‘Downton’ Demise Draws Near

downtonThe new year brings with it the final season of “Downton Abbey,” the PBS moneymaker that is also the biggest hit ever for the public broadcasting service. So there is no little fanfare accompanying the approaching Jan. 3 start for the season, including an East Coast blitz of TV and personal appearances that culminated in a premiere episode event Thursday at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium full of cheering public TV fans and four popular cast members.

“We never thought it would come to this,” said host Sharon Rockefeller, chairman of the local WETA. “I’m in denial.”

The local PBS station will binge show the entire fifth season the day of the sixth season premiere, and PBS is creating a kind of podcast of background interviews to feed the fans, who, it was pointed out “were more bonkers than the UK.”

The stars of “Downton” who came out for a brief panel discussion and Q&A were used to the U.S. acclaim and seemed to be enjoying it. It was something new for Kevin Doyle, the who plays the butler Mr. Molesley. It was his first time to take in the U.S. devotion firsthand.

“You don’t get this extraordinary energy and enthusiasm,” Doyle said. “Here people who recognize you will cross the street to tell you it’s a brilliant show. At home, people will cross the street to tell you ‘I don’t watch the show.’”

Hugh Bonneville, the Earl of Grantham himself, was present, describing how emotional the final weeks of shooting were.Allen Leech, who plays Tom Branson, showed how adept he was at impersonations. And Phyllis Logan, who plays Mrs. Hughes, showed how different she can look from a downstairs housekeeper in purposely glittery dress and matching tennis shoes.

But I always thought it was Molesley who should star in any upcoming spin-off show, where he wins the lottery, goes on adventures or more likely, runs into more adverse situations.

Doyle, who said he’d be featured in the series “Happy Valley” in the coming months, said he’s especially enjoyed playing Molesley the last couple of years, as his relationship with Miss Baxter has grown. “He’s such a beautiful man,” he said. “He’s got such a big heart, but he’s so fragile and has had so many disappointments.”

Asked what character he would like to play if he wasn’t Molesley, Doyle answered, “I’d like to play Lady Edith.”

“Loser upstairs, loser downstairs,” Leech cracked.

In the premiere episode of the final season, Molesley doesn’t do much; he almost gets tripped up by the hunt dogs in the opening scene and gets a stern look from Mr. Carson. A good deal of the episode has to do with an almost cartoonishly handling of the upcoming marriage of Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson whose upshot is: She won’t set a date because she’s embarrassed about being naked before him. Perversely, she sends Mrs. Padmore to discuss this concern with Mr. Carson — for what seem to be purely comic reasons. There’s also blackmail, rumors of downsizing the house staff to set the stage for the rest of the season. And Mary’s son finally gets to say a line.

Despondent fans were given a thread of hope when someone asked if there was a possibility of an upcoming “Downton” film.

“We may do a film,” said executive producer Gareth Neame, who added, “there’s no firm plans and no script. But I do think a ‘Downton’ movie would be a good way to bring a satisfying end to the whole thing some time in the future.”





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