After six seasons, Downton Abbey is coming to an end. The immensely popular show, aired on PBS here in the United States, will have its season finale on Sunday night in a two hour Christmas special. Those of us who have sworn off spoilers, can make our predictions and finally have our questions answered. Will Bertie, the new Marquess of Hexham, come back to Edith? How will newest family member, Henry Talbot, fit into married life and continue racing? What of Lady Grantham and the new hospital? Surely Carson and Mrs. Hughes live happily ever after; Mrs. Crawley and Lord Merton must wed with son Larry's approval; and hopefully Anna and Mr. Bates finally have a child after many obstacles.
And what will become of Barrow? Earlier in the season, one might have hoped he would be discovered and become the silent film predecessor to Cary Grant, similar to the fate of another one of creator Julian Fellowes' characters in an earlier incarnation of Downton -- Gosford Park. But the likelihood of a Hollywood producer or director finding their way to Downton Abbey in the final episode, seems unlikely. As does walking hand-in-hand into the greenbriar with a companion to live the rest of his days on the edge of society as another George Merrill. Perhaps it is enough for Barrow to have found a sense of community among the family and staff at Downton. And we have to be happy for him. Given that homosexual acts were not decriminalized until 1967 in Great Britain, gay men were regularly persecuted in their daily lives. Poor Thomas Barrow may not see nation-wide acceptance in his lifetime.
Downton Abbey is a series centered around change. On the first page of Season One's script, it states: "...it seems as if the way of life it represents will last for another thousand years. It won't." If the Great War of 1914 irrevocably altered the life the Edwardians had known, World War II all but shattered it completely.
Watching the show, one finds it easy to forget that this period lies between the two World Wars. In 1925, there are still high times to be had, car races and nights at the Criterion, continued growth for women's rights and new opportunities for members of the lower classes to better themselves. When the series commences in the middle of the heady '20s, it is a productive, boom time directly following the Great War, before the Depression affected many in the western world, presumably including that of Lady Grantham's family finances in America, and before the Nazis begin their systematic take over of Europe. Indeed, troubled times are on the distant horizon.
World War II has already been alluded to with stirrings in Munich, with the unfortunate tale of Michael Gregson. "The group of thugs" who "wear brown shirts and go around bullying people," as Lord Grantham referred to them, the "horrid bunch," who had been brought to trial, was led by none other than the future fuhrer, Adolph Hitler.
Whether we see it or not, war will come again to Downton. And, with it, further change. As in any war, young men fighting in the trenches and in the air were not the only casualties. Take for instance, the 1942 film Mrs. Miniver, which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill claimed did more for the Allies than a flotilla of battleships, centered around a middle class British family. The final scene in a bombed out church open to the sky, points to the recently dead of a community, a young choir boy, an elderly station master and novice gardener, Mr. Ballard, and a young woman, "at the height of her loveliness," who was granddaughter to Lady Beldon of Beldon Hall and recently married.
To some, the characters of battling sisters Lady Mary and Lady Edith, Anna and her Mr. Bates, newlyweds Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, Baxter and Mr. Molesley, Tom and Sybbie, Lord and Lady Grantham, will continue beyond the end of the series. It is doubtful that Downton Abbey will end the way Six Feet Under or the Terrence McNally adaptation Love! Valour! Compassion! did, with each characters' deaths depicted in the future. It would be too laborious considering the long list of performers, but also, it's not really the point of the show, which suggests this is but a moment in the lives of its characters. Plus, perhaps fans will be given a treat down the line: Downton Abbey, 1940 edition.
Little George will be fighting age by the start of the war in 1939, and both Sybbie and Marigold will be coming out, not just to a changing society barely held together, but into a world in turmoil. Young footmen of fighting age, if any are still employed at Downton, will be called upon for action. If Mr. Bates and Anna wind up having a male child, he too will be fighting age by 1943. Lady Edith's London flat and magazine offices, which offers a life of freedom, will possibly be leveled, as much of London is effected by the Blitz, and whole blocks badly damaged. Though, there could be a happy twist due to wartime, maybe young Sybil will meet a handsome gentleman in the tube during an air raid and fall in love. Downton Abbey itself, secluded far enough from London, may well remain safe, most likely being turned over for use as a hospital once again, but the world it represents will be a casualty as any soldier on the field.
The series finale of Downton Abbey may answer all of our questions from the nine episode final season, but for the characters based on real people living during real events, the questions have just begun.
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