You might find it hard to believe, but Downton Abbey has quietly become a runaway hit since it opened in theaters a little over a week ago. With consistently impressive numbers and a relatively small production budget, there’s a chance this film could be making a case for at least one sequel, if not a franchise of films helping to wrap the story of writer/creator Julian Fellowes’ Crawley family. As it happens, the way this first film has performed, along with how it ends, both confirm the notion that a sequel would be a fantastic idea.
While the numbers seem to speak for themselves, it’s really down to whether or not the creative team could see themselves coming back for another Downton Abbey adventure. Obviously, there are a lot of pieces that need to fall into place for any sort of follow-up to take place, but we do have some ideas regarding where and why things could move forward in the future.
A good place to start is whether or not there’s a concrete plan in play for Downton Abbey to move forward in sequels. Unfortunately, according to director Michael Engler, the answers is a resounding no. That's not to say there isn't hope however. Let's talk it out.
There Aren’t Plans For A Downton Abbey Movie Sequel... Yet
Reviving a six-season television series like Downton Abbey for one more big screen adventure almost felt like a way to really wrap things up. Whether it’s because of Julian Fellowes needing a specific amount of inspiration to get the first film off the ground, or if everyone involved was being optimistically cautious about whether or not the cinematic event would be a hit, there were no conscious plans to leave the doors open for a sequel movie.
However, that’s not to say that there couldn’t be a sequel, as Julian Fellowes tends to like his stories to close off chapters in time with paths to the future. Michael Engler understands that fact as well as anyone, as he displayed when I spoke with him, on behalf of CinemaBlend, for the Downton Abbey press day. His assessment of the situation was the following:
There’s no plans. I think there’s openness. I think Julian feels like… he says he’s surprised there was a first film. Like, he never thought there would be. And he said when he wrote the end of the series, he thought, ‘Ok, well that’s good’ and ‘Well done’. He never thought there was going to be one, even though there was talk, and then it turned out there was. And he said now, before it’s even opened, people are asking, ‘Is there going to be a sequel?’ The beauty of it is that it’s just a world, it’s a world of people. Like all of us, our stories just keep evolving. Our lives keep changing as we get to different places in our lives. We get married, and have children, get new jobs, and have trouble with the family business. Really and he like writing these characters, he really likes them all. I think in that sense, there’s always the possibility, because it never really does end. There’s just a chapter ending, or a particular story ending.
There may not be exact plans to make a Downton Abbey sequel, but there’s certainly a lot of room for such a possibility to happen. And with that Fellowes openness in the air, there’s no telling what could be headed down the road for our beloved characters. Uncertainty is the word of the day, and even without any specific odds, it was a possibility I needed to discuss with the members of the cast I got to speak with.
What’s The Next Big Adventure For The Crawley Household?
Elizabeth McGovern’s Lady Cora Crawley, (Hugh Bonneville, who plays her husband Lord Robert Crawley, and the rest of their family have just experienced a royal visit, as well as some familial intrigue over an inheritance that revealed a family secret. So naturally, it’s been another day at Downton Abbey, as half of that particular formula is par for the course.
After now having been host to King George V and Queen Mary, where could the Crawley’s next big adventure lie? I asked Ms. McGovern myself, and while she didn't get into specifics, she had these exciting and insightful thoughts to provide about the future for the Crawley household:
You know, I’m stumped. The Crawley household has been through so many things over the years that I’m at a complete loss at the moment. We’ll see. The truth is, it’s always being suggested that their way of life is coming to its natural end. So whatever we would do, looking into the future, we’d have to kind of take that onboard, I think. The disintegration of the life, which is what people love about Downton Abbey. So I’m not quite sure how that would be handled. I guess the answer is, ‘Beats me.’
Truly, the running thread through the entirety of Downton Abbey has been the uncertainty of the future, with society’s march forward being the only constant. One of the people who embodied that sentiment best is Allen Leech’s irrepressibly loyal Tom Branson, whose fate has also been touched by the openness that this film leaves in the wake of its ending.
Could Tom Branson Have Finally Found Love Again?
With Allen Leech’s Tom Branson and Tuppence Middleton's Lucy Smith finding themselves potentially entangled in romance, as well as a particular estate that the Crawley family may want to lay claim on, a new chapter looks to be starting in the life of the former chauffeur-turned-member of the Crawley family.
Jullian Fellowes’ tendency for open-but-satisfying endings has Tom in a particularly beautiful place, especially when you read how Leech himself interprets where Downton Abbey leaves his character. When I asked him for his own thoughts about potential sequel paths that Branson could take, his feelings were as follows:
Well, I think the way Julian [Fellowes] leaves it open at the end, with potential for love and if that relationship was to work out, again suddenly Tom would become a victim of circumstance like he always has been. Throughout the show, he’s someone has found himself to these scenarios very often, without trying to instigate them in the first place. So I think it would be really fascinating if suddenly Tom Branson, socialist revolutionary chauffeur, ends up running his own estate. He would actually become the lord of the manor, if that was the case.
Of course, with Lucy and Tom sharing their big torchlight dance towards the end of Downton Abbey, it looks like the pair have provided Julian Fellowes with a particularly intriguing path for future films to walk down. For the first time since Branson’s would-be romance with school teacher Sarah Bunting, it looks he may have a new love to pursue after all. Leech’s thoughts continued:
I think he is in love with [Lucy]. I love the idea that if this is the end, and there’s nothing else in the future, and that’s certainly how I approached this movie when we made it, I happily saw Tom with Lucy Smith. Because other than he’s a victim of circumstance, and so is she. Lucy never asked for this life, she was born into this existence and in this world she’s been hidden from view. But ultimately, she is the rightful heir to a whole estate and a title, and just like Tom it’s not something that either of them ever asked for. To find each other, it makes perfect sense, that Tom could find love with her. There’s an understanding there, and the trepidation and naivety to the two of them going forward. I really love that for him, if this is the end, I love to think that is their story. I think it’s symbolizes the fact that when the ballroom scene is happening, they’re dancing too, but they’re completely separate, in a way that I think symbolizes their ideologies about what the future holds as well.
With the world that the Crawleys live and operate within slowly changing into something entirely different, new leadership is obviously going to be required. As Tom Branson and Lucy Smith represent a pair of insiders invited by fate to shake things up with the status quo, their romance could be the key to how the world of Downton Abbey progresses in an easy, but also radically different manner that will create both excitement and turmoil.
Which ultimately brings us to one last point, circling things back to director Michael Engler’s thoughts on the future of the series.
How Downton Abbey Could Continue Into The Future
In the same conversation that saw myself and Michael Engler discussing the potential for Downton Abbey sequels, the subject of where a sequel could go was also raised for discussion. Which led the film’s director to provide a quite poignant answer when it came to the future of the Crawley family saga.
As it turns out, even if the Crawleys are no longer the center of the Downton universe, Michael Engler doesn’t see a problem continuing the series with fresh blood taking the manor to new corners of history. His explanation why was pretty solid too:
That’s the beauty of it, and I think it’s interesting, because you know in the way some novelists write a kind of serials, and each one might be its own thing with the same similar characters, whether it’s a detective novel or whatever. I think it could be interesting if Downton turns into something like that, where it’s a world that is full of these people, but the story keeps changing.
Downton Abbey might have a descendant of the Crawley family in its residence for the next century, just as Mr. Carson predicted toward the end of the film. But if it doesn’t happen to shake out that way, it’s not the end of the world. Rather, the manor would go on, no matter who is in charge of its maintenance.
Though let’s face it, should Julian Fellowes decide to keep Downton Abbey going on the big screen, it’s probably a good bet that the family that’s had it throughout the length of the series would probably maintain their grasp on the family land for as long as they can, in hypothetical sequels to come. Lest the Dowager Countess’s eventual ghost haunt whomever tries to take her family’s birthright from their kind and caring hands.