After Downton Abbey: A New Era, it may be too late for Lily James to star as Lady Rose Aldridge in a sequel. Downton Abbey: A New Era brings sweeping change to the lives of the Crawley family and their servants. While Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) oversees a film production at Downton Abbey, Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) leads a contingent of the family to the French Riviera to investigate why his mother, Lady Violet the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), was given a villa. By the end of A New Era, Downton Abbey is poised to enter the 1930s having lost Lady Violet but gaining another new family member: the newborn baby of Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and his wife Lucy (Tuppence Middleton).
Lily James joined Downton Abbey at the end of season 3 and she became a principal cast member in seasons 4 and 5. Essentially, James’ spirited and rebellious Lady Rose MacClare, a cousin of Lord Grantham, was the replacement for Lady Sybil after Jessica Brown-Findlay chose to exit Downton Abbey and her character was dramatically killed off. Initially self-centered, Rose was a bit of a troublemaker who made scandalous choices in her choice of romantic partners, such as Jack Ross (Gary Carr), an African-American jazz singer Rose nearly ran off with. Rose chose to marry Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber), a Jewish banker whose family hailed from Russia. The Adridges moved to America and had a baby but Rose and Atticus did return for the Downton Abbey series finale, which was set during Christmas 1925. Since then, there have been two Downton Abbey films moving the saga forward to 1929.
Unfortunately, the window for Lily James to reprise Lady Rose in a Downton Abbey movie could be closing. From a story perspective, given the events of the two Downton Abbey films thus far, Rose has missed King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) staying at Downton in the 2019 film, and she didn’t return for Tom Branson’s (Allen Leech) wedding to Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton). Rose also wasn’t present for Lady Violet’s solemn funeral procession at the end of Downton Abbey: A New Era. One would think if anything would bring Rose back to Downton Abbey, it would be to attend the funeral of the Dowager Countess. While Rose is raising at least one young child in America, her absence from the major Crawley family events in Downton Abbey: A New Era would make it even harder for Downton’s creator, Julian Fellowes, to concoct a rationale for when and how Rose could appear. (Possibly if Rose’s cousin Robert dies, God forbid.)
If there is a Downton Abbey 3, the possibility does exist that the Crawleys could come to America and see Rose there. In an interview with Screen Rant, both Allen Leech and Laura Carmichael, who plays Lady Edith Pelham, mused about the next film being set in America and involving the family of Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern). Cora’s mother Martha Levinson and her brother Harold appeared in Downton Abbey seasons 3 and 4, played by Shirley MacClaine and Paul Giamatti. There is obviously some thought about potential Downton Abbey 3 storylines in the works among the cast, and it would likely take coming to America – where Julian Fellowes produces the Downton Abbey-adjacent prequel HBO’s The Gilded Age – to involve Lily James as Lady Rose one more.
Lily James said that she “would have loved” to be part of Downton Abbey 2019 but Julian Fellowes cited at the time how “Lily [James] is now a big star, and it would’ve been incredibly difficult for her to find time in her schedule to come and play essentially a supporting role in Downton when her career was in a different place when she was with us.” James’s career is, indeed, red-hot and she continues to be in demand in both films and TV; Lily recently transformed herself into Pamela Anderson to star in Hulu’s Pam & Tommy. Given the sheer size of Downton Abbey: A New Era’s cast, an appearance by Lily James in Downton Abbey 3 would likely be a supporting one or just a cameo if it can even happen at all, but hope springs eternal.