Encore: A Farewell to Downton Abbey — With Julian Fellowes

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He created Downton Abbey. And finally, he brought it to a close. Julian Fellowes—Downton‘s creator, sole writer and executive producer—takes us inside the series finale in this encore episode, and reveals why he decided to end the show after six wonderful years.

Also, our final Downton roundtable unpacks all of the finale’s bittersweet moments—from Edith and Bertie’s reconciliation to Thomas and Carson’s new arrangement.

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Transcript

Jace Lacob: MASTERPIECE Studio wants you to know that Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is currently making its US debut in New York City. You’ll see Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen, 50 extraordinary costumes, and so much more.

Tickets are available for purchase at www.downtonexhibition.com. The exhibition runs through September 3, 2018.

CLIP:
(Singing of Auld Lang Syne)
Violet: It makes me smile the way we drink every year we drink to the future whatever it may bring.
Isobel: What else could we drink to? We’re going forward to the future not back into the past.
Violet: If only we had the choice.

Jace: On that fitting, final note from Violet, the epic story of Downton Abbey has drawn to a close.

We won’t get to see the Crawleys through the Great Depression and we won’t see little George grow up and take over the estate, Thomas by his side.

But at least we do have a heartwarming final chapter to take with us.

I’m Jace Lacob and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.

In this episode, Downton creator, sole writer, and executive producer Julian Fellowes joins us to look back on the grand finale — which offered joy and resolution to even the unluckiest couples — from Edith and Bertie:

CLIP:
Bertie: What a wonderful life we’re all going to have.
Edith: I suppose this is all really happening.
Shrimpie: Edith and Bertie! Bride and groom!

Jace: To Anna and Bates:

CLIP:
Bates: I am a father and I have a son.
Anna: We have a son, John.

Jace: And it left us heaving a collective sigh of relief that no one died.

CLIP:
Julian Fellowes: And I might be accused of a certain sentimentality in that, but you know I got very fond of them all and I felt I wanted them to have nice lives in the ether or wherever television characters go after the end of their shows.

Jace: But before we turn to Julian, we’ll relive Downton’s feel-good, final episode with our final Talking Downton roundtable.

We’re joined by two of our commentators:

Kate Hess, an actress and writer known for her funny MASTERPIECE parody “Murder Abbey.” And Christina Dowling, a writer and unabashed Anglophile who’s reported for E! Online.

Jace: Now, if you can dry your eyes for a second after the credits have rolled and it is the last episode ever of Downton Abbey.

What do we think about Edith reconciling with Bertie and becoming the Marchioness of Hexham in the end and outranking everyone on the show?

Christina:  Golly gum drops.

Kate: Justice.

Christina: I think it’s sweet that they got together. I think Edith deserves this after kind of all the heartbreak she has gone through, starting with Patrick who didn’t love her.

Jace: Patrick, yes.

Kate: Patrick. She has just been so unlucky in love, exactly. She really, really needs this. When Bertie broke down at dinner I cried my eyes out.

CLIP:
Bertie: Would you believe me if I said I couldn’t live without you?
Edith: You’ve done a pretty good job of living without me lately.
Bertie: I’ve done a very bad job.

Kate: It was so sweet, and then the waiter brought the menu.

Christina: Mr. Carson wouldn’t dream of interrupting an important emotional moment.

Jace: No, never.

Kate: Of course. No, not Mr. Carson.

Christina: But the waiters at the Ritz just weren’t trained like that.

Jace: No.

Kate: Yeah. They just don’t know the old ways.

Jace: Speaking of Carson, we find out this week that he is suffering from the palsy, and he ends up retiring from being the butler at Downton Abbey. Is it fitting that he should be replaced by Thomas Barrow?

Kate: I was surprised by that. I didn’t expect that Carson would retire in the finale, but ultimately I thought it was so, exactly, bittersweet. He’s handing it down to Thomas. Thomas loves Downton Abbey in kind of the same way Carson does. I feel like he has a similar relationship with George that Carson and Mary had. I feel like it’s carrying on the spirit of the house. I thought it was really … It was great.

Jace: What do we make of the fact that Anna gives birth to her baby on Lady Mary’s bed?

Kate: Loved it. I just loved it.

Christina:  I think they really become friends, and that kind of … Mary’s really calm. We haven’t quite seen her so calm under pressure. She’s just like, “Put on my robe.”

Kate: Yeah. I loved that it was a situation where Mary was stepping in to take care of Anna, which she never does.

Jace: It is just sort of kind, caring Mary Crawley this week.

Christina: I think Edith was right when she said that when Mary’s happy, she’s a lot kinder. She’s happy with Henry. It’s quite clear that it was a good match, and she’s kind of content.

Jace: MVPs this week — I’d have to say Robert actually. He comes up with a scheme that satisfies both Thomas and Carson and makes everybody happy, but my other would be Rose for finally getting Robert to see what Cora is capable of.

CLIP:
Robert: I do mean it. You are a woman of real substance and I am lucky enough to call you my wife.
Cora: So I don’t have to give it up?
Robert: You wouldn’t have anyway.
Cora: Probably not, but it makes it much sweeter if it’s with your approval.

Kate: I loved that ending with them particularly because of Robert’s journey. Again, from the beginning, he was upset that Sybil was wearing pants. Now, he is so accepting of all his daughters having this independent life, making their choices. I’m very proud of how far Robert has come.

Jace: What are your thoughts on the endings, everybody’s endings? Christina?

Christina: I think we, as self-proclaimed TV experts, know it’s hard to end a series. I think this was really satisfying. I can live happily now knowing that everyone is okay, Downton is okay. I think it was the right decision to end at the top.

Jace: It ends on a high. This season has been really great. Do we almost forgive Julian Fellowes for the way in which he killed off Matthew and Sybil at this point?

Christina:  No. Sorry Julian.

CLIP:
Branson: I hate goodbyes.
Mary: There seems to be so many of them these days.

Jace: This week, we’re saying goodbye to Downton with the man who brought it to life: Julian Fellowes.

Welcome Lord Fellowes.

Julian: It’s nice to be here.

Jace: Now, the character that changes the most, I’d say, over the course of the entire series might just be Lady Edith, now the Marchioness of Hexham. Can you discuss why you chose to end the series with a focus on Edith?

Julian: I like Edith’s character very much. I always have from the beginning and that’s a lot to do with Laura’s performance because I do believe that some people seem to be unlucky, and she was one of those people that it never quite came right for. They always missed the train. They don’t just catch it, you know? Yet, what Laura injected into the character and eventually I started to write for was this sort of gallantry, the fact that she would take all these knocks but she wouldn’t accept that she was a loser; she wouldn’t accept defeat.

In the end, I think, she became rather an admirable character and I felt she had earned a happy ending. I think to have an unhappy ending after going through all that for six years just wouldn’t have been acceptable. I enjoyed the irony that Mary, who is the ambitious one and the snobbish one and also, of course, the lucky one. I mean the one who apart from Matthew dying, everything else fell into her lap and certainly went her way. And it amused me that in the end Edith makes a much greater marriage and becomes a greater personage than Lady Mary Talbot will be. I sort of enjoyed the comedy of that really.

Jace: Now, Edith– I grew to love to love Edith after loving to hate Edith. She could marry Bertie without telling the very frightful Mrs. Pelham about Marigold but she chooses to come clean to her future mother-in-law.

CLIP:
Edith: There’s something I feel you ought to be aware of. Before the announcement of the engagement this evening.
Mrs. Pelham: Does Bertie know you are here?
Edith: No.
Mrs. Pelham: But he knows what you are about to tell me?
Edith: Yes. He knows everything.
Mrs. Pelham: Well, you’d better begin.

Jace: Is there a sense here that Edith is looking to live an authentic life or that she’s ultimately the most honest character on the show?

Julian: With Edith, I think there had been so many lies, you know, lies about the child, and giving it away, and pretending to adopt it… And she just thought with Bertie, “I’ve done enough of all that. I’m just going to tell the truth. I’m not going to go on into some other situation where I can be found out further down the line.”

Also remember she’d made a big mistake with Bertie by not telling him the truth and that almost lost him — I mean did lose him for a bit until he came back. She saw herself that it was a mistake. And I think it was, to me anyway, I hope to the audience, it was believable that she didn’t want to make that mistake again.

Jace: Now, Edith ends the series with a husband, an elevated title, a career, and a daughter. Does she have it all in the end?

Julian: Well, I don’t know that anyone ever “has it all” but I think she has quite a lot of it. Probably, I always feel that, if the first World War had never happened, you know Edith would have sat there going to the races, and married a local landowner, and had children, and that’s the end of it. But the war changed her and made her want more things. Her introduction to the working world of the magazine, and Michael, and all of that made her want more from life. For me the real happiness of being Lady Hexham is not that she is a Marchioness and lives in a castle but that it is a life full of expectations, and demands, and will ask a lot of her. She will never know a day that isn’t busy and I think that’s a great fate.

Jace: Now Lady Mary and Edith promised to do better in the future with each other.

CLIP:
Edith: You’re such a paradox. You make me miserable for years and then you give me my life back.
Mary: Look. We’re blood and we’re stuck with it. So let’s try and do a little better in future.

Jace: Are we left with a sense that these two might find, if not sisterly friendship, respect at least for one another in the end?

Julian: Yes, I think that’s right. I don’t think they’re ever going to adore each other because that’s not the relationship they have, but I think they both, in the end, came to see the point of the other one, if you know what I mean, that Mary was a good, competent business woman. She wasn’t lazy. Whatever she might be, she wasn’t at all lazy and she clearly was going to run the estate well and eventually run it with her son and make a good job of it. And Edith has become a competent woman. She’s a publisher. She’s now going to be doing all sorts of things, you know? She’s going to be running the estate with Bertie, I mean not a very dissimilar job. And in that I think they both came to have substance whereas when they were younger all they could see was their rivalry, and their differences, and their sniping.

For me, I am always a little bit unbelieving how sisters and brothers in movies always adore each other because that hasn’t really been my experience in real life. I wanted to dramatize that because one of the things about not getting on with either one or all of your siblings is that you are stuck with them. It’s not like in the real world — you know the outside world — when you don’t get on with someone you eventually leave the job, or you just break with them. You don’t see them anymore. But with your family when you don’t get on you’re stuck with them and that was really the kind of motivation behind that plot really.

Jace: In the end you just send a letter to the Turkish ambassador and that’s that.

Julian: Well, you know she’d had to put up with a lot before she did that, although I do think it was mean.

Jace: She did. I will say, Edith has become probably my favorite character, which if you asked me if that were possible in season one I would have said you were mad, but now I adore Edith.

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Another signal of shifting times, Carson steps down as head butler to be replaced by Thomas Barrow. Is this the changing of the guard as it were at Downton?

Julian: Well, I think Cora at one point says, “We’re going to be all right if we stay flexible,” and that was really true. During these decades of transition– I mean the late 40s, 50s, and 60s probably the worst period of all for those houses and estates and everything else. The ones that hung on were the imaginative ones, the ones who could find business potential and income potential in the different uses of the houses, just staying loose.

Really, that’s what the whole, you know, provoked by Anna having her baby in Mary’s bedroom, that conversation was about, was this family going to be one of those that stay loose and can adjust to the changes.

CLIP:
Cora: I think the more adaptable we are, the more chance we have of getting through.
Robert: We’ll do it. The estate’s safe in Mary’s hands with Henry and Tom to help her. Edith has risen from the cinders in the hearth to be kissed by her very own Prince Charming. What more can we ask?
Cora: A long and happy life together, just we two, to watch the children grow. That’s all I want.
Robert: And why not? We never know what’s coming, of course. Who does? But, I’d say we have a good chance.

Julian: In my head, George is now at Downton. He’s getting on a bit and he’s probably handed it on to his son, and he’s living there and they’re there and they’ve got past the difficult years and now these houses have regained their value.

When I was a boy you couldn’t give those houses away. They were being demolished every week and there’s one famous story of a huge house in the Midlands that was offered to the local counsel for one pound and they turned it down. Now that’s all over; they’ve recovered their value. They sell, if they do sell, for twenty, thirty million. These families are back on top, but it took a certain tenacity and imagination for them to negotiate the difficult years. I suppose I want the audience to believe that the Crawleys are one of those families who have those qualities.

Jace: Now, Anna and Bates finally get their much, much deserved happy ending, the birth of a son, which happens of all places in Lady Mary’s room. Looking back, why did you put these two through so, so much?

Julian: Well, their dramas had a sort of continuum. I mean this drama would lead to that drama and that drama led to the other drama except the last drama, which was not being able to hold a child. That was, I suppose, an extra burden just when they thought they were finally free. I do think drama sort of — I mean it sounds rather unfair to say it — but some people have a lot of terrible things to put up with whereas others just seem to skate through life with barely grazing a knee as they go. The sufferers in this show were the Bateses and Edith, but I do believe that in the end your luck can change. It is possible that you can go from being an unlucky person to having some luck.

I suppose I gave that to both the Bateses and to Edith. I mean of course the end, the final episode is a very happy episode. Everyone, well pretty well, everyone has a happy ending. And I might be accused of a certain sentimentality in that but you know I got very fond of them all and I felt that I wanted them to have nice lives in the ether or wherever television characters go after the end of their shows.

Jace: I personally thought it was great that we did get happy endings for a lot of people. Did you strive to leave one or two knots untied?

Julian: I didn’t want it too tidy. I didn’t want, you know, Tom Branson walking up the aisle as well, and Mrs. Patmore and Mason… I didn’t want to confirm all of that partly, I suppose, in case there’s a movie, which there might be, but I did want a sense of warmth. I wanted a sense of generosity towards these people we’ve come to know so well. I wanted everyone to kind of go to bed that night feeling content. Because in a way you watch the final episode in a slightly different mood. You watch it to say goodbye to them because you know it’s the end. I felt I wanted that atmosphere where people around the world were sort of raising a glass as they bid them farewell.

Jace: Now you’ve recently said there’s a quote, “64.5% chance that a Downton movie will happen.” Has that percentage changed at all in recent weeks?

Julian: No, I think it’s pretty accurate. I think a film would be fun and I’m completely up for it, but there are various elements. One is whether or not, I should think, they can get enough of the cast because all of the cast are very sought after now, as they deserve to be. And I think that is quite an interesting period, and so we would be assembling them while everyone else wants them. But I hope we can do it. I hope we can get them together. I think it’d be fun.

Jace: Fingers crossed.

You chose midnight on New Year’s Day, 1926 as the ending point for Downton; did you always have this final scene in mind for the series?

Julian: Yes, I did, yes. Normally I would say, “Oh, I’m not sure,” but I did know I wanted to end it in resolution and in a sense of the future and the one day of the year when we all drink a toast to the future is New Year’s Eve and so that did feel right, actually, yeah.

Jace: Now, the final lines of the entire series fittingly go to Violet and Isobel — Isobel says, “We’re going to the future not back to the past,” and Violet says, “If only we had the choice.” Would you say that that’s ultimately the appeal of Downton that these people may not be able to go back in time but we can relive it for them through the show?

Julian: Yes, I mean, I think there were elements of that period that seemed more secure than our own. In some ways that’s a false perception because, as we tried to show, you know everything was changing. Yet, between the wars they held on to that sense of ritual, and order, and so they had one foot in the 19th century, which does feel stable and comforting in a way. I think that was part of the show’s appeal because at the moment we’ve sort of turned our back on ritual and order.

We are a much more disordered generation and sometimes I think it leaves us feeling a bit bewildered rather like invitations that say casual chic and you just think, “What is that?” And our rules of courtship, and our, I don’t know– There are areas of behavior where we just don’t quite know what’s expected of us anymore. I think that does create a certain nostalgia for elements of the past. Not all of it.

You must remember that history on television or in the movies is history light. We watch it, we enjoy it, but we don’t have to live it. We don’t have to get up at four in the morning and go and start scrubbing the grates, you know? We can enjoy it without getting involved in its injustices but nevertheless, I think you’re right. I think that was part of its appeal.

Jace: Now, Robert’s death would have signified a real end of life as we know it at Downton. Why did you opt to keep the Earl alive even after the ulcer rupture and did you ever contemplate killing him off?

Julian: No, I don’t think so. We’d had one premature death, well two if you count William the footman and Sybil, three. I think that’s enough.

Jace: And Lavinia.

Julian: Oh, Lavinia. Poor old Lavinia. Forgot her for a moment…Four premature deaths, I think that’s enough. And anyway Robert is quite a sort of vital character and very central.

For a start I wouldn’t have wanted to do the movie without Robert because you know there are certain characters that seem very reliable and sort of tent pole-ish. I wouldn’t want to do the movie without Carson. I wouldn’t want to do it without three or four of them. No, it felt right to keep him alive, but I mean I hope people thought he might die because I always like a little bit of brinkmanship in those things.

Jace: Do you have any regrets about not putting the Crawley’s through this dark market crash of 1929 or regrets in general?

Julian: The only– I mean the main reason I wouldn’t have put the Crawley’s through the stock market crash is that, in the end, I didn’t want them to have to age too much. The whole show covered — whatever it was — thirteen years over six years, so they were only aging slightly more than they were again in real life, but if we’d gone through to ‘29 and ‘30, or as some people wanted us to do, the Second World War, then they would be covered in latex and talcum powder and I never think that’s a very good look.

That was part of it, but you know, the other part was we’d have an interesting investigation of life before the first war, the war-life after the first war, the changes of the 20s, it just felt like the right time to go.

Jace: Now, how should viewers read the final shot of the show with Downton standing in the snow?

Julian: I think that’s it. I think the house is still standing. The cast, the characters, or at least the staff, is being cut down. We understand that that is a process that will continue and eventually there will be a sort of skeleton staff by the standards of those days. But the house is still standing. It’s still going. It’s still keeping out the snow and we hope that that will go on through the reigns of Mary and George.

Jace: Now that the show is concluded, it has aired in both the UK and the US, what do you hope that viewers ultimately take away from Downton Abbey?

Julian: Oh no, I– It’s enough for me if they enjoyed it. I don’t need to feel that I’ve changed their lives in any particular meaningful way because I think enjoying things is great and if I’ve managed to entertain the world for an hour on Sunday nights, you know I’m pleased and proud to have done it. I don’t need to feel I’ve done more than that.

Jace: Lord Fellowes, thank you so much.

Julian: My pleasure.

Jace: To purchase Downton Abbey DVDs and Blu-rays, or Downton Abbey merchandise, visit shopPBS.org or other retailers. And for more Downton Abbey behind-the-scenes content, check out the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast at pbs.org/masterpiece, on Stitcher, and on iTunes.

MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Susanne Simpson is our executive producer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.

Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking and The MASTERPIECE Trust.

CLIP:
Jace: Now, there are still fans who wonder about the identity of the bandaged Canadian soldier in Season 2. Can you definitely clarify whether that man was an impostor or actually Patrick Crawley?
Julian Fellowes: I’m not sure. I don’t really– I’m not completely sure. I mean maybe that’s, you know, that’s the film.

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