When Matthew Crawley died at the end of Downton Abbey’s third season I actually think I went a little bit insane. The show and its characters had ingrained themselves so deeply on my psyche that there was a part (albeit and small and very secret part) of me that believed that they were real. Losing Matthew, I’m ashamed to say, hit me like a blow. I went into a sort of Downton frenzy, combing the internet for interviews with the cast, and hints to what lay ahead. Of course, as time went on, I calmed down. Came to my senses. Moved on. But now, this:
Downton’s creator Julian Fellowes hinted to The Sun last month that a prequel might be in the works. Despite the article’s headline, “Downton Abbey set for prequel with new cast of stars,” Fellowes’ comments were vague and certainly not definitive. He told the newspaper, “I think it would be possible to do a prequel that was re-cast and do a sort of a love story so you went right back and had the young cast arriving in the show as footmen and Mrs. Patmore being a kitchen maid.” Possible, yes. But in the works? Not necessarily.
But, it does beg the question: how would die-hard Downton fans feel about a prequel? Of course, as evidenced by my frenzied internet searches, fans will watch anything Downton-related, just to get a hit of their favorite world, now lost to them. So, in that sense, it’s a good business venture for Fellowes and his team since they know there’s an audience primed and ready to receive any show with Downton in its title.
But would it be any good? Fellowes implied to The Sun that the show would center on Robert and Cora’s love story, including characters like Mrs. Patmore, Mr. Carson, and Mrs. Hughes at the start of their careers in the house. It’s actually not a bad idea for a story.
For the uninitiated, Robert (the Earl of Grantham), married Cora (an American) for her money. She married him for his title, merging her “new” American money with the “old” (and therefore respectable) aristocracy. Though it was a marriage of convenience, by the time we meet them at the start of Downton Abbey, they have fallen in love.
I’m sure it would be full of the drama and romance we’ve come to expect from Downton Abbey. I can imagine lots of back and forth between Cora and the staff as her American ways clash with how things have been done for centuries. And I’m picturing lots of scenes in which Robert, prepared to find his American wife ridiculous, begins to fall for her in spite of himself. And, of course, there would be much intrigue among the servants, made more interesting because we know who they will become. (Imagine Mrs. Patmore sneaking out to meet a lover, for example!)
But, the place where I think I’d have trouble, is watching different actors play these parts. So much of what makes Downton so engrossing is the portrayals of the characters in the house. At this point, they feel like old friends. And it’s largely because of the masterful acting of the ensemble cast. Somehow the idea of anyone other than Jim Carter, for example, playing Mr. Carson, or Hugh Bonneville playing Robert Crawley feels wrong. Not to mention Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess. Who else could play that role? No one!
So, could we get past this? I don’t know. I guess it would depend on the strength of the actors playing these parts. And on Fellowes’ ability to do it again. To drop us back into this world he created for us and let us inhabit for six seasons. It’s possible. Fellowes is really good at what he does. But it’s not a given by any means. Ultimately, though, I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will happen. But I’m a sucker for anything Downton. Is your head clearer than mine? What do you think about a Downton prequel?