7 Downton Abbey Stars Share Their Favorite Moments from the Series

Ileane Rudolph
Downton Abbey

©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

The End of Abbey's Road

When producer Gareth Neame urged Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes to cocreate a series for Britain’s ITV network about an early-20th-century aristocratic English family and its staff, Fellowes was so unsure of its commercial success he wrote the first season’s finale as a possible series ender. He needn’t have worried.


An instant hit overseas, the drama came to the United States via PBS’s Masterpiece in 2011. Over six seasons, Downton Abbey earned bookshelves of awards, smashed Masterpiece’s ratings records and made Highclere Castle, which serves as Downton’s stand-in, a major tourist site. “A big appeal of the show was that even though the characters had very different backgrounds and expectations of life, on the whole they were a pretty decent lot, worthy of respect below stairs as much as above,” Fellowes says.

Downton Abbey was also a sensational mix of sex-fueled melodrama (Lady Mary’s secret lover died in her bed); family tragedy (both Lady Sybil and Mary’s husband, Matthew, died right after their children were born); police drama (did valet Bates kill the man who raped his wife, Anna?); and dining room comedy (every delicious bon mot dropped by Dowager Countess Violet).

Downton’s last season (the finale airs March 6 on PBS) ties things up rather happily, with three weddings, one new baby and another on the way, staff members leaving service for better careers and even a reconciliation between two long-estranged enemies. As for the future, we can only quote the Dowager Countess: “With any luck they’ll be happy enough, which is the English version of a happy ending.”

Here, members of the cast share memories of a show they call the job of a lifetime.

Downton Abbey

©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary)

Favorite scene: Lady Mary and butler Carson (Jim Carter) always had a special bond. “At the beginning of Season 4, he tells her that after six months of mourning her late husband, Matthew [Dan Stevens], it was time to resume life,” Dockery says. “That relationship between them was so unique.”

Most memorable moments: “The last day filming at Highclere Castle; working with Maggie Smith [Violet]; and Shirley MacLaine [Martha Levinson] singing songs from Sweet Charity and teaching me some Bob Fosse moves!”

Souvenir from the set: “I’ve got my eye on a few things. There’s a ring Mary often wears that’s sentimental to me.”

What she learned from Mary: “That change is inevitable.”

Her hopes for Mary: “I want her to find happiness within herself. Mary had never been able to accept her flaws. But I think by the end she’s finally getting there.”

Downton Abbey - Lord Grantham

PBS

Hugh Bonneville (Robert, Lord Grantham)

Favorite scene: Violet’s (Maggie Smith) reaction when she learns of granddaughter Sybil’s (Jessica Brown Findlay) death. “There is no dialogue,” Bonneville says. “She walks across the hallway and stops for a moment and you see this grand dame reveal a well of emotion.”

Most memorable moment: Filming Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I. “We had injured vets as extras.” Another character he’d like to play: “Mary. To play someone with an unsympathetic side is really fun.”

Souvenir from the set: A letter Robert received from Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode), inviting him to a car race. “The art department took care in terms of accuracy. I admire attention to detail.”

What he learned from Robert: Compassion. When a footman complained about gay under-butler Thomas Barrow’s (Rob James-Collier) sexual behavior, Robert told him to keep quiet. “That sense of tolerance in an era of intolerance was affecting.”

Downton Abbey - Elizabeth McGovern

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Elizabeth McGovern (Cora, Lady Grantham)

Favorite scene: “The beautifully written storyline following Sybil’s death in childbirth. It dealt with the parents’ grief and the conflict over who was to blame—even though it was painful to play,” McGovern says.

Most memorable moment: Filming a cricket match with most of the cast in Season 3. “The weather was nice, everybody looked so pretty and we all ate lunch outside. That didn’t happen much because this is [rainy] England!”

Another character she’d like to play: “I like the complexities of Barrow. The source of his anger is so clear. It gives him dimension and poignancy.”

What she learned from Cora: “That I’m happy not to be a woman in 1925! To go back in time and be that person felt like putting on a straitjacket. I felt there was more going on in Cora that was never explored. She was very resilient.”

Her hopes for Cora: “I believe that she’s flexible enough to adjust to every change and she’ll play an active part in her community.”

Downton Abbey - Lesley Nicol

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Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore)

Favorite scenes: “There were so many!” Nicol says. “The fairground when I had a boyfriend for five minutes; the scene when I tried to tell Daisy [Sophie McShera] that Thomas wasn’t a ladies’ man; when the village put up a special plaque for my nephew, who had been shot as a deserter in the war. That was beautiful.”

Most memorable moment: “Sitting together in whoever’s dressing room was the biggest between takes, having fun. If someone had the big dressing room, they would share it.”

Another character she’d like to play: “It would be obvious to say Violet, but I wouldn’t dream of saying that because nobody could do it better than Maggie Smith!”

Souvenir from the set: “I’ve got the little booklet with all the hymns from Mrs. Hughes [Phyllis Logan] and Mr. Carson’s wedding.”

What she learned from Mrs. Patmore: “I admired her loyalty. She’s a friend you can rely on, a woman with high scruples who would never willingly let somebody down.”

Her hopes for Mrs. Patmore: “She’ll be running her B&B, her own business!”

Downton Abbey

©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Allen Leech (Tom Branson)

Favorite scene: The rebellious Lady Sybil broke tradition when she married Branson, the family’s chauffeur. A day after Branson returned to Downton after fleeing arrest, his pregnant wife found him. “They meet in the great hall and the camera spins round them,” Leech recalls. “It was a poignant moment that symbolized the power of their love.”

Another character he’d like to play: “Thomas, whom Rob James-Collier plays so brilliantly. As Rob says, ‘The Devil always plays better tunes.’ I’d love to be able to pout like he does.”

Souvenir from the set: No detail was spared for formal dinner scenes. “We were always given cards saying what we were eating, written in French. I took the menu card from the last meal in the dining room.”

What he learned from Branson: “Branson once said, ‘I don’t believe in types; I believe in people.’ I’d like to live up to that adage.”

Downton Abbey

©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes)

Favorite scene: “When Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes walked hand-in-hand at the seaside, particularly when she said, “You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady,” Logan remembers.

Most memorable moment: “I liked when everybody was involved, upstairs and downstairs. At the end of the First World War there was a big garden party and everybody was there. Those times were great fun.”

What she won’t miss: “My wig! Or my corset. I was the last character to still wear a corset. But she is a woman of a certain era and stature.”

Another character she’d like to play: “Isobel Crawley [Penelope Wilton], because I’d like to be able to wear a nice frock.”

What she learned from Mrs. Hughes: “What a hard life it was to be in service! And she was lucky to have decent employers; a lot of them in those days were absolute horrors.”

Her hopes for Ms. Hughes: “That she and Mr. Carson have a healthy time together up until their demise. Let’s hope it’s peaceful.”

Downton Abbey - Jim Carter

PBS

Jim Carter (Mr. Carson)

Favorite scene: “The moment Lady Mary came down the stairs in her wedding dress prior to marrying Matthew, she said, ‘Will I do, Carson?’ and I said, ‘Very nicely, my lady.’ It was very easy to imagine my own daughter’s wedding day,” Carter says.

What he won’t miss: “Days like the beginning of Season 6 with the hunt gathering outside. I stood on the steps for that full day. It was freezing!”

Another character he’d like to play: Molesley, Matthew’s valet turned Downton footman, because of how actor Kevin Doyle made a role out of very little. “He was only going to be in for a few episodes, but Kevin made such an adorable character out of him.”

What he learned from Mr. Carson: “I’m temperamentally unsuited to be a butler, because that life is based on routine and for me that’s an anathema. I learned stoicism and it reinforced my faith in good manners.”

His hopes for Carson: “It’d be nice to think that Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes will find a level of contentment in their cottage with roses growing around the front door.”

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