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PBS is saying goodbye to its crown jewel.
The sixth and final season of Downton Abbey, the network’s highest rated drama, is set to bow Jan. 3 — but that likely won’t be the end of it. Executive producer Gareth Neame addressed rumors of a feature film Saturday at the Television Critics Association press tour. “There is this speculation about whether we’d make a Downton movie, and we might. It’s something we’ve talked about,” he said, adding that though he thinks a film would be “a wonderful thing,” there is currently no script or firm plans in place at the moment.
A movie would mean extending the story even more for the show’s cast, who were actually under the impression that the British drama was going to end after its fifth season. “It was [creator] Julian [Fellowes] who said he felt it would be a bit truncated that way … so he wanted to do another nine episodes to make the stories land in a more appropriate way,” Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley) revealed on stage. Bonneville was joined by fellow castmembers Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley) and Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley), who each took turns reminiscing about their six years together.
Neame went on to explain the rationale for wrapping up the series now: “There is no question that we could have made a season 7 or 8 — I’m sure they would have been fantastic, but it’s about leaving a little bit earlier than you might.” He and Fellowes felt that ending after the fifth season would have shortchanged the audience, while stretching it out to 7 or even 8 seasons would have had them struggling to find story ideas. “Maybe we’re leaving a little bit early,” he admitted, “but I think it’s on a really high note.”
With only two more weeks left of filming to go, the cast was sentimental about what feels to them like the end of an era. It’s getting especially real now that they’ve had to bid farewell to some of their other castmembers, as a small handful shot their final scenes last week. For Carmichael, saying goodbye to Highclere Castle was the hardest — to the extent that she and Dockery cried together on Matthew’s bench that day. “In a split second, it felt like it wasn’t home anymore,” she said. “The moment they said ‘cut’ on that day, you realize that it was just pretend.”
It may be an emotional time for the cast and crew, but everyone involved felt that it was the right time to close the chapter. Neame acknowledged that it may seem too soon for some fans, but he’d prefer to go out leaving something desired. “The best thing that I can hear is for you to say, ‘I don’t want to show to end,’ because I want you to watch season six and think it’s the best season yet, and then I want you to take a month off and then go right back to season one and watch the whole thing again — and I want you to love it for the rest of your life,” he said to laughs from the audience, adding in jest: “I don’t want people to go, ‘Oh, it’s such a shame about the last season because Hugh Bonneville asked for three times as much money, so he couldn’t come back.’ “
The final season of Downton Abbey premieres Sunday, Jan. 3 on PBS.
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