Rumours are rife that Downton Abbey’s days are numbered. The show’s creator Julian Fellowes is poised to begin a new project for American network NBC, the cast are reportedly looking for new jobs and this weekend saw what I consider to be the final nail in Downton’s mahogany coffin.
“I certainly can’t keep going,” said star Maggie Smith.
“They say this is the last one, and I can’t see how it could go on. I mean, I certainly can’t keep going. To my knowledge, [Violet] must be 110 by now,” the 80-year-old actress old The Sunday Times.
Her spokesperson has since said “she’ll be with the show for as long as the show runs”, and it’s a good job too. I don’t want to be defeatist (it is, after all, very middle class) but if Maggie Smith were poised to leave the Abbey, Downton may as well close its doors right now.
You would think NBC Universal would like to try to find a way to bring in new writers when Fellowes goes off to make The Gilded Age later this year – as the show’s creator said himself, “I don’t own Downton Abbey now” – but if there is any truth in Smith’s statement, and series six is set to be Violet’s last, there would be no point in the Crawleys keeping calm or attempting to carry on without her.
Smith’s devilish character Violet, the Dowager Countess, is easily the best thing about the whole upper-class drama.
The Grantham matriarch is witty, pithy and cutting, reeling off quotable one-liners with effortless ease. She’s the light hearted relief, the truth-teller and the one who makes you giggle, but she’s also the character who’s sprung tears from our eyes, with her softer-side and her sage advice.
While Robert is infuriating, Cora simpers and Daisy complains, Violet tells it like it is. Sure, we admire Lady Mary’s poise, root for Anna and Bates and feel for former chauffeur Branson, but Violet is really the reason we tune in.
It’s obvious why NBC Universal (owner of the production company Carnival Films) must feel apprehensive about finally and publicly calling time on the hit period drama. It pulls in huge numbers of viewers in the US and is sold to countless countries around the globe. If the British appetite for Crawleys’ upper class strife has waned slightly – series five premiered to the lowest ratings since 2010 – it certainly hasn’t across the pond.
The show could continue for years to come and viewers around the world would probably still tune in, even if the quality dropped and the plot lines become more ludicrous, or increasingly repetitive. But take Maggie Smith out of the award-winning equation and we would be forever bereft.
Not only would the Oscar-winner’s departure seriously damage the show’s star power, but, however hard the drama tried to distract us with scheming footmen, catty luncheons, muddy pig pens and premarital sex, Downton couldn’t ever fill the Violet Crawley shaped hole that would remain.
I would rather no Downton at all than a Downton without Maggie.
Downton Abbey returns to ITV later this year