(Spoiler alert: Do not read this story if you have set to watch the series finale of “Downton Abbey.”)
Interviewing Gareth Neame for the “Downton Abbey” series finale was quite bittersweet.
Bitter, because the man’s terrific period drama has officially come to an end; sweet, in that its series creator offers a very refreshing style of interviewing — he tells the truth.
“We listen to what the fans say, and you start to realize what the fans want to see,” he said.
What the “Downton” fans were saying was how unfortunate Edith’s luck has been throughout the run of the British show’s six seasons.
Until the very end, the character had been extremely unlucky in love, and was even pressured to give up her illegitimate daughter, Marigold. Generally, “Poor Edith” was treated like the ugly duckling of the Crawley estate, often settling for no attention at all, let alone praise and personal joy.
“You suddenly flip the Edith story around, and make her the lucky one,” Neame explained of the ending. “Let’s make her the happiest one of the lot.”
Neame wanted to be clear that he hasn’t been writing-to-order based on fan requests, but he was open to outside opinions — and it turned out the public’s and producers’ ideas were simpatico.
And it wasn’t just Edith that Neame, Julian Fellowes and the gang pulled an about-face on. The finale includes a lovely reintroduction of Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) to the Downton estate. As far as “bad guys” go in the upstairs/downstairs soap, Barrow was among the most scheming throughout much of the run.
Now, with the unfortunate illness of Carson (Jim Carter), Barrow is back in the Crawleys’ good graces and their house — with a promotion to boot.
“We sensed there had been a bit of a change in people’s perception of Thomas,” Neame said, pegging the turning point around Seasons 4 or 5. “I think there was increasing sympathy for him.”
Of course, not everything that happened over the 52 episodes of “Downton” made fans’ hearts flutter. Here’s something Neame and Fellowes did that fans absolutely hated: the duo killed off Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) during the character’s happiest moment.
However, that one wasn’t entirely their call anyway. Stevens gave the gang pretty late notice that he would not be returning for the next run. They were forced to react, whether viewers liked it or not.
At the time, the fan-favorite leaving the show seemed like the “worst thing that could have happened to us,” Neame recalled in our interview. But he said, in the end, it proved to be the “best opportunity [we] ever had.”
“I don’t know what Mary and Matthew would have done in hindsight in Season 4, if he would have stayed alive,” the executive producer told us. “I think that they would have been looking at school prospectuses for George. It wouldn’t have been dramatic at all.”
Now, everyone is gone — in one way or another. And what every “Downton Abbey” fan wants to know is: What’s next for the Crawley crew?
There definitely will not be another season, or a special, or anything on the small-screen, Neame told us.
“The television show is finished,” he said. “There may or may not be a movie. I happen to hope that there will be, and I think a movie would be a wonderful and very logical extension.”
For the potential film, assembling the massive cast is already the biggest problem. Everyone involved wants to do a movie adaptation, Neame said — but it’d require an effort of coordinating many schedules. And now that everyone is free and famous, that becomes a bit trickier.
That said, Neame is betting on it happening anyway.
“I’m more optimistic than not that we’ll be able to make this work in the next couple of years,” he said to us, a few days before his series concluded in the United States.