Since it was announced earlier this year that Downton Abbey would bow out on Christmas Day, the question on all our lips was how the Crawleys would bid us a final farewell. Would the hit ITV period drama end with the National Trust taking over? Could the Crawleys leave their ancestral home, poor and impoverished? Might the drama jump forwards in time to an Abbey helmed by Master George? Would all the faces we know, love and endlessly quote even make it to the closing credits?
Now, I won’t give too much away. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise (and I’m a little bit worried about what would happen to me if I revealed the precious period drama secrets with which I’ve been trusted.) But I can say that Downton Abbey’s swansong is a satisfying ending for the show’s dedicated fans.
With the Finale, creator Julian Fellowes has done what needs to be done. Storylines are, for the most part, carefully concluded and where they’re not neatly tied up we can at least imagine what future might lie ahead.
The episode airs on prime-time telly during Christmas Day, but this final instalment isn’t wholly set during the festivities. We are reunited with the Crawleys rather soon after the events of the series 6 finale and it’s a decidedly un-Christmassy affair. The sun is shining down on the Abbey, the grass is green, birds are singing and Lady Mary is waving a parasol. In fact, we actually skip Christmas all together, with the action then jumping forwards to New Year’s Eve 1925 (but don’t you worry, there’s still an enormous fir tree in the Great Hall.)
We find poor Edith far from heartbroken; she’s planning on moving to London and embarking on a new chapter. Mary is content in her newly-married state and Henry has settled in nicely to life on the estate.
But there are big changes afoot at the country pile. The Crawleys are breaking with traditions big and small (Henry has taken to shaking up cocktails in the garden, of all places) and there’s a definite sense of an ending.
But also new beginnings. Nail polish and a hair dryer arrive on the scene. Ill health forces changes both good and bad, while others almost miss their chance for a happy-ever-after. There are new faces, fresh starts and a reordering of the ways things were.
This is undoubtedly a sad episode for Downton fans – I challenge you not to feel moved during the drama’s final few moments – but it’s not a distressing or disappointing end. It’s not a wrench to say goodbye, though obviously our autumnal Sunday nights will never be the same, because our beloved characters are allowed kind, thoughtful and hopeful endings. We wouldn’t have wished it any other way.
Downton Abbey: the Finale airs on Christmas Day at 8:45pm on ITV
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news