I have scheduled this post, for reasons stated below, to appear before the final regular episode of Downton Abbey, which airs tonight in the UK.

This sixth and final series will be shown in the US (PBS) starting on January 3, 2016.

As most of my readers are American, I would be grateful if anyone commenting from the British Isles could avoid spoilers. Thank you in advance!

Setting expectations

Not surprisingly, before series six started, a number of newspaper articles appeared.

Michele Dockery, who plays Lady Mary, told InStyle why the series is ending in 1925:

I think, collectively, everyone felt this was the right time. And I think if we had kept going, we’d have gone into maybe, possibly the [G]eneral [S]trike and then onwards. And then you’re into the 30s. And then it becomes kind of Gosford Park territory. And then there’s a whole other kind of shift, a new era, a new decade. So then, when can you stop?

Whilst there is plenty of scope for a sequel series, or perhaps a film — possibly set in the 1950s when many estates were on their knees — Dockery said of the possibility of reprising her role:

… I think the show is an ensemble, so there has to be a collective decision in that, I think. I don’t think you could just grab two characters and create a movie. I think it has to be the show. So, we’ll see.

Executive Producer Gareth Neame told The Guardian that ITV wanted the series to continue. So did PBS, according to Masterpiece chief Rebecca Eaton. Carnival and Masterpiece had mooted the idea of seven series, however, discussions with the cast revealed that six and a final Christmas special (timed for the British) would be the limit.

Neame hinted at a satisfying conclusion, despite the new postwar era with its melancholic undertones.

The genius and writer behind the show — Sir Julian Fellowes — is now working on a series which takes place in early 20th century New York. The Gilded Age centres around the robber barons. Neame is collaborating on it with him.

Jim Carter, who plays Mr Carson, told The Telegraph that the final series and concluding special bring viewers down gently:

It’s just life changing. And none of the maids want to live in (the house), they want to live in the village, so they can see their boyfriends. They want to work in shops. Nobody wants to work in service any more. That way of life – we’re saying goodbye to it. And this series is slowly and effectively – very effectively, the Christmas special is a heartbreaker of an episode. Not because of tragedy, but because you’re saying goodbye to a way of life, and these characters that people have grown very fond of.

Just as scriptwriters and directors can build viewers up for the next episode or series, they can also prepare one for The End. Series six effectively does this, as Carter/Carson says.

Sir Julian Fellowes

In 2012, prior to the third series aired in the US, Vanity Fair featured an interview with Sir Julian Fellowes.

Fellowes, some would say, is a late bloomer. He worked for years as a character actor and novelist prior to writing scripts in the 1990s. Most screenwriters have not only a hard time breaking into the industry but also staying in it. Since film began, directors — Alfred Hitchcock, to name but one — have been notorious for chopping and changing scriptwriters.

Fortunately for Fellowes, he happened to meet Ileen Maisel over 20 years ago. Maisel had just opened the Paramount Pictures office in London. She envisaged developing John Fowles’s Daniel Martin into a movie and was impressed by Fellowes’s knowledge of the novel.

When that project did not come to fruition, Maisel introduced Fellowes to actor/director-producer Bob Balaban. (I remember when a young Balaban played character roles in 1960s US sitcoms. I’m getting old!) Balaban and Maisel wanted to involve Fellowes in another project, a film adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds.

That, too, foundered, but an impressed Balaban introduced Fellowes to none other than Robert Altman. The meeting took place on the cusp of the 21st century. The film was Gosford Park. Neither Balaban nor Altman knew much about country houses, hence Fellowes’s presence:

“So I got Julian in a room with Robert,” Balaban said, “and Julian starts talking, and he knows everything that happens in a British house of that kind. Both Bob and I were floored.” On the wrong side of 50, at least in industry terms, Fellowes had won his first screenwriting job, with one of the best directors in the history of the medium.

“I am that rare person who owes everything to one guy, and that guy is Bob Altman,” Fellowes said. “He fought the studio to keep me on, and he never once said, ‘This is my 18th film and I’m a world-famous director. Who the Sam Hill are you?’ It was just two overweight men talking and occasionally arguing.”

That the toking, anarchy-fostering maverick auteur worked so harmoniously and fruitfully with the necktied monarchist is a testament to the character of both men.

Fellowes knows of what he spoke then — and now. Members of his family are listed in Burke’s Landed Gentry (not to be confused with Burke’s Peerage). Julian’s birth was similarly listed. His father, Peregrine, was a civil engineer and diplomat. He worked for Shell Oil and the Foreign Office.

Peregrine had a difficult upbringing. His father died in 1915 in the Great War. His mother became interested in dating, so Peregrine was left to be cared for by maiden aunts, one of whom was the inspiration for Lady Violet:

The eldest of them, Isie, is the model for Maggie Smith’s dowager characters in both Gosford Park and Downton Abbey.

“Aunt Isie had this sort of acerbic wit, yet she was kind,” Fellowes said. “Lots of those lines Maggie has, like ‘Bought marmalade! Oh dear, I call that very feeble,’ and ‘What is a weekend?’—they came straight from her.”

Fellowes is not terribly different in some respects. When Vanity Fair‘s interviewer David Kamp took coffee with him, Kamp held the bowl of the cup rather than the handle:

Don’t think he didn’t clock this, the slightest Violet-ish wince of “Oh, dear” in his eyes.

When the two were at Ealing Studios in west London, where many of the interior scenes were filmed, Kamp saw how historically accurate Fellowes was:

“Liz,” he said, addressing Liz Trubridge, one of the show’s producers, “we’ve got to get the glasses of water off the table. They’re having tea. They wouldn’t have water there. A glass of water is a modern thing.” The water glasses were removed, and the scene, now more period-authentic, resumed shooting.

Whilst politically he is Conservative, Fellowes intelligently embraces the present and honours tradition. That blend of perspectives has helped him to propel Downton Abbey to an iconic status among television series of the early 21st century.

It is interesting that Fellowes’s favourite television programme is Coronation Street, Britain’s longest running televised soap opera which takes place in a working class area of Northern England. Four actors from Corrie, as we call it, are or were in Downton. They are Anna (Joanne Froggatt), Lady Violet’s maid Denker (Sue Johnston), Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran).

My predictions

I debated whether to make my predictions public.

On the one hand, I could be wrong. However, it would not be the first time.

On the other, if I were correct, I would have been annoyed not to publish them beforehand!

So, here goes.

Please note that I have not seen the ITV1 trailer (coming attractions) for the final episode nor have I read spoilers, which are everywhere at the moment.

I predict that by the end of the concluding special (Christmas here, 2016 in the US):

1/ Lady Mary will remarry. Her husband will be someone she — and we — have known for a very long time. Her husband is someone who knows her. She can trust and confide in him. He will be a good father to young George. Mary and he also can run the estate in tandem and in full agreement with each other. In other words, Tom.

2/ Lady Edith will meet with or hear from Michael Gregson (ably played by Charles Edwards), the father of her child, Marigold. He will turn out not to have been killed by the Nazis. He will reveal — or someone else will — that he was in hiding all these years, perhaps working as a spy. We will either see them get engaged or be left with the understanding that they will be soon.

3/ We will either see or be left with the impression that Anna delivered a healthy first child, much to Bates‘s delight.

4/ We will discover that Baxter is Thomas’s mother and that Thomas knows who is father is. We will understand how and why Thomas bears a grudge against both.

The Thomas Question

What will happen to the odious Thomas? He has made many of the nicer servants’ lives a misery over the years, especially when O’Brien worked there.

Given that homosexuality was, at the time, illegal and considered as the height of moral depravity, it is no mystery that Carson, in particular, views him with disdain.

I doubt he will be made head butler at Downton.

But what is the point of the character? We can but wonder why he has not yet met with either a Damascene conversion or dramatic death.

It will be hard for him to shake his dodgy reputation.

Isolated, lonely, angry, he could commit or attempt suicide — also illegal at the time.

I don’t have an answer other than to link his future — or demise — with Baxter in some way.

Final memory

Along with countless millions of others around the world, I shall miss Downton Abbey greatly.

Even the title sequence was endearing — absolutely perfect:

Sincere thanks to Julian Fellowes, Rebecca Eaton, Masterpiece, Carnival Productions as well as all the many actors, actresses and crew members who made several Sunday nights a year sheer televisual pleasure!

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