She is as much a part of Downton Abbey as its Bath Stone walls – and just as imposing. So it is only right that the redoubtable Dowager Countess of Grantham will remain a constant of the ITV show right until the very end.
By some reckoning, the formidable Crawley family matriarch, played by Dame Maggie Smith, would be 110 at the time the final series is set. But it seems that even the Grim Reaper is so intimidated by the prospect of her withering putdowns that the character will not be killed off.
Lord Fellowes, the Oscar winning creator of the show confirmed the news, saying: ‘Maggie will never die!’
The disclosure that Violet will survive to the end of the final episode – to air on Christmas Day – will be welcomed by the show’s 120 million fans worldwide (including ME).
The Dowager Countess is by far the most popular character and has remained stubbornly alive even though pundits have been predicting her demise ever since the show launched in 2010. And it has been suggested that the Dowager Countess’s death would be the obvious way of bringing the curtain down on the global franchise.
It would certainly be her time. Downton Abbey’s first series was set in 1912, when the character was already in her dotage. The forthcoming sixth series is set more than a decade later.
Fellowes has been careful not to mention the character’s precise age, but in a recent interview Dame Maggie, who is 80, said: ‘I mean, I certainly can’t keep going… To my knowledge I must be 110 by now. We’re into the late 1920s.’
The countess is famous for her biting, waspish putdowns which have been reproduced on T-shirts, mugs and even carrier bags. Fans have made their own compilations of her greatest moments on social media sites including YouTube.
Her most potent one-liners include: ‘Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s very middle class’; ‘If we only had moral thoughts, what would the poor churchmen find to do?’; and ‘It always happens. When you give these little people power, it goes to their heads like strong drink.’
Fellowes said he was pleased with the way the final series, culminating in a feature-length finale, was progressing. And he revealed: ‘All the cast we said goodbye to in series five are all popping up in the final series. It will end on Christmas Day. It will be a two-hour special on Christmas night. I am pleased with the way the whole series is coming on actually.’
He declined to be drawn on specifics about the plots, although fans are hoping that butler Carson and housekeeper Mrs. Hughes will finally tie the knot following his proposal in last year’s Christmas Day episode.
Fellowes said he wouldn’t write his new American television series The Gilded Age, set among the high- society families of New York in the late 19th Century, until he had finally completed work on the last scripts for Downton.
He also said he would welcome a big screen version of Downton, adding: ‘A film budget would allow us to do a Downton story on a scale that is obviously not possible on television. There would be something to achieve that we couldn’t achieve on television and that seems to me to be worthwhile.’
But the peer insisted that, as far as a film version was concerned, nothing was yet ‘fixed, or decided or determined’.
Last week, Jim Carter, who plays Carson, said the cast would miss Downton Abbey when it ends. He said: ‘It’s probably the right time – everything has to come to an end, but we shall miss it enormously.