“Downton Abbey,” the movie, is finally arriving, and not a moment too soon — a lot of us are in desperate need of a posh soap opera filled with beaded flapper dresses, plush fainting couches, scheming butlers and well-appointed breakfast trays. (Spot all of them in one scene, and you win Downton Bingo!) The beloved British TV series, chronicling the lives and loves of a titled British family and their staff in the World War I years and beyond, ran for six years before concluding — seemingly decisively — in 2015. I confess to being a bit of a Downton fanatic — so much so that I can lovingly describe pretty much every dress ever worn by Lady Mary; in my defense, they tend to flounce through my dreams.
If you’re new to Downton, the best way to acquaint yourself is to watch all six seasons of the show, immediately. If doing that before the movie’s opening on Sept. 20 seems unfeasible (what, you need to go to work?), or if you loved the show but need a brush-up, here’s a quick rundown of the series’ main characters and where we left them. Spoiler alert, obviously, if you haven’t seen the TV show. But no spoilers for the movie, which as of this writing I haven’t yet seen. Just for fun, I’m letting myself imagine a few dream scenes.
Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by Maggie Smith)
I’m starting off with Downton’s imperious queen of the withering retort, because we all know that Violet would not tolerate a lesser placement. She is the mother of the Earl of Grantham; cousin of Isobel, Baroness Merton; and grandmother of Lady Mary, Lady Edith and the late Lady Sybil. Violet does not usually get her own plotline (other than occasionally feuding with her relatives and rushing off to France in a huff, as one does); instead, she barges in on other people’s plotlines and comments on them, whether anyone has asked her to or not.
Dream movie moment: Whatever she wants. Violet is perfection.
Robert, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) / Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern)
These two, who reside in the picturesque pile that gave the series its name (it’s really Highclere Castle, in Hampshire, England), have survived the death of a daughter, financial troubles, marital troubles, treacherous lady’s maids, a murderous valet, an unexpected granddaughter, and that truly awful dinner party where Robert suddenly started erupting blood like a malfunctioning Edwardian zombie. (He’s OK now, though I can’t speak for the tablecloth.) As the series ended, they had finally married off all their daughters, a feat that took all six seasons.
Dream movie moment: Cora, who sometimes seems a few scones short of a tea tray, wises up and leaves fuddy-duddy Robert for a dashing London financier played by Hugh Grant. (I can dream, can’t I?)
Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery)
Having experienced a man dying in her bed, a nasty ex-fiancé, widowhood, sibling rivalry, a Premarital Scandal in Liverpool and a truly hideous second-wedding dress, Lady Mary has settled nicely into estate management and staid marriage with a handsome chap best described as Dishy Henry. (He is played by Matthew Goode, who is indeed quite dishy and who I hear is barely in the movie. Excuse me while I go weep.) The two of them now have a child together (from a pregnancy announced in the last minutes of the series), in addition to Mary’s son George from her ill-fated marriage to The Late Matthew.
Dream movie moment: Matthew’s ghost pops up, perhaps to comment on that awful wedding dress.
Edith, Marchioness of Hexham (Laura Carmichael)
Nothing ever goes right for middle sister Edith, whose own father describes her childhood as “she couldn’t even get her dolls to do what she wanted.” She’s been ditched at the altar by an elderly fiancé, duped by a mysteriously bandaged World War I vet, kissed by a married farmer (after she helped him till his fields, which is not a metaphor), and became an unwed mother after her London boyfriend, a man I call Mr. Rochester (because he had a mad wife lurking somewhere), was Presumed Dead in Germany before the war.
Last we saw of Edith, things were looking up: She’d married a pleasant fellow named Bertie with a fancy title, and the two of them are raising her daughter Marigold (who was briefly adopted by a local farm family, causing Edith to wander around the pigpens looking insane for pretty much all of season five) together.
Dream movie moment: Predicting here and now that Mr. Rochester — whom I’ve long maintained, to anyone who will listen, isn’t really dead — is going to return and mess things up. Because that would be so very Edith.
Tom Branson (Allen Leech)
Tom is the widower of third Crawley sister Lady Sybil, who died in childbirth back in season three in an episode known as That Awful One. Formerly the family’s chauffeur, Tom’s political firebrand days are over; he now hangs around Downton sharing estate-managing duties with Mary, affectionately parenting his daughter Sybbie, and occasionally acting as a tweedy Irish Cupid. (He was essential in pushing Mary into the arms of Dishy Henry.)
Dream movie moment: Tom and Mary, you guys. You know you thought about it.
Isobel, Baroness Merton, formerly Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton)
Long-widowed mother of The Late Matthew, Mary’s former mother-in-law, and the Dowager Countess’ cousin and favorite sparring partner (despite tending to speak like “a trumpet on the peak of the moral high ground”), Isobel is a relentless do-gooder and basically a good egg. As the series ended, she married Dickie Merton, a nice widowed baron who’s had his eye on her for some time.
Dream movie moment: Isobel and Violet take a road trip together. Actually this is my dream TV series.
Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) / John Bates (Brendan Coyle)
Anna is Mary’s lady’s maid, Bates is Robert’s valet, and together they are a LOT. As Bates said in season six, “There isn’t a couple in the world with as many worries as we have,” and he wasn’t kidding around. Between them, they’ve racked up three accusations and incarcerations for two separate murders, a vengeful ex-spouse, a rape, several miscarriages, a war injury, money problems, communication issues arising over Lady Mary’s contraceptive device (!), and an awful lot of Vaguely Sinister Conversations in the Boot Room. When the series ended, their troubles seemed over: Anna had given birth to their son, and neither of them appeared to have any pending legal problems. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Dream movie moment: Considering this pair’s luck, I’m guessing their child is in the throes of demonic possession, and we’ll need to have a Downton exorcism.
Carson (Jim Carter) / Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan)
This very efficient married couple — he’s the butler, she’s the housekeeper — rule the roost downstairs at Downton. Or at least, they did: Carson, at the end of the series, reluctantly retired due to some sort of mysterious palsy in his hands (which made pouring claret hazardous). But, seeing as he gets the hero entrance in the “Downton Abbey” movie trailer, we can all rest easy: He’s baaaack. Mrs. Hughes, a delightfully hyper-organized soul who’s always announcing “It isn’t my place to say anything” and then saying something, affectionately calls him “my curmudgeon.”
Dream movie moment: Carson, with that booming aged-in-oak voice, performs the exorcism.
Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and Daisy (Sophie McShera)
They’re not exactly mother and daughter, but I’m pairing this kitchen duo anyway. Mrs. Patmore, the ever-quotable Dowager Countess of Downstairs (“Sympathy butters no parsnips”), is the put-upon cook; Daisy is the ambitious kitchen maid-turned-assistant cook. Last we saw, both seemed to have love on the horizon: Mrs. Patmore with Mr. Mason, a kindly farmer who is Daisy’s father-in-law (Daisy was a very young war widow), and Daisy with strapping young footman Andy.
Dream movie moment: Mrs. Patmore and Daisy open a tearoom and become the subjects of history’s first reality show. Which is my other dream TV series.
I’m leaving out so many characters here — Thomas the (Formerly) Evil Butler! Lady Rosamund! Molesley! That nasty housemaid who pretended to be pregnant with Tom’s baby! — but this is, at least, a start. Ready to return to Downton? I am, any day.