Downton Abbey just finished out its run a short while ago (longer if you live in the UK), and the storyline wrapped up in a way that was fitting for the majority of the characters on the long-running drama. However, earlier in the show’s run, showrunner Julian Fellowes apparently had a lot of ideas that didn’t end up panning out in the way he expected when he was first writing the series. In a recent interview, Allen Leech revealed that Matthew Crawley was initially expected to marry a very different member of the Crawley family: Lady Sybil. Here’s what he had to say:
I never knew what was going to happen. There was a bible—a Downton Abbey bible—of what was gonna happen for the three series. I remember, we got hold of it in the first series. And nothing that was in that bible ended up happening on the show. I think Matthew Crawley was supposed to end up with Sybil by the end.
Well, that’s a huge bombshell. Downton Abbey’s earlier seasons heavily focused on a romance between Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley. They ended up marrying, which saved the estate and made for one epic wedding on the small screen. Lady Sybil, on the other hand, ended up falling for Allen Leech’s character, Tom Branson, causing a major scandal. That’s because Tom was actually the chauffeur for the family before he swooped in and asked for Sybil’s hand in marriage. It all worked out, and Tom was later able to take a big role in the workings of the estate, but not until some major drama happened and Lady Sybil died on the series (as did Matthew Crawley, but that's another story).
If you watched the episodes that actually made it to the small screen, the idea of Matthew and Sybil being a romantic fit sounds outlandish. Mary and Matthew had a romance for the ages, and there was something daring about Sybil running away from home to start a new life with Tom Branson. Downton Abbey's main theme across multiple seasons is that the times are a'changing, and both the outcomes of Lady Mary running Downton and Lady Sybil marrying a lower class man for love make that change extremely apparent.
Allen Leech also mentioned at the Deadline Contender Emmy panel that Julian Fellowes made a lot of changes to the script in the early days of Downton Abbey. At one point, Tom Branson was only signed on for three episodes of the series, and he later became a lead on the show. The narrative changed as the actors learned to play off of one another. It's no wonder that the show's bible also changed because of it.
Still, now it's going to be really difficult to burn the image of Matthew Crawley hitting on Lady Sybil--perhaps when she was even wearing those weird harem pants--out of my brain.
Downton Abbey may be over, but here's what TV--and PBS--has coming up.