5 Things We Hope to See in ‘Downton Abbey 3,’ From Fresh Romances to Ghostly Returns

Downton Abbey

Details about new and returning 'Downton Abbey' denizens – including regulars Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) and Elizabeth McGovern (the Countess of Grantham), above – are scarce, leaving us free to speculate wildly about what may (or may not) transpire. Photo: © Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection/Canadian Press

Brush up on your etiquette! We’re headed back to Downton Abbey. Last week, producers revealed that a new movie in the franchise is currently in production, with the core ensemble cast returning to their beloved roles.

Since the award-winning English period drama’s debut in 2010, six lavish television seasons and two successful feature films, spanning 1912 to 1928, have followed the lives of aristocrats and servants at the titular country estate. Through its cross-class and intergenerational friction as well as social upheaval and sumptuous settings, the franchise has spawned cookbooks, craft gin, a traveling exhibition and a tourist destination: on her blog, Lady Carnarvon discusses the welcome return of filming at Highclere Castle, the Hampshire estate that plays Downton on screen.

The first Downton Abbey: The Movie delivered internal drama as the household prepared for a royal visit; in its sequel Downton Abbey: A New Era, an inherited French Riviera villa raised questions of legacy and concluded with the death of formidable dowager countess Grantham (played with relish by Dame Maggie Smith, now 89). Below stairs, Andy ascended to butlerdom and longsuffering cook Mrs. Patmore made a love match with Daisy’s father-in-law.

As always, with the upcoming film we can expect complicated misunderstandings, the pomp and ritual of polished silver and meticulous production values. Details about what Downton’s new and returning denizens will get up to are otherwise scarce, leaving us free to speculate wildly about what may (or may not) transpire.


Family Matters

The first two movies were set in 1927 and 1928 respectively, so if creator and writer Julian Fellowes, 74, stays true to form then number three should pick up shortly after the last left off – 1929 or thereabouts. Even if a few years have passed, what’s certain is there will be real events from the historical timeline to enliven the upstairs/downstairs plots. The current events Fellowes folds into the melodrama tend to be low-hanging fruit – no need to even scan Wikipedia’s top headlines of 1929 world events when the choice is obvious: the Roaring ‘20s come to an abrupt halt on Black Tuesday, with the infamous Wall Street stock market crash that October. The American economy weathered a decade-long economic downturn in its aftermath, known as the Great Depression, and since the crash wiped out entire fortunes it would make sense as a plot point around Harold Levinson, the American-born Countess of Grantham’s (Elizabeth McGovern, 62) playboy brother. Production announced that Paul Giamatti, 56, fresh from his Oscar-nominated turn in Alexander Payne’s award-winning The Holdovers, is reprising that role.

Downton Abbey
Paul Giamatti, 56, returns as Harold Levinson, the American-born Countess of Grantham’s playboy brother in the upcoming film Downton Abbey 3. Photo: JC Olivera/Getty Images


Reversals of Fortune

Devotees will remember that Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, 60) at one point travelled to America to assist Harold’s legal trouble (and ill-fated oil investments). Harold later visited during Rose’s London coming-out ball. We could imagine him having lost it all and seeking refuge (and taking up residence) at his aristocratic sister’s country house. Not that there’s much cash to spare – recall that in A New Era, the family only allowed a film shoot at the estate in order to afford a much-needed new roof. Lady Edith’s magazines remain an ongoing concern, probably getting more political and covering the Great Depression and rise of Fascism in Europe. What Sir Simon Russell Beale, 63 (The Death of Stalin) will be up to remains a mystery, but great things are in store anytime the eminent thesp is on the call sheet. Also joining the cast? English acting royalty Joely Richardson, 59 (Nip/Tuck), the RADA-trained daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson. We can picture Richardson as the intellectual hostess of a London literary salon (and she would make a worthy adversary for the free-spirited bachelor Harold).

Downton Abbey
English actress Joely Richardson, 59, daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson, is also joining the cast of the upcoming Downton Abbey film. Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images


A Fine Romance 

Dominic West, 54, also returns as the easygoing English-born Hollywood movie star Guy Dexter, part of the silent-turned-talkie location shoot in A New Era. The actor struck up a romance with butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier, 47), a closeted gay man, and the sequel gave the fan favourite a happy ending, of sorts. The end of A New Era sees him bid everyone farewell and move to Los Angeles to live with Guy on his own terms (albeit publicly posing as his dresser). James-Collier is listed in the returning cast, so perhaps an excursion to the exotic City of Angels is in order? (The first Academy Awards ceremony takes place in 1929, after all.) Let’s also remember, from around the same time, the story of William Haines, the Hollywood box office star-turned-decorator: the out gay star’s career was cut short when, despite the homophobic and discriminatory era, he refused to deny his homosexuality. Haines quit the business and instead went on to form a successful interior design business with his live-in partner. Another reason for the cast to go Hollywood? When we last saw them, Kevin Doyle’s Mr. Molesley had not only reciprocated the affections of lady’s maid Raquel Cassidy but discovered his talents as a screenwriter.

Downton Abbey
Dominic West, 54, reprises his role as the easygoing English-born Hollywood movie star Guy Dexter in the new Downton Abbey film. Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images



Dashing New Suitors

Stalwart fans are hoping that Michelle Dockery’s anchor character Lady Mary gets a throughly modern divorce since the last movie ended. Or will her wandering husband Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode, 46) actually appear on screen this time? A New Era explained away his prolonged absence (apparently due to the actor’s scheduling conflict) as being off racing cars. But Henry even missed Violet’s funeral, which should finish an already-strained marriage. If Goode doesn’t make good, newcomer Arty Froushan poses tantalizing possibilities. (Not that handsome actors exist merely as love interests…) 

The outrageous popularity of Anne Hathaway’s 40ish single mother being wooed by a younger man in The Idea of You (now officially Prime’s most successful rom-com ever) has awakened an appetite for the premise. The charismatic Alessandro Nivola, 51, is another new addition with intriguing potential. Either way, Downton has been so chaste (next to Bridgerton, positively quaint) that we should send Fellowes the recent reissue of Ex-Wife, Ursula Parrott’s scandalous Jazz Age divorcée novel for inspiration.

Another intriguing addition to the  Downton Abbey 3 cast is Alessandro Nivola, 51, who holds potential as a love interest for Lady Mary. Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic/Getty Images


From Beyond the Grave

Fellowes can be pretty corny, so why not also whimsical? Let’s dabble in the supernatural. When Downton debuted, distant cousins Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens, 41) and Lady Mary were star-crossed lovers. After seasons of sparring they eventually married – then the actor dramatically left Downton, killed off in a car accident in the 2012 Christmas special. Stevens’s roles since quitting Downton attest to his eclectic taste: the cult thriller The Guest, musical comedy Eurovision Song Contest and (my favourite) a turn as a humanoid robot designed to be the ultimate boyfriend in German sci-fi romance I’m Your Man. Most recently, Abigail, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire and Cuckoo (and that’s just this spring) mean he’s game for anything. 

Apparently fans still ask if he’s going to be in the next movie, so hear us out: resurrect him as Matthew’s ghost, haunting Lady Mary’s new relationship à la Kiss Me Goodbye, Truly Madly Deeply and Noël Coward’s screwball Blithe Spirit (another recent title in Stevens’s filmography). 

Failing that, we’d settle for the spooky, disembodied voice of Maggie Smith’s dowager countess delivering pithy one-liners every so often. We hear stately homes are rife with ancestral ghosts.