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.