Downton Abbey: A New Era, the sequel film based upon the original series, has repeatedly teased that a scandal regarding Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley, is at the center of the new film’s plot, which might ruin her already established backstory. The Dowager Countess has long been a fan-favorite character; she’s as pretentious as she is enigmatic, with the original series only giving fans brief glimpses into her checkered past. However, now, as the focal point of the sequel, her character runs the risk of losing that enigmatic aloofness that made the character so endlessly watchable.
Prior to the period where A New Era takes place, during a conversation between Violet and Isobel Crawley, Violet revealed that she had once almost eloped with the Russian Prince Igor Kuragin. The two met in 1874, years after Violet had married the Earl of Grantham. Their elopement, which was thwarted by the Prince’s then-wife, was a rare tryst in Violet’s backstory, and made her ultimately more human and endearing to many fans of the show.
However, by focusing the sequel film around an entirely separate affair (or, at least, implied affair) between Violet Crawley and an as of yet unnamed man, the sequel is unintentionally softening the effect of the Dowager’s previous revelation. While it’s unclear if Violet actually had an affair leading to the acquisition of a French villa – as is teased in the film’s trailer – this subplot runs the risk of feeling overdone, particularly as Violet’s storyline was completed in the previous film. Violet also has already had a prior tryst revealed. To reveal another would feel staid and cheap, and ultimately weakens the enigmatic, dignified façade that the Dowager Countess has maintained for so long.
It’s highly possible that, after the first film installment, series creator Julian Fellowes may have been backed into a corner with Violet’s storyline, as the last film implied that perhaps she would not live long enough to see the sequel film’s eponymous “new era.” In many ways, the original film tied up Violet’s long-running character arc, and may be trying to compensate for that mistake in the sequel by revealing never-before-mentioned backstory details. However, in doing so, A New Era may not only be missing a great opportunity for the sequel’s setup, but ruining the series canon as well.
When Violet revealed her near-elopement with Kuragin, it was not only a shock to Isobel, but to the viewers as well. A rare moment of earnestness from Violet offered viewers deep insight into Violet’s origins and her character as a whole. Fellowes, in many ways, is a master of the slow burn, waiting almost five seasons before sharing this revelation regarding the series’ high matriarch. And yet, by implying a similar storyline is coming in A New Era, Fellowes is unintentionally signaling that perhaps Downton Abbey as a franchise is running out of steam.
Though the upcoming Downton Abbey sequel will include more than just this subplot for Violet, as its trailer revealed that a prominent film director will angle to use Downton as a film set, focusing the central mystery around Violet’s implied tryst may ultimately be a rushed mistake. Many characters in the film seem heavily preoccupied with this question: why would a man leave Violet a villa (if not because of an undisclosed affair)? Whatever the answer may be, Downton Abbey: A New Era will have to tread carefully to avoid spoiling a long-established origin story for one of its most beloved characters.