hugh Bonneville Had With Maggie Smith After She Shot Her Final Downton Abbey Scene

The ending of Downton Abbey: A New Era is a bittersweet affair, as the Crawley family has finally bid farewell to the Dowager Countess. Played by Dame Maggie Smith since the beginning of writer/creator Julian Fellowes’ iconic franchise, the character’s passing was heavily rumored during A New Era’s production, and eventually confirmed in a bittersweet finale. Now all of the stories can be told, especially a recent tale that co-star Hugh Bonneville shared about his own sendoff with Dame Maggie after she shot her final scene.

Speaking with THR, the actor known for playing Maggie Smith’s on-screen son, Robert Crawley, admitted to three separate days of celebration on the Downton Abbey 2 set. Potentially the most important, and certainly the sweetest, came after Maggie Smith filmed Violet Crawley’s death for the film’s third act. Hugh Bonneville recounted that moment as such with this adorable recollection:

I think there were three sets of Champagne. But after the death scene, which was my last scene with Maggie, we went and had a glass in her dressing room. And I was able to reflect on the fact she’d been my mum, on and off, for 12 years, and that was quite remarkable, especially to have a legendary actress like that involved in our show.

It’s almost hard to believe that this September will mark the 12th anniversary of Downton Abbey first hitting ITV’s airwaves, introducing the world to a runaway hit that still endures to this day. With Peacock Premium subscribers currently able to enjoy the full berth of Julian Fellowes’ societal drama franchise, that journey will certainly feel like a much shorter trip. The journey, of course, came with a series of opinions on when Violet Crawley should have passed in the grand scheme of things. 

Naturally, Fellowes engaged in his own method and madness when it came to whenever a character had to take their final bow. Ultimately, after setting up Violet’s terminal illness at the end of 2019’s Downton Abbey: The Motion Picture, the creator felt that it was time for the day had all dreaded to finally arrive. 

Of course, this TV and movie history might not have been possible if it weren’t for Dame Maggie Smith herself. When promoting Downton Abbey: A New Era, Julian Fellowes admitted Smith’s casting was key to pulling everything together. As a distinguished actor of stage and screen, landing Smith as the Dowager Countess was quite the coup for the impressive roster. But as you’ll see in Hugh Bonneville’s further reflections, even he wasn’t sure that Maggie Smith would say yes: 

I can remember when I was first offered this show by (executive producer) Gareth Neame, it was before anyone was cast, and I said, “who are you talking to for the mother,” and he said Maggie Smith, and I said, “well, good luck with that, because that’s not going to happen.” And the rest is history.

Indeed, Dame Maggie Smith’s part of Downton Abbey history is one of those ingredients that really brought everything together brilliantly. Always acid-tongued, but firmly holding to her own code, Violet Crawley could cut you down or warm your heart in equal measure. The character’s wit and wisdom will be missed, but as Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary Talbot takes over the reins of the Downton estate, we will see exactly what she’s learned from her beloved grandmother. 

Rest assured, no matter what happens, Hugh Bonneville’s Robert has already been shown to be immensely proud of his daughter. You can see as much when you watch Downton Abbey: A New Era, which is currently streaming on the Peacock Premium library. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.