Warning: SPOILERS ahead for the Downton Abbey movie.
If there's a Downton Abbey 2, a major castmember won't be returning: Maggie Smith. In the Downton Abbey movie, Smith's character, Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham revealed that she is dying, although audiences aren't subjected to watching Lady Violet pass away in the film. This confirms that one of the most beloved core characters of creator Julian Fellowes' British aristocratic saga will finally exit Downton Abbey.
The Downton Abbey movie picks up in 1927, approximately 18 months after the TV series finale, and at this point in history, Violet Crawley, who was born in 1842, is about 85 years old (which is roughly the same age as Maggie Smith). Violet was Countess of Grantham until her son Robert (Hugh Bonneville) inherited the Earlship and married Cora Levinson (Elizabeth McGovern). Violet initially opposed Robert marrying an American but her family's wealth was needed to help secure Downton Abbey's financial stability. After she married Robert, Cora became the new Countess of Grantham and Lady Violet became the Dowager Countess. Despite Violet's fearsome countenance, her insightful wit and perfect quips for any occasion made Violet a fan favorite and she's proven herself to be resourceful and supportive of her family, especially her three grandchildren Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), and the late Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay).
In the Downton Abbey movie, Violet takes a mysterious trip to London during the film, but she's back in plenty of time to join the Crawleys as they receive King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James), who are visiting Downton. After the event went off successfully (but not without a hitch, thanks to Downton's irrepressible servants), the Crawleys all joined a splendid ball for the King and Queen. There, Violet takes Lady Mary aside and makes a startling confession: her trip to London was for medical reasons and she is dying. While Violet didn't know how long she has left, she chose to tell only Mary because she sees her eldest grandchild as her true successor. Mary inherited control of the Downton Abbey estate and Violet predicted that Mary will one day be "the scary old lady" when her young son George grows up and becomes the Earl.
In real life, Maggie Smith was the last of the main Downton Abbey cast members to sign on for the movie. The legendary actress, who gained worldwide fame and a new generation of fans for playing Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter movies, had tired of playing Lady Violet after six seasons and felt she had done all she can with the character. Before Downton Abbey ended, Smith publicly said, "I can’t see how it could go on.” and she also mused then that if the Downton Abbey movie did happen, that maybe it could "start with [Lady Violet's] wake."
Eventually, Julian Fellowes was able to convince Maggie to sign on and join her fellow actors for one more go in the Downton Abbey movie. However, the Mirror confirmed that Maggie Smith has filmed her final scenes as Violet Crawley in the Downton Abbey movie and that, if there is a sequel, they are "now planning for the idea of another film without Lady Violet as a main cog in the wheel.”
It's possible that if Downton Abbey 2 does happen, the producers could honor Maggie Smith's jests and begin the sequel with Lady Violet's wake. While not having the Dowager Countess and her fiery witticisms would be a huge loss, Downton Abbey has weathered several main characters' departures before, like Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), Lady Sybil, and Lady Rose (Lily James). Enduring constant change caused by the march of time is one of the saga's themes and, even with the tremendous loss of Maggie Smith and Violet Crawley, Downton Abbey will find a way to continue if there's a sequel.
- Downton Abbey (2019) release date: Sep 20, 2019