Downtown Abbey: Family faces financial threat in final season

Season 6 revels in the awkwardness between butler Carson (Jim Carter) and housekeeper Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan, both left).
Season 6 revels in the awkwardness between butler Carson (Jim Carter) and housekeeper Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan, both above).

The sixth and final season of Downton Abbey opens in 1925 and sees the Crawley family coming under financial threat. Austerity starts to bite, according to actor Hugh Bonneville, who plays Robert, Earl of Grantham.

"Robert and people like him are facing an uncertain future," says the 51-year-old.

This is brought into focus when the aristocratic owners of nearby Mallerton are forced to sell their home.

"That's when Robert begins to realise that the writing is on the wall for the estates like Downton," adds Bonneville. "It's time to adapt or die."

Robert's wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham (played by Elizabeth McGovern), is also facing up to the changes. "Everything is changing in the world and Cora, in her way, is starting to take a little bit more control," says McGovern, 54.

"She's not as affected by the outside world as the young girls are, who're really going out and becoming very independent. But Cora is flexing her muscles more than she used to."

Among the "girls", Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) moves into business mode, taking over at Downton as Estate Manager. "And then when it comes to romance, there is not much going on in that department until Henry Talbot turns up," says Dockery, 33, with a smile.

Fans will remember that Henry (Matthew Goode) popped up in last year's Christmas Special.

Elsewhere in the Crawley family, Mary's sister Edith (Laura Carmichael) is down in London, running her late husband's magazine while raising her child. "I want her to be happy in a relationship," says Carmichael, 29, of her character's story arc in the final season. "She deserves a happy ending after all she has been through."

There are fluctuating futures downstairs too. The end of last season saw the butler Carson (Jim Carter) propose to the housekeeper Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan), and the first episode of Season 6 revels in the awkwardness between the pair as they start to consider the physical implications of marriage.

"It is nice to get a bit of humour out of it," says Logan, 59. "But also it is lovely when you have a more delicate or sensitive scene to play."

Episode one sees their first kiss. Carter, 67, says: "We got together like two old tortoises. People have been willing us to get together and slowly it looked as though we will, so the kiss was a nice moment."

Staying downstairs, there is more seriousness for the Bates family. "At the start of the new season, Anna and Bates are waiting to hear if a case is to be made against them for any involvement in Mr Green's death," notes Brendan Coyle, 51, who plays Bates. "It's been a rocky road for this couple and there's a sense that they're not out of the woods yet."

There is yet more for Anna to worry about, says 35-year-old actress Joanne Froggatt, who plays the character. "Anna has just had another miscarriage and is starting to think she's unable to go full term and have children. She's hugely upset and depressed and feels she's not doing her duty as a woman."

The rest of the downstairs staff members are also under pressure. Cutbacks upstairs look certain to have an impact on staff numbers. For Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), this is a major cause of concern.

"They have to get rid of people downstairs," says James-Collier, 38, "and Thomas, because of his past misdemeanours, is starting to get paranoid and thinks he's public enemy No. 1."

Whatever each character's narrative resolution, McGovern says she believes the audiences will be happy with what transpires.

She says: "It is a tall order to have to write the end to something that people have invested six years loyalty to, so I don't envy Julian's (Fellowes, the creator) task, but I think he has given audiences a chance to say goodbye to their favourite characters."

It is the right time to end the Downton story, she adds. "The show comes to a close at the same time as history is taking this way of life away from these people.

"You see that their life is slowly being chipped away by the wheel of time and so it gives it a kind of an added poignancy to it all.

"I think it will be satisfying for the audiences."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'Family faces financial threat in final season'. Print Edition | Subscribe