Downton Abbey: A New Era actor Penelope Wilton has admitted to being jealous of Maggie Smith’s funny lines throughout the series. Downton Abbey, of course, first began as the hit television series created by Julian Fellowes. Running for six seasons between 2010 and 2015, the series follows the story of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servant staff as they face the changes that are brought to their way of life by the beginning of the twentieth century. After Downton Abbey concluded in 2015, the franchise was silent for nearly four years, until it was revived in 2019 with the Downton Abbey movie. The series will continue this year when the movie’s sequel, Downton Abbey: A New Era, is released in theatres on May 20th.
While Downton Abbey has always been first and foremost a period drama, the series has never been without its humor. While many of the characters who make up the series’ massive cast have had their own crack at the more comedic side of the show over the years, much of Downton Abbey’s humor can be found in the rocky relationship between Smith’s Dowager Countess and Wilton’s Cousin Isobel. While the two characters were initially presented somewhat as enemies at the beginning of Downton Abbey, Isobel and the Dowager Countess eventually become close friends, though neither would necessarily admit it. Nearly every scene between the two women is jam-packed with witty digs and banter as they constantly spar against each other, with the Dowager Countess nearly always winning.
This confrontational relationship certainly carried on throughout the Downton Abbey film, and it looks as though A New Era is shaping up to be no different. In a recent interview with The Daily Mail, Isobel actor Wilton reflected on her character’s relationship with Smith’s and revealed that she has actually long been jealous of the dialogue given to the Dowager Countess. According to Wilton “Maggie gets all the best lines!” In fact, it seems Wilton has felt this way for some time, as she has even admitted that she once approached Downton Abbey creator Fellowes about perhaps having Isobel win at least one of the numerous arguments that the two characters have throughout the franchise. Wilton stated that Fellowes’ response was simply saying “no.” See her full quote below:
“Maggie gets all the best lines! With Maggie, you need to be on your game to hit the ball back at her. I said to Julian: ‘Can I at least win one of the arguments?’ and he said: ‘No.'”
While in the nearly twelve years of Downton Abbey’s existence, Fellowes has yet to write a scene where the Dowager Countess does not emerge victorious in a battle of wits, Wilton should still feel proud of her character for the way she handles herself. Throughout the series, it has been made quite clear that none of the other characters are brave enough to ever question the Dowager Countess, and yet Cousin Isobel consistently does it every episode. She may never win an argument (though this is often due simply to Smith’s character’s stubbornness), but she has never given up and is certainly the only one clever enough to even try.
With that said, the journey is not over yet, and perhaps the release of Downton Abbey: A New Era will see Isobel Merton finally throw out the perfect witty one-liner. It has been revealed that the new film will revolve heavily around a secret life that the Dowager Countess once lived in France, which may leave the character in a vulnerable spot for a perfect comeback. Fellowes has admitted that he would feel alright if Downton Abbey were to finish after this film, and it would seem somewhat unfair to have the series conclude without a moment of victory for Isobel. Of course, only time will tell, and fans will have to wait until the release of Downton Abbey: A New Era to see if Smith remains the undefeated champion of sass or not.