Here's why Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) was killed off in Downton Abbey season 3. The youngest daughter of Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), Sybil's death was one of Downton Abbey's most shocking twists, coming in the middle of season 3. However, Lady Sybil's exit from the series was planned from the inception of Downton Abbey.
Among the Crawley family and the servants of Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil was arguably the most beloved person in the great house. Though she was born a great lady of wealth and status, Sybil was a kind-hearted rebel who was interested in progressive politics and the betterment of others. In Downton Abbey season 1, Sybil personally helped one of the maids, Gwen (Rose Leslie), leave Downton for a new job as a secretary (unbeknownst to the rest of the family). Sybil fell in love and married Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the chauffeur, against her family's wishes. After running away together, Tom and Sybil returned to Downton and the family gradually came to accept Tom. Lady Sybil and Tom had a daughter named after Sybil (who was given the nickname Sybbie) but their happy life together suddenly and tragically came to an end when Sybil died from complications of childbirth in 1920.
Jessica Brown-Findlay was the first main cast member to leave Downton Abbey, but the actress made it clear from the start exactly how long she intended to remain with the series. As Downton Abbey's creator Julian Fellowes told Vanity Fair, "Jessica had said she was going to leave right from the beginning. She said, ‘I'm doing three years, then I'm leaving.’ So that was all worked out". The actress herself has explained that she was wary of spending too long in the role and then not doing anything else. Brown-Findlay was only 20 when she was cast so it made sense she was afraid of being typecast as the aristocratic Lady Sybil of Downton Abbey and wanted to have a more diverse career. Thankfully, Brown-Findlay's exit allowed for Lily James to join Downton Abbey as their cousin Lady Rose.
After her Downton Abbey exit, Jessica Brown-Findlay found the diverse range of roles she was hoping for. She starred in the Black Mirror season 1 episode "Fifteen Million Merits" and played the female lead in 2014's Winter's Tale, opposite Colin Farrell, and in 2015's Victor Frankenstein, opposite James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe. Brown-Findlay also appeared in Netflix's The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society, which starred Lily James in the lead as well as another Downton Abbey alumna, Penelope Wilton. Brown-Findlay recently starred as Charlotte Wells in Hulu's Harlots seasons 1-3.
Since Lady Sybil has been dead for several years, Jessica Brown-Findlay will obviously not appear in the Downton Abbey movie, which is set in 1927. Although the film could have utilized flashbacks to include Lady Sybil, with only two hours to tell the movie's story, the producers opted to focus on the many characters who are still alive in Downton. But since her widower Tom Branson and her daughter Sybbie will be in the film, fans can take heart that Lady Sybil's memory will be alive and well in the Downton Abbey movie.
- Downton Abbey (2019) release date: Sep 20, 2019