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Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan (Screenshots: Downton Abbey), Michelle Dockery and Matthew Goode (Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features), and Maggie Smith (Screenshot: Downton Abbey)
Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

With a cast of dozens and a timeline that spanned 14 years across six seasons, even the most ardent Downton Abbey fan would be forgiven for forgetting a detail or two from the wildly popular period drama. Creator Julian Fellowes locked into a winning formula by dressing up a soap opera in the drag of an elegant upstairs/downstairs drama. Downton Abbey was a full-on cultural phenomenon during its 2010-2015 run, which aired on ITV in the U.K. and PBS in the United States. Now Fellowes and the rest of the gang are back for a highly anticipated big screen follow-up that’s already amassing massive ticket pre-sales. Crikey!

Centered around the aristocratic Crawley family and their loyal servants, the series stretched from spring 1912 to New Year’s Eve ringing in 1926. From the horrors of murder trials to the horrors of (gasp!) men wearing black tie attire to a white tie event, Downton Abbey explored the massive social upheaval of British society in the transition from the late Victorian/Edwardian era to the modern one. The show is particularly interested in how World War I (which unfolded during the second season) changed Britain forever. For the most part, however, the series tended to be lovingly nostalgic for an old-fashioned aristocratic system it preferred to view through rose-colored glasses.

The movie will pick up in 1927 and center on the king and queen coming to stay at Downton Abbey. Whether you’re a long-time fan looking for a refresher or a newbie looking to jump in with the film, here’s our guide to (nearly) every major and minor character on the series and where they left things off. Spoilers for the show, but none for the movie.


Upstairs

Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle)

Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

As the cliché goes, Downton Abbey is almost like another character on the show. The fictional Yorkshire country estate includes not just the impressively stately home, but also acres of farmland and a local village—all of which are supported in some way by the Crawleys. After two male heirs drowned in the sinking of the Titanic, the first season centered on inheritance and entails, while the second saw Downton transformed into a convalescent home for WWI soldiers. The rest of the series explored Downton’s struggles to evolve in the postwar era. As other massive estates crumbled, Downton managed to stay intact thanks to forward-thinking business planning and reductions in staff. It was even well ahead of Buckingham Palace in the idea to open its doors to the public as a potential source of income. With Downton’s financial future largely protected and the line of inheritance secured, the remaining question is an existential one about what purpose aristocratic estates and “great families” serve in an increasingly modernizing world.


Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), a.k.a. Lord and Lady Grantham

Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley and Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley
Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

As the central parental pairing on the series, Robert and Cora played at least some kind of role in pretty much all of the show’s drama, both upstairs and down. Although their marriage was originally one of convenience (he was a broke British earl in need of a fortune, and she was a rich American debutante who wanted a title), they wound up falling madly in love and spent many happy years raising their three daughters and keeping Downton running. Despite some bumps along the way, they came through the series stronger than ever, ending the final season on a new status quo. After a burst ulcer resulted in him vomiting blood at dinner (in front of Neville Chamberlain, no less!), Robert—or “Donk” as he’s known to his grandchildren—decided to take a backseat from the stress of managing Downton day-to-day. Cora, meanwhile, launched a second act for herself as president of the local hospital and general patroness for the village.


Teo, the yellow lab (Benji)

Of course, the real love of Robert’s life are his dogs. Each Downton episode even opens with a shot of one walking the grounds. Having said tearful goodbyes to Pharaoh and Isis, the sixth season saw Robert gifted a new puppy named Teo. She’ll be running around Downton in the film.


Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode), plus Master George and Baby Talbot

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary and Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot
Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

As the oldest daughter of the Crawley family, Mary is the one who cares most deeply about preserving Downton Abbey and its legacy. An ice queen and proud of it, Lady Mary spent her time in the first three seasons in a romance with unexpected Downton heir Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens). When Stevens’ decision to leave the show resulted in Matthew’s untimely death, Mary was thrown into mourning and left with an infant son who would one day inherit her family’s estate. She slowly rebuilt herself, blazing a trail as the agent of the estate (a rare position for a woman) and eventually rekindling her love life as well. She passed over several supremely eligible men to marry a race car driver named Henry Talbot—her match in spirit if not position. Henry eventually decided to give up racing and open an automobile shop near Downton instead. In the series finale, Mary revealed she was pregnant with their child, who will join Master George in their new happy family.


Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton), plus Miss Marigold

Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith and Harry Hadden-Paton as Bertie Pelham
Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2015 for Masterpiece

The Charlie Brown of Downton Abbey, there was nothing the show loved more than to present Edith with a football only to snatch it away. Second to Mary in age and eligibility, Edith was left at the altar by a man twice her age and later bore a child out of wedlock with a married man who was then promptly murdered by German Brownshirts. In the end, however, Edith triumphed. Her humble love interest, Herbert “Bertie” Pelham, unexpectedly became the Marquess of Hexham—meaning Edith now outranks her entire family. More importantly, Bertie accepts Edith’s daughter, Miss Marigold (who’s publicly presented as her adopted ward), and supports her job as the owner and co-editor of the lady’s magazine The Sketch, which she inherited from Marigold’s father, Michael Gregson. The series finale wrapped up just about every loose end for Edith, even ending her six seasons of bitterly sniping with Mary on a note of (relative) sisterly solidarity. All that remains to be seen is whether Fellowes can resist pulling that football away one last time.


Tom Branson (Allen Leech), plus Miss Sybbie

Allen Leech as Tom Branson
Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

The character who went through the biggest transformation during Downton’s run, Irish-born Tom began the series as the Crawleys’ socialist revolutionary chauffeur. He was initially defined by his star-crossed romance with their youngest daughter, Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), but when Sybil died in childbirth in season three, Tom was left trapped between worlds. The rest of his arc was about slowly finding his place among the Crawleys. He helped modernize the estate as Downton’s agent (a position he later shared with Mary), and by the final season he was considered a full-fledged son to Robert and Cora and brother to Mary and Edith. After a brief jaunt to America with his daughter, Miss Sybbie, Tom returned with a newfound interest in capitalism and opened an automobile shop with Henry Talbot. (He maintained his staunch anti-monarchist stance, however.) Although the show occasionally hinted at giving him a love interest and ended with him lightly making eyes at Edith’s magazine editor, Tom is one of the few Downton characters who’s truly single and ready to mingle.


Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith)

Ever since she first questioned the concept of a weekend, Robert’s propriety-obsessed mother has been the icon of Downton Abbey. The Dowager Countess Of Grantham is a fascinating mix of conservative values and pragmatic progressivism. Beneath her austere exterior, she has a softer heart than she lets on. While season five offered a glimpse at the handsome Russian prince Violet almost ran away with in her youth, her defining relationship across the series is with Matthew’s mother, Isobel Crawley. Although they butted heads over everything from the running of the hospital to the future of Downton, Violet and Isobel’s simmering rivalry blossomed into a beautiful friendship, and they ended the series by ringing in 1926 together. Accepting the passage of time, Violet also handed off her village patroness duties to Cora.


Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and Lord Merton (Douglas Reith)

A trained nurse from a family of doctors, Isobel Crawley is a modern-thinking woman with a passion for helping the less fortunate. She entered the world of Downton alongside her son, Matthew, when he was named heir to the estate. Looking for a purpose, Isobel took up a job as chairman of the board of Downton Hospital, and remained a key part of the show even after Matthew’s death. In addition to her series-long rivalry/friendship with Violet, Isobel had a slow-burning romance with Richard “Dickie” Grey, a.k.a. Baron Merton, a kindhearted and wealthy widower. Isobel originally turned down Lord Merton’s marriage proposal for fear of driving a wedge between him and his two terrible adult sons. In the end, however, a heath scare inspired them both to follow their hearts. Dickie relinquished his claim to his estate to his greedy children and married Isobel, moving into her Downton-adjacent residence, Crawley House.


Lady Rose (Lily James) and Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber)

Introduced at the end of season three to inject some young blood into the series after Sybil’s death, Lady Rose is a cousin sent to live with the Crawleys while her diplomat parents are stationed in India. A compassionate but rebellious flapper, she transgressed social boundaries by befriending the servants and briefly dating a Black jazz singer. In the end, she ruffled feathers to a more socially manageable degree by marrying Atticus Aldridge, the son of a prominent Jewish family. They moved to America for Atticus’ work, and while Lily James isn’t set to appear in the Downton movie, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear an update about Rose, Atticus, and their baby daughter, Victoria.


King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James)

Although they were never major characters, the presence of King George V and Queen Mary hung over the entire series, as their 1910-1936 reign both pre- and post-dates the time period of the show. They briefly appeared (played by different actors) at Lady Rose’s Buckingham Palace debutante ball. And the Crawleys even helped their son Prince Edward (a.k.a. the guy who’s abdication kicks off the plot of The King’s Speech) avoid a scandal.


Downstairs

Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan)

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson and Phyllis Logas as Mrs. Hughes (left), with Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore and Sophie McShera as Daisy
Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

A pragmatic housekeeper with a kind heart and a straitlaced butler with a secret vaudeville past and an almost unsettling devotion to the family he serves, Elsie Hughes and Charlie Carson are Downton’s answer to “What if Remains Of The Day had a happy ending?” After years spent co-running the downstairs staff with quiet nobility and mutual respect, Carson proposed at the end of the fifth season, and they married in the sixth. The only thing Carson loves more than his wife are the Crawleys, and he has a particularly special bond with Lady Mary, having served as a surrogate father figure during her childhood. So when a palsy in his hand leaves Carson unable to fulfill his duties, the Crawleys agree he should stay on as an elder statesman and overseer, even as he hands off the day-to-day duties to someone else.


Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna Smith (Joanne Froggatt), plus Baby Bates

Brendan Coyle as John Bates and Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates
Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

Noble valet John Bates and compassionate housemaid-turned-lady’s maid Anna Smith are one of the longest-running romantic pairings on Downton Abbey. Unfortunately for them (and for the audience), they were plagued by tedious legal trouble for most of that time—first over the machinations of Mr. Bates’ Machiavellian ex-wife and later over the murder of Anna’s rapist. After a final season in which Anna struggled with a series of miscarriages, the Bates were finally given their happy ending. She gave birth to their son, and Mary offered to let the baby spend his days alongside her own children in the Downton nursery so that Anna could keep working. While Bates and Robert’s friendship has intermittently been an important element of Downton’s world-building (the two were comrades in the Boer War), the warm bond between Anna and Mary is a cornerstone of the series. After all, moving a dead body together tends to forge strong friendships.


Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier)

Robert James-Collier as Thomas Barrow (left) with Michael Fox as Andy Parker and Kevin Doyle as Joseph Molesley
Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2015 for Masterpiece

Downton Abbey’s resident schemer is also one of its most quietly tragic characters. Forced to keep his homosexuality a secret, and bitter at his inability to climb the ranks of service, Barrow cruelly took out his frustrations on other people. After serving as a soldier in the First World War, Barrow slowly advanced from footman to under-butler, without making many friends in the process. (Already an open secret, his sexual orientation was officially confirmed to his co-workers and employers at the end of season three.) After nearly destroying himself with gay conversion therapy and ultimately attempting suicide in the final season, Barrow finally turned over a new leaf. His newfound commitment to kindness was rewarded in the series finale when he was promoted to butler, a position he gratefully accepted. Barrow’s sweet friendship with the kids of Downton even echoes the paternal relationship between Carson and Mary. Like the upstairs Tom, Barrow is one of the few Downton Abbey characters who’s still single—and it’s hard to think of anyone more deserving of a happy ending.


Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) and Andy Parker (Michael C. Fox)

One of the slowest character arcs to ever unfold across a 14-year time span, Daisy grew from self-doubting kitchen maid to assured assistant cook with a formal education to boot. She also found a surrogate family in her father-in-law, Mr. Mason (Paul Copley). Despite their odd beginning (Daisy was pressured to marry fellow servant William on his deathbed to fulfill his dying wish), Daisy learned to think of Mr. Mason as a true father figure. She fought to get him a permanent position as a tenant farmer on the Downton estate, and eventually agreed to move in with him, too. After six seasons spent on the wrong sides of youthful love triangles, Daisy agrees to “not be out of step any more” with new footman Andy Parker, a city boy yearning for a country life who took up a farming mentorship under Mr. Mason.


Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol)

Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore (left), with Sophie McShera as Daisy Mason
Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

A true stalwart of Downton Abbey, cook Beryl Patmore spent six seasons whipping up impressive feasts and barking at the younger staff members to get their personal lives in order. (She also opened a bed and breakfast as a side hustle along the way.) She’s a best friend and confidante of Mrs. Hughes as well as a mentor and mother figure to Daisy. The end of the series hinted at a potential romantic connection between Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Mason, too.


Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) and Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy)

Two of the kindest people in the Downton universe, Joseph Molesley and Phyllis Baxter both had journeys of finding their confidence. A perpetual bumbler who moved down the ladder from Matthew’s valet to Downton footman, in the end Molesley earned a teaching position at Downton School through his commitment to self-betterment. (He agreed to fill in as footman during big events, which is how he’ll still be in the movie.) Miss Baxter, meanwhile, is an old childhood friend of Barrow’s who arrived in season four as Cora’s new lady’s maid. Her secret criminal past turned out to be the result of a manipulative man rather than her own nefarious ways—something she firmly put behind her by the end of the series. The show set up Molesley and Baxter as a romantic couple, but never officially moved them into anything beyond friendship, so that could be a thread for the movie to explore.


And the rest…

Considering Downton Abbey’s long memory and fondness for callbacks, there are any number of smaller players who might pop up in the film. Although we aren’t likely to see Cora’s brassy American mother, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), or her playboy brother, Harold (Paul Giamatti), they could very well get a mention. (In the series finale, Grandmama Levinson sent along a letter noting she was too old to make the cross-Atlantic voyage anymore.) More likely to make an appearance are Isobel’s friend Dr. Richard Clarkson (David Robb), who heads the village hospital, and Robert’s widowed sister, Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond), an independent-minded woman and mentor for Edith.

Other Downton regulars include Crawley family lawyer George Murray, local law enforcer Sergeant Willis, and Violet’s scheming servants Gladys Denker and Septimus Spratt, the latter of whom turned out to be the secret author behind a popular women’s advice column in Edith’s magazine. Meanwhile, Mary’s former love interests include Turkish diplomat Mr. Pamuk (died in her bed), dashing Tony Foyle, a.k.a. Lord Gillingham (married to Mabel Lane Fox), outspoken Charles Blake (vanished too soon), and elegant Evelyn Napier, one of Downton’s most name-dropped characters ever.

In terms of past staff who might get a mention, the most likely candidate is probably Cora’s former lady’s maid and Thomas’ former frenemy Miss O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran), who jumped ship for greener pastures. There’s also Alfred (off to the Ritz to be a chef), Ivy (off to America to be a cook), Jimmy Kent (fired for sleeping with a guest), Ethel (making peace with the grandparents of the child she bore out of wedlock), and Game Of Thrones’ Rose Leslie as Gwen, a housemaid who left service and eventually rose to become a prominent charity-minded woman, all thanks to Lady Sybil’s help. And, of course, cross your fingers for a reference to the most memorably named Downton character of them all: Rose’s father, Hugh MacClare, a.k.a “Shrimpy.”  

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About the author

Caroline Siede

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.

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