The cast of one of the most loved fictional stately homes recently returned to cinema screens in Downton Abbey: A New Era. With just as much excitement as the previous movie and series, the storylines took fans on another interesting journey. Although Downton Abbey had its fair share of lovable downstairs characters, whose struggles for survival often created the best storylines, fans would probably agree that the most complex and tragic characters were those that lived upstairs.
The Crawleys, with their cruel enemies and suspicious friends, were undoubtedly at the heart of the show. Their fight to protect the traditions of Downton Abbey while trying to find happiness and love ended up giving the fans some of the most emblematic lines in period drama TV history, and sum up exactly what these characters believed in.
“I’m Sorry, But I’m Afraid I Can’t Turn Into Somebody Else Just To Please You.”
When the Crawley family teases Tom for not dressing up for dinner and refusing to wear a morning coat at Mary and Matthew’s wedding in the season 3 premiere, he speaks up in his typically blunt and honest fashion. He never truly fits in with the Crawleys, and his struggle to navigate high society is the central conflict of his story.
Tom is a firm believer that social rank is trivial and does not matter, which is why he does not hesitate to go after what he wants — Sybil. His love for her transcends social boundaries, and he is not afraid to speak his mind when it comes to dealing with his in-laws.
“I’m Only Going To Marry If I Am Totally, Absolutely In Love.”
When Rose asks her father to give her the freedom to marry for love in the fourth episode of season 5, he knows that he has no right to give her marital advice. Rose manages to do what Sybil almost did — have her happy ending with the man she loved regardless of their differences in faith.
Atticus is not from a different social rank, but he is still seen as being “unsuitable” for Rose due to his Jewish faith. Their love story allowed Downton Abbey to explore the relevant issue of anti-Semitism, while also mirroring a story from the creator’s life (Julian Fellowes spoke out to Time about his young romance with a Jewish girl and the anti-Semitism they faced).
“You’ve Shown Me I’ve Been Living In A Dream, And It’s time To Return To Real Life.”
When Mary once again disappoints Matthew during the final episode of season 1, he understandably ends up withdrawing his proposal. She was thinking about refusing if her mother’s unborn child had been a boy, and she knows that her calculating nature has ruined her chances.
This uncertainty shows Matthew that he could never be sure of her motivations behind their engagement. Throughout the show and up until his tragic death, Matthew’s character is marked by his doubts and his inability to ever fully trust any of the Crawleys or his luck. His reply to Mary in this iconic scene truly shows his biggest fears and regrets, and his death echoed the idea that his entire life at Downton was a dream.
“It’s Doing Nothing That’s The Enemy!”
One of the brightest elements of Sybil’s otherwise tragic story is her courage and her determination to stand up for what is right. Whether it is telling Edith in the third episode of season 2 that doing nothing to help during the war is unacceptable or running away to elope with Tom four episodes later, Sybil remains headstrong.
Sybil knows that she could not just watch the war without doing anything to help, and her decision to take action and to train and volunteer as a nurse is a pivotal moment for her storyline. Perhaps the most tragic irony of the show is that it was exactly lack of action on the family’s part that ended up killing Sybil so prematurely.
“The Fact Is, I’d Like A Life.”
Edith is one of the more polarizing characters on Downton Abbey, but by the end of the show, most fans learned to love her. She is incredibly morally complex and often pitted against her sisters, which understandably made her bitter.
Edith goes through quite a lot throughout the show, from being left at the altar to having an illegitimate daughter. Her struggle to stand out and be appreciated is just a fight for happiness since, in the end, all she wants is to have a good life and a loving family. Fortunately, the wish she voiced in front of her aunt in the premiere episode of season 6 ended up coming true — she really did begin living life fully once she moved to London.
“Sometimes I Don’t Know Whom I’m Most In Mourning For, Matthew Or The Person I Used To Be When I Was With Him.”
Losing Matthew was arguably the biggest tragedy of Mary’s story. She starts off as a cold person, knowing that the only thing that is expected of her is to become somebody’s wife. It’s obvious that she is not content with her situation, although she never rebels the way Sybil did.
However, falling in love with Matthew changed her completely, so losing him was the biggest blow she experiences. Her confession to Anna in the third episode of season 4 marks the moment she knew that her life will never be the same without Matthew. Even as years pass after the crash and Mary relearns how to love and to be happy, thanks to Henry, she is never quite the same woman.
“What Shall We Call Each Other?”
Isobel’s quick wit and unapologetic behavior are her hallmark, and it all begins when she meets the Dowager in the second episode of season 1. However, her character is perhaps most famous for her unexpected friendship with the Crawley matriarch.
From taking care of Violet during her sickness to bickering with her about the necessity of maids, Isobel’s storylines never stray too far from the Dowager Countess. Their friendship begins with uncertainty and no small amount of disdain but it grows stronger as time passes. Most notably, Isobel’s relationship with Lord Merton is facilitated and supported by the Dowager, who stands by her even when Lord Merton’s children try to stop her.
“No Life Appears Rewarding If You Think About It Too Much.”
Some argue that Violet Crawley is the true main character of Downton Abbey, and they have a point. Violet delivers some shady burns, is blunt, loves to meddle, and has no concept of life outside of the aristocracy, but she is also wise and often a lot more compassionate than those around her realize.
Her experience allows her to make judgments that most people cannot afford, and she knows that digging too deep is perhaps a fruitless endeavor. This is exactly why nearly everything she says is measured and said precisely at the right moment, leaving the viewers with a treasury of memorable lines and shady burns, including her observation from the eighth episode of season 4 that life should not be pondered over too much if it is to be enjoyed.
“Being Tested Only Makes You Stronger.”
Although she comes to this conclusion when trying to console Edith in the third episode of season 3, Cora, herself, goes through her sad times on Downton Abbey and fair share of testing.
She has to deal with the devastating death of her daughter, the loss of her son-in-law, marital problems, nearly dying of the Spanish flu, losing a baby, and that’s just the start. She is incredibly resilient and stays loyal to her family, even if they do not always deserve that loyalty. The trials and tribulations of her life only serve to make her one of the best characters.
“I Have Given My Life To Downton. I Was Born Here, And I Hope To Die Here.”
There is no doubt that the first concern of Robert is, ultimately, the future of Downton. Fans learn that in the very first episode of the show when he makes it clear that his main priority will always be the Crawley legacy. He is a loving father, and he tries to do right by his family, but the well-being and prosperity of the estate usually come first.
He realizes that family duty is important, yet he also sees Downton as his “third parent and fourth child,” which shows exactly how much he cares about its fate. At the end of the day, Downton Abbey’s core mission is to tell the story of Robert’s fight to protect his legacy, while his family chips away at its integrity.
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