Penelope Wilton: I’m not sad about the end of Downton Abbey

Wilton discussed the ITV period drama shortly after winning best actress at the Olivier awards

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The news that Downton Abbey is ending after the sixth series has left many fans of period costumes, indignant butlers and arched eyebrows feeling bereft – but one member of the ITV drama’s cast isn’t quite so sad to see the series end.

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“I’m not upset about it,” Penelope Wilton said backstage at the Olivier awards shortly after winning best actress for her role in Mark Hayhurst’s Nazi Germany-set play Taken At Midnight. “When something has run its course, it’s good to end on a high note.”

The actress – who plays Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey – added: “And we have to move on from 1926, and if we moved on much further I’d be dead.”

It sounds like we won’t see cousin Isobel in any 1970s-set Downton spin-offs, then – though Wilton wouldn’t rule herself out of Julian Fellowes’ next series The Gilded Age, which will be set in late 19th century New York. Fellowes has said he would consider casting Downton Abbey actors in new roles in the NBC drama.

“Well, we’ll have to see,” she told RadioTimes.com. “You can’t second-guess Julian.”

Wilton was up against fellow stage veterans Gillian Anderson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Imelda Staunton for her best actress Olivier – which is unusual at the annual theatre awards. 

“I hadn’t really taken [it] onboard, because I suppose they are all over 40, and I’m certainly the eldest,” Wilton said.

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“That doesn’t often happen, but it’s happened this year – and I’m thrilled, because you spend your life practising, and you get better as you get older – you hone your craft more. And then to find there’s nothing for you having honed your craft to do…is rather sad. So it’s very good that there are those parts.”