Everything to remember before you watch Downton Abbey: A New Era

·6 min read

Ah, Downton Abbey: big houses, beautiful clothing, and a slew of problems, large and small, that can be comfortably resolved in an hour or two.

At this point, the Julian Fellowes property, which now spans six TV seasons and two feature films (the second hits theaters May 20), is as cozy and inviting as a perfect cuppa. But in case you've been lulled into tranquility by the Dowager's witticisms, and forgotten a few things since we last saw the Crawley family on screen in 2019, we're here to help.

Downton Abbey: A New Era has the Crawleys and their servants making a jaunt to France, as well as transforming Downton into a soundstage for a film production (so meta, we know). Before putting on your best hat and heading to your nearest theater, here's everything you need to remember:

Downton Abbey A New Era
Downton Abbey A New Era

Focus Features From left, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, and Hugh Bonneville in "Downton Abbey: A New Era."

Lady Mary is the de facto head of the family now

Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) has always been a force of nature in the Crawley family, leaving no doubt that Downton would be good hands with or without a male heir.

But at the conclusion of 2019's Downton Abbey, Lady Mary was essentially granted control of Downton's legacy by her grandmother, Violet (Maggie Smith). Technically, Mary's father, Robert (Hugh Bonneville) is still Lord Grantham and the head of the household, but Mary and Tom (Allen Leech) took over the running of the estate by the end of the TV series. Now, with the Dowager's blessing, Mary is poised to have an even larger role in the affairs of Downton.

Violet is terminally ill

Part of why Violet had that heart-to-heart with Lady Mary was because of a recent medical diagnosis: The 2019 film revealed that the beloved Dowager, who basically re-invented witty invective, is perhaps not long for this world.

After visiting a doctor in London, Violet was told she might not have long to live. But as all the trailers for Downton Abbey: A New Era have indicated, she's still here for now — and inheriting villas in the south of France from former lovers.


Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

Tom and Lucy's romance

Tom, sometimes still affectionately known as Branson from his days downstairs, has had a rough go of it. First, he conducted an illicit romance with his employer's daughter, Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay). Then, once they finally got the Crawley family to accept their relationship, Sybil died as a result of complications from childbirth, leaving Tom and his new baby girl, Sybbie, alone in a house he never much felt at home in.

Over the years, he became an essential part of the Crawley family, but we all wondered if he'd ever overcome the loss of Sybil. The 2019 film finally gave him some romantic happiness, introducing him to Lucy (Tuppence Middleton), the lady's maid — and secret love child — of Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton). Tom and Lucy connect over the feeling of being outsiders in the world of wealth they find themselves in, and by the end of the movie, they were dancing on a terrace while Violet schemed to keep Maud's inheritance (which she was bequeathing to Lucy as her secret daughter) in the family. Can wedding bells be far off?

Henry Talbot remains AWOL

Due to Matthew Goode's shooting schedule and other obligations, we didn't see all that much of Mary's husband — race-car driver and adrenaline aficionado Henry Talbot — in the first film. He returned from his busy life just in time to his escort his wife to the royal ball. As you might have guessed from his general absence in the trailers, he's going to be missing in action from his wife's life yet again.

Edith's maternal side

The children of Edith (Laura Carmichael) have always been a source of drama on the show. First there was Marigold, her love child by Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), whom she had to pretend to adopt. Luckily, Bertie (Henry Hadden-Paton) was very understanding of Edith's situation once the truth was out.

But in the first film, Edith once again faced relationship woes, learning she was pregnant just as Bertie was being obliged to join the Prince of Wales on a three-month tour of Africa. Luckily, Bertie decided to back out to be with Edith and their future child — and with the intervention of Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and the Queen, the King accepted this decision. Downton Abbey: A New Era moves the action forward by a few years, so their child should be a toddler by now.

Thomas continues to be sad

Does Downton have another character quite so tortured as evil footman turned loyal butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier)? We're hard-pressed to name one. Barrow ended the TV series in triumph, being officially named the butler of Downton after Carson (Jim Carter) was forced into early retirement due to a palsy in his hands.

The film, however, gave Thomas the short-end of the stick, demoting him from his position and recruiting Carson back to the house out of fears that Barrow wasn't equipped to wait on the King and Queen of England. Thomas used his new free-time to bond with Richard Ellis (Max Brown), the King's valet, who also happened to be a closeted gay man. But that didn't end well for Thomas either, as a visit to York and an evening in an underground gay nightclub resulted in his arrest.

Luckily, Ellis was able to pull some strings to get him released (and even give him a kiss). But what kind of future does Thomas have serving an aristocratic family in a country that considers his existence illegal?

All the rest

Other things to remember from Downton Abbey include:

  • Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) are still happily married.

  • Daisy (Sophie McShera) is employed as assistant cook under Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and married to footman Andy (Michael C. Fox), though they both live with Mr. Mason (Paul Copley), the father of Daisy's first husband, William (Thomas Howes).

  • Carson and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) are married and have a cottage of their own. Carson is retired, but he can't help himself when it comes to serving the Crawleys.

  • Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) have a child and are comfortable in their positions in the Crawley household.

  • Edith used to be the editor of a lady's magazine, but she largely abandoned her post to marry Bertie and become Marchioness of Hexham.

  • Violet was something of a minx in her day, having once had an extra-marital affair with Prince Igor Kuragin (Rade Sherbedgia) at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg in 1874. (They even attempted to elope!) And now another former lover has given her a villa. Damn, Violet.

  • Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) is now the village schoolteacher, but like Carson, he can't seem to stay out of his servant's uniform or away from Downton.

  • Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) is sweet on Mr. Molesley, but he seems to be oblivious to it.

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