Almost the entire cast returned for Downton Abbey: A New Era, but here is why Matthew Goode, who plays Henry Talbot, was the lone holdout who didn’t appear at all in the sequel. Picking up from the ending of the 2019 Downton Abbey movie, A New Era involves several members of the Crawley family traveling to the South of France to discover why Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) inherited a villa on the Riviera. Meanwhile, Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) remains behind to oversee Downton Abbey when a British film production arrives to shoot a movie in the great house. The absence of Mary’s husband, Henry, significantly factors into her story throughout Downton Abbey: A New Era.
Matthew Goode joined Downton Abbey as Henry Talbot during the Christmas Special that concluded season 5. Henry, the nephew of Lady Violet’s longtime friend, Lady Shackleton (Harriet Walter), caught Mary’s eye and became her primary love interest when Talbot returned midway through Downton Abbey’s sixth and final season. Henry was a dedicated race car driver and gearhead, which made him a very different romantic prospect than Mary’s late husband, Matthew (Dan Stevens). Yet Henry won Mary’s heart, and they married in 1925. Henry also went into business with Mary’s brother-in-law, Tom Branson (Allen Leech), and they opened a garage together. However, Henry only made a cameo at the end of Downton Abbey 2019; it was explained that Talbot was racing in America, but he made it back to Downton just in time to accompany Mary to the climactic royal ball.
Matthew Goode was altogether absent from Downton Abbey: A New Era because the prolific and in-demand actor was filming The Offer, Paramount+’s limited series about the making of The Godfather, at the time of Downton Abbey: A New Era’s production. In a performance being hailed by audiences and critics, Goode stars as Robert Evans, who was Paramount Pictures’ head of production in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Unfortunately, The Offer’s shooting schedule meant Goode could not join the cast of Downton Abbey: A New Era in any capacity, not even to make a cameo as he did in the 2019 film. In Downton Abbey: A New Era, Mary simply explains that Henry is at a rally in Istanbul, and she laments his absence throughout the film.
Downton Abbey: A New Era utilizes the fact that Henry is missing to great effect as it fuels Mary’s story and relationship with Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), the director of the film shooting at Downton Abbey. As “the captain” of the household, Mary is the person in charge of Downton during the filming, and she ends up working closely with Barber. Mary proves extremely helpful as Jack’s film suffers several disasters that nearly shut the picture down. As such, Barber becomes enamored with Lady Mary, although she holds firm despite her own interest and temptations. Obviously, Jack and Mary wouldn’t have become quite so fond of each other if Henry were at Downton.
Fascinatingly, Henry being away plants the idea that Mary may divorce him. Whether or not that happens is another story since Lady Mary is dedicated to preserving the status quo of Downton Abbey and the happiness of her children. Yet, Henry misses out on several significant events in the lives of the Crawley family in Downton Abbey: A New Era, including Tom’s wedding to Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton) and the death of Lady Violet. It seems that Henry didn’t return for the funeral and was still traveling nine months later when Tom and Lucy returned to Downton with their new baby. What this means for Henry’s future with Mary remains to be seen, but hopefully, Matthew Goode will return if there is a Downton Abbey 3.