Hollywood stars have been unable to resist getting involved, American audiences have taken it to their hearts and even the royals are fans. Since its very first series in 2010, Downton Abbey has taken the TV world by storm on an international scale - perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a British period drama about the lives of aristocrats and their servants.
There'll be plenty of people mourning its loss as it draws to a close with the sixth series this autumn, and with just days of filming left before it wraps on August 15, the cast and creators have been discussing how it feels to say goodbye to the popular show - and dropping tantalising hints about the “shocks and surprises” of the final run.
Answering questions at a press call in Los Angeles this weekend, cast members revealed the end of filming at Highclere Castle recently was an emotional experience, with Laura Carmichael, who plays Lady Edith, admitting the impressive country estate felt like home.
“It’s strange saying goodbye to the castle,” she told a press conference at an event for The Television Critics Association. “It felt like, for a split second, it wasn’t our home anymore. And of course it never was our home, but it felt like it. As soon as they said ‘cut’ on that day, you realized it was just pretend. It was very emotional.”
Hugh Bonneville, who plays the Earl of Grantham, added: “In fact we celebrated when we finished in the dining room because the longest scenes take place there. We had a team photo in there.”
Michelle Dockery, otherwise known as Lady Mary Crawley, revealed that on the last day. she and Carmichael “didn't want to leave” and had “sat on Matthew's bench.” Carmichael added, “And we had a good cry”.
Elizabeth McGovern, aka the Countess of Grantham, said she’ll miss the quiet of the time period the show is set in. The first series opens set in 1912. “In today’s world we’re inundated with information all the time [...] I miss the peace of this world where everybody knew their place and accepted it. Life seemed so quiet by comparison. I think that’s part of the appeal and escape [of the show].”
Bonneville meanwhile revealed his favourite line from the script: “My favourite line is one of Mary’s: ‘I’m going upstairs to take off my hat.’”
Asked about the sixth series, he said it had “a flavour of the end of an era”, going on to reveal his character - who has been typically resistant to change - begins to come to terms with downsizing.
“We visit a neighbour in the county who literally has to sell the estate's silver,” he said. “Robert, the dinosaur that he has been [...] does see that change is necessary. He wants to conserve the best of the past but absolutely understands that the future beckons.”
And indeed, one clip shown at the event did show - shock, horror - Lord and Lady Grantham sneaking into the kitchen and making themselves a snack from the household's new fridge.
Executive producer Gareth Neame also dropped some hints, saying, “Sometimes people lose their jobs and have to go out and find another job. It doesn't come across as sad in the show but it will hopefully make it feel like an ending.”
He went on to tell one publication that the end-of-an-era concept “comes in really sharply in the final season. It is just accelerating the idea that Downton Abbey can't continue the way it has, so the idea of scaling down and downsizing becomes more and more clear.”
He also added that historical events don't impact the storyline as much as they have previously, and there are fewer guest stars in order to keep focus “on the household”.
However he did admit that while he and creator Julian Fellowes were conscious of not upsetting fans, there will be “some shocks and surprises and things that don't quite turn out as you'd expect”.
Rumours of a Downton Abbey film were also addressed and in news sure to delight fans, Neame said it was something they were “definitely considering” though nothing firm is yet in place.
“There's rumour and speculation. I'm not denying anything; I think a Downton movie could be a wonderful thing. But we don't have a script or plan yet.”
The series ends in the 1920's, and Fellowes confirmed there was still “a lot of rich territory” for a film to explore. The writer has previously revealed he had an idea for a film plot but wasn't "anxious to do it".
He also discussed why they decided series six was the perfect time to end the award-winning show. “If we had finished at five, that would have been short-changing a global audience,” he explained. “And if we tried to do eight, that would have felt like running out of ideas […]
“The best thing [a viewer] can say is ‘I don’t want the show to end.’”
Images: Rex Features