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Downton Abbey movie: a timeline of every hint and plot rumour ahead of its 2019 release

The Downton Abbey movie: a timeline of every hint and plot rumour ahead of it's 2019 release date
Maggie Smith, who may or may not appear in the potentially fictitious Downton Abbey movie, as the Countess of Grantham Credit: Nick Briggs/ITV

When it comes to a year in the news, there are at least a few absolutes. Young women will be photographed jumping into the air on A-level results day. A mystifying new fad among young people will be revealed to have killed someone. And there will inevitably be at least eight or nine stories teasing a possible Downton Abbey movie.

But, after six-and-a-half long years of elaborate, deliberately endless rumours perpetrated by creator Julian Fellowes and the legion of ageing British thespians in his Rolodex, the rumours stopped: Downton Abbey: The Movie was finally happening

The film will be released on 13 September 2019 and will follow the Crawley family as they prepare for the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary. Carson's retirement gets interrupted and Lady Mary Crawley dabbles with the notion of leaving the estate. Violet looks furious about everything. 

The film's release is imminent but it's important not to forget the various utterances of “it’ll definitely happen soon”, which, for a while, made us believe we were part of a long, Black Mirror-esque subliminal brainwashing scheme inflicted on an unsuspecting British public. Here's a timeline of every past hint of a Downton movie, to try and answer once and for all whether the endless coverage was in actual fact completely pointless (spoiler: it was).

January 2012: The talks begin...

The cast of Downton Abbey in the series six finale Credit: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films

It is believed that the first Downton movie rumours began in 2012, with The Sun reporting that the show had become such a hit in Hollywood circles (taking home the Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Award at the 2012 Golden Globes) that Fellowes was mulling bringing the show to the big screen.

“Julian was chatting with various film directors and movie executives about the show and the possibility it would make a fantastic feature film,” a source said. “Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep were also seen chatting and congratulating him. They were all chatting about how much of a success the film version would be. Julian was explaining he would have to give the idea a lot of thought and that lots of people have already asked him about film rights.”

Oh what Hollywood hath wrought...

January 2013: There’s been some wavering

A year later, Digital Spy hounded Fellowes on the red carpet of the National Television Awards with questions about a possible movie. He said: “For me, and I’m not the key decision maker in this department… it would be difficult to tell the story in more than one medium. And I would rather [delay] the movie, rather like Sex and the City… until the end of the series.” He added such a project would be “quite fun”, however.

December 2014: Talks are allegedly still happening

While movie rumours stayed quiet during 2014, they reignited in December, with actress Raquel Cassidy (aka housemaid Phyllis Baxter) telling The Mirror that a movie was imminent: “There have been talks and there is definitely a possibility of a Downton film. There is real hope. It’s been mentioned more than once and there’s a lot of commercial and artistic interest.”

She continued: “Stranger things have happened, so watch this space.” Three years later, we’re still watching.

March 2015: No wait, it’s actually happening!

Series creator Julian Fellowes, a frequent purveyor of Downton movie frustration Credit: Rii Schroer

Staying consistent, rumours of Downton: The Movie didn’t kick into overdrive until it was announced that the series itself was being brought to a close. Almost immediately it was suggested that a film version was imminent.

“I can confirm that there have been rumours that there might be a Downton movie,” said producer Gareth Neame, unhelpfully, during a March 2015 press conference. “Our position on that is that we would be very interested. It is definitely something that we’re contemplating.

“It would be great fun to do. I think it would be a wonderful extension of everything people love about the TV show. But I can’t confirm that it's definitely going to happen. It would take a lot of planning and thinking about. We shall see.”

Fellowes went one step further, telling The Mail on Sunday that he had been busy thinking about possible storylines for the film.

“I think I have got a few ideas,” he said. “I think it’s very possible and it would be fun for us to do. I certainly have no objections because the film would be another adventure. My own feeling would be that a film now would need to include the characters from the series as they were in the series.”

October 2015: Maggie Smith is... out!

Such ideas weren’t enough to lure in Maggie Smith, however, who broke hearts by revealing on The Graham Norton Show in October that she wouldn’t be in a possible movie as her character, the Dowager Countess, would be too old.

“By the time we finished, she must have been about 110,” Smith joked. “It couldn’t go on and on, it just didn’t make sense.”

January 2016: There’s a 64.5% chance it’ll happen!

Fellowes kicked off 2016 with an incredibly annoying quote in which he shared his thoughts on the likelihood of a movie: “I’m up for it! The percentage chance [of it happening] is about 64.5,” he told Digital Spy.

“I’m completely up for a movie. I’d love to do a movie. It would be very, very good fun,” he continued, but contested: “There’s all sorts of things that have to be settled – not least of which is the decision of when we’d make it.”

March 2016: It will happen… eventually

Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle in Downton Abbey Credit: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films

Despite Fellowes’s wavering, The Mirror reported in March of 2016 that Mr Bates actor Brendan Coyle had officially joined the cast of the movie, while claiming that the Dowager Countess had been written out of a proposed script at Smith’s request.

A source went on to suggest that the film would go into production at the end of 2017 (hmm), adding: “There is a timeline in place – even though everyone is staying quiet about it for now. The film should be ready in time for Christmas 2018. The script outlines are broadly in place. All the stars of the show have verbally committed to the film, which will be shot in the UK.”

Elsewhere, actor Tom Cullen suggested in an interview with E! Online that the cast and crew may “want a little time before they jump back in” to Downton, but did add: “If they really want to do that, they should definitely do that. I think people would be up for it, people would watch it. And I think it would be a very nice way to finish it off.”

April 2016: People have heard it’s happening

April saw actress Lesley Nicol (who played Mrs Patmore) claiming at an Emmys event that she had heard whispers from a fellow Downton star.

“What I heard from Phyllis Logan [Mrs. Hughes] was that maybe [Fellowes] was possibly writing a script, which is what we need to happen to go on with the conversation,” Nicol said.

Actor Allen Leech (who played Tom Branson) added: “The last I heard there were possible negotiations with Julian.”

Speaking to the New York Daily News, Fellowes refused to elaborate further, only confirming his own interest (““I am certainly on board if there is one. I think it is likely it will happen at some point.”)

May 2016: It might not happen

Fellowes discussed the end of the series with IndieWire over a pot of tea, while adding that he had hopes for a film: “There is an audience for a film. I’d structure a narrative with lots of things happening, but we would need a kind of unity to make a feature, which is a challenge for me. It would be a bigger canvas: a riot could be a real riot, the ball a real ball. I would like that, I think it would be fun. But there’s a time and then everyone’s moved on.”

June 2016: It still might not happen

While Isobel Crawley actress Penelope Wilton told the Radio Times that she would “definitely” sign on to a Downton movie, Fellowes suggested to NBC News that the delay in filming was down to the schedules of the show’s large cast.

“I hope there’ll be a film, I don’t want to be mysterious. I mean, I completely support the idea of a film. But, of course, logistically, it’s quite complicated,” he said.

“The thing about Downton is we have a lot of running characters and we really do need them for the movie so you can imagine at the end of the show they all shot off into shows on Broadway, series in LA, things on television and they somehow have to gradually be coaxed back into the fold.”  

August 2016: A script allegedly exists

In what would quickly become a Downton alumni tradition, actress Joanne Froggatt was asked by CNN whether a movie was happening. She, like many before her and countless after, offered only the slimmest hint that something was in the works.

“I think there’s every chance we may do a movie at some point,” she said. “We don’t know for sure yet. But there’s definitely lots of talk about it. No one’s seen it yet, but I think there is some sort of script from what I can tell -- or ideas or something.” Not helpful, Joanne.

That same month, Michelle Dockery was also asked about a movie by The Telegraph, but didn’t appear quite as into it as Dockery.

“I think there is potential for a film,” she said. “That is something I would wholeheartedly consider, so we will see. It may not be over yet.”

September 2016: Maggie Smith is… in!

Just 11 months after telling Graham Norton that she had no interest in a Downton movie, Maggie Smith was reported to have changed her mind in September 2016, when actor Michael Fox (who played valet Andy Parker on the show) told the Daily Mail that Smith’s newfound involvement in the project meant the film was a go.

“The film without her would still be good with all the other actors,” he said, “but it puts a stamp of quality with her in it.”

Fellowes also repeated his usual routine by telling Good Morning Britain that same month that he would “love” a Downton movie: “As far as I am concerned, I am completely up for it. Most of the cast are up for it.”

October 2016: It could still happen

Michelle Dockery and Laura Carmichael in Downton Abbey Credit: Nick Briggs

Froggatt resurfaced in October and said during an interview with This Morning that she was eager and willing to film a Downton movie.

“We’ve all heard this rumour that the script has been written,” she said. “There’s a hard copy somewhere but none of us have seen it or know what’s in it. So we’ll all keep our fingers crossed that it all comes together. We’re all willing it to happen. I’d absolutely jump at the chance to star in it if I’m asked. I’ll squeeze it in.”

November 2016: It’s happening!

In another spectacular non-story, the Newcastle-based Chronicle newspaper reported that Downton producers were scouting Alnwick Castle in Northumberland for the film, which they claimed would start filming in January 2017 (hmm). The location was previously used on the series for scenes that took place at the fictional Brancaster Castle.

Downton PR representatives declined to comment on the story at the time.

November 2016: It may happen within two years

Meanwhile, Michelle Dockery told ABC News that there “may” be a Downton movie, with the biggest roadblock being how difficult it is to reunite the cast.

“There’s a lot of actors who are all doing other things. So it’s just a question of timing,” she said. “And I’m positive that it will happen, you know, within the next two years or something.”

January 2017: ‘We’ve been asked to clear our diaries’

Despite Dockery’s ambivalent stance, Mr Carson actor Jim Carter kicked off 2017 with claims that the Downton cast had been asked to clear their schedules for imminent filming.

"We've been asked to keep ourselves available at dates in the future,” he told Good Morning Britain. “There’s a place in the West Country called Julian Fellowes’ head and it’s in there somewhere. I’m sure it will emerge.”

April 2017: Actually, it shouldn’t happen at all

Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey Credit: Nick Briggs

Ever honest, Maggie Smith waded through the hyperbole by confessing that she didn’t even think a Downton movie would be necessary, and that if anything it screams “cash grab.”

Speaking at the BFI and Radio Times TV Festival, Smith said: “I just think it’s squeezing it dry, do you know what I mean? I don’t know what it could possibly be. It was so meandering, what would you – ? Anyway that’s not my problem. That’s the Lord’s [Julian Fellowes’] problem.”

The Dame has spoken.

May 2017: It’ll never happen

In a radical change in stance for most members of the Downton cast, hopes of a movie appeared to be further dashed in May of last year when Hugh Bonneville (otherwise known as the Earl of Grantham) said during a Chelsea Flower Show appearance that such a film would likely never happen.

“There is no script that I have read, or any deal in place, for a Downton movie, so I think it is hugely unlikely,” he said. “But of course I would love to do it, I think everybody would.”

June 2017:  No wait, it’ll happen... but with Jeremy Corbyn!

In a strange interview with The Mirror, Fellowes claimed that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would be a “natural” fit for the Downton movie, saying: “We will have to see what we can arrange. I think Jeremy Corbyn proved to be much, much better than his opponent in the election but better than anyone expected. He tapped into this youth market very successfully and that is very powerful.”

We don’t understand any of this either.

June 2017: It’s actually happening!

Samantha Bond, Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville in Downton Abbey Credit: Nick Briggs

Despite recent wavering, NBC Universal President Michael Edelstein appeared to confirm that the Downton movie would be shot in 2018.

“There’s a movie in the works. It’s been in the works for some time,” he said. “We are working on getting the script right and then we’ve got to figure out how to get the [cast] together. Because as you know, people go on and do other things. But we’re hopeful to make a movie sometime next year.”

June 2017: Actually it may happen, and may be a prequel

Now acting as if the movie is a done deal, Fellowes said at a China Exchange event that he was mulling making the film a prequel, with younger stars replacing the beloved TV series cast, who would appear in smaller roles. But he did suggest that there may still be difficulties in getting the old cast back together, as he has previously repeatedly stated.

“I hope there will be a film. It will be sad if we don’t do one,” he said. “Most films are a punt and we have a solid audience waiting for it. The difficulty is rounding up the actors who have now gone off to the four corners of the earth, in Hollywood, on Broadway, doing plays, doing series and so on.”

So… no actual new information, then?

October 2017: A big announcement is coming!

Could it really be? When Downton Abbey’s official social media pages began teasing a “big announcement” in October, fans and media outlets immediately speculated that after years of teasing a movie may finally be about to be confirmed...

October 2017: Oh, it’s completely uninteresting

...But then it turned out to be a hilarious non-event, with the announcement being that New York will soon play host to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, which shines a spotlight on the show’s various costumes and props. New York fans were overjoyed, while everyone else shrugged.

December 2017: It’s happening!

As we all bashed our heads against a wall, the Daily Express reported that Highclere Castle, the location used for exterior and interior shots of Downton Abbey, was being closed for visitors between May 30 and July 7, suggesting an official filming date for the movie.

But an unnamed source appeared to indicate that the film’s producers have yet to actually sign some of the old Downton cast.

“For months some of the cast have been dancing around a return, which made this year a no go,” the source said. “But now they are pushing ahead. They have a few people locked in and others verbally agreed, so they are going for it now. Rounding up the actors has been tough with so many seeing their careers explode on both sides of the pond, but they are determined to work it all out.”

January 2018: ‘We’ve been asked to clear our diaries’ (again)

In a moment of deja vu for those following the saga of the Downton movie, another cast member kicked off a new year by telling a Sunday newspaper that the cast had been asked to “clear their diaries.”

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Phyllis Logan said: “Everyone’s been asked what’s going on between this date and that date. So we just hope that all the elements – because there are so many – come together. To have a last hurrah with all the characters, going back to the castle and seeing all the old muckers will be fantastic. I’m certainly up for it.”

Logan, if your brain hasn’t already leaked out of your nose and it can remember the beginning of this long timeline, was one of the first to whisper a movie was imminent back in early 2016, so it’ll be best to take this quote with a pinch of salt.

While we all wait with baited breath for an official confirmation, we’ll update this timeline with more vague and unhelpful quotes as they come in.

July 2018: Production is imminent!

The news we never thought would arrive finally did: Julian Fellowes and the original cast (really? Even Maggie Smith?) will roll into production any day now on a Downton Abbey film. There are barely any more details than that at this juncture – aside from an excitable tweet from Joanne Froggart – but Focus Films has made an official announcement, which means there's no backing down now.

September 2018: Release date announced

Get the calendar out: Downton Abbey will be released on 13 September, 2019.

April 2019: We get a trailer and a plot – and both involve Royals

The first trailer for the film debuts at CinemaCon, which offers insight into the plot, as well as hints of the expected antics between staff and landed gentry, fancy houses and light skirmish.

The year is 1927 and the Crawleys are getting by, poor souls, with fewer servants. But the reigning monarchs – King George V and Queen Mary – are due a visit and that necessitates serious butlery. Thus, Carson is dragged out of retirement to sort out the estate.  

It's not all fun and scones, though. The Depression lurks on the horizon, the estate still deals with the aftermath of War. Lady Mary Crawley fancies packing it all in for a new life. 

May 2019: The posters arrive

The official poster

At last, the first poster for the film has been delivered and it looks... much like Downton Abbey did before. Still, the fans are happy.