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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!

That quote comes from the second episode in the second series of Downton Abbey, now on ITV1 on Sunday evenings.

Julian Fellowes has written a number of memorable bon mots for Maggie Smith, who plays Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham. This is one of them — and one for Christians, in particular, to take seriously, given man’s proclivity towards excess and impulse.

About a decade ago, I worked with a French business associate employed by an American multinational.  As a manager, he dutifully parrotted what his American bosses said: ‘Perception is 9/10ths of reality’, or something similar.  It sounded quite postmodern to me. As such, and seeing that he was not someone whom one could particularly use as a role model, I ignored it, despite his uttering it with nauseating regularity.

Lady Violet puts it so much better and with more gravitas. Immediately upon hearing her, I began thinking of all the practical applications and a dozen ways in which it convicted me personally.  She wasn’t speaking in a Christian vein but of a situation in the Grantham household which did not project the family at their best to the outside world.

There is always room for the Christian to improve — outside of legalism!  How does the fruit of one’s faith grow — beautiful and inviting or a bit nubbly and undeveloped?

Our appearance, our speech, our reactions, our family life, the state of our homes all bear testament to our growth in Christ and God’s grace.  Yes, there may be many faithful Christians whose outward manifestations do not quite square up with what they feel in their hearts.

As Lady Violet says:

It’s not the truth that matters, it’s the look of the thing.

Yes, certainly, our faith is a private relationship between us and Christ.  However, the other half of the equation is that when we confess Him as Lord, we are representing Him to the wider world.  Christ instructed us to make disciples of all men.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to pray for God’s grace in order to smooth our edges, roughened by sin.

To take a practical example, let’s look at what we do in our free time.  The Revd Gil Burgos is the Pastor of New Covenant in Christ Church and Director of Education at NYC Full Gospel Theological Seminary.  He recently wrote about Christians and alcohol on his blog, Under the Broom Tree.  In ‘Sipping Saints’, he clearly and intelligently unpacks this relationship.  Emphases mine in the excerpts below:

Below are a few verses that I found, along with my own comments: Now, drinking wine (within itself) is not stated as being sinful in the Bible – especially when it comes to medical reasons: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (I Timothy 5:23, KJV). Yet, drunkenness is…“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, NLT).

I personally, don’t drink…yet, I cannot say that I have not. Still, here is some ample advice: Christian, keep your personal life private – as you have to answer to God anyway. Yet, don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do in front of your pastor or church. Also remember, Christ is in you (Colossians 1:27). So, where you go…He goes. Moreover, people can be judgmental. When you post pics of yourself on Facebook or Tweet, “Look where I’m at (Sitting at a Bar),” it doesn’t bring glory to God – for this ungodly world thinks you’re just like them – and you’re not! (I Peter 2:10) …

Again, the world would agree with Lady Violet:

It’s not the truth that matters, it’s the look of the thing.

So, what should the proper Christian response be in this situation?

What God commands Christians regarding alcohol is to avoid drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). The Bible condemns drunkenness and its effects (Proverbs 23:29-35). Christians are also commanded to not allow their bodies to be “mastered” by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19). Drinking alcohol in excess is undeniably addictive. Scripture also forbids a Christian from doing anything that might offend other Christians or encourage them to sin against their conscience (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). In light of these principles, it would be extremely difficult for any Christian to say he is drinking alcohol in excess to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Alcohol, consumed in small quantities, is neither harmful nor addictive. In fact, some doctors advocate drinking small amounts of red wine for its health benefits, especially for the heart. Consumption of small quantities of alcohol is a matter of Christian freedom. Drunkenness and addiction are sin

So, how we present ourselves as ambassadors of Christ is paramount.  When we interact with others, be it friends and family or strangers in the outside world, we are supposed to be representing Christ — not our sinful depravity (e.g. slovenliness, lack of control).

Unfortunately, the human impulse is to judge on appearances.  Fellow Christians can also be judgmental, as a drive-by let me know last year in my lack of condemnation of another pastor — of a discernment ministry — who is undergoing physical and spiritual rehabilitation.  An act of mercy would be to pray for his recovery, not denounce him in a proud, holier-than-thou manner.  There but for the grace of God go we …

On a lighter note, Downton Abbey fans might wish to recall some of Lady Violet’s best lines from the first series, courtesy of New York Magazine.

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