Although "Downton Abbey's" storyline is set decades ago in the early years of the 20th Century, the show's pot-boiling plotlines have for legions of devoted fans felt as urgent as if they were happening today. And never have they felt as urgent as now, when the British-produced series airs its final episode in the U.S. after bringing the series to a close in its home country on Christmas Day 2015 after six enthusiastically received seasons.
Did Mary choose wisely by following her heart to marry the dashing racecar driver Henry? Can Edith ever find a lasting love – and does she really need one? Will Mrs. Patmore's new inn survive its initial reputation as a house of ill repute? Can Mr. Barrow find an estate of his own to serve? Will the grand estate and all its beloved denizens continue to survive and thrive as the world evolves around it? And will the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, as she typically does, have the last word?
Although they were sworn to uphold the secrecy of the show's final moments for those U.S. viewers who've managed to avoid spoilers thus far, members of the "Downton Abbey" cast and creative team shared their thoughts on bringing the phenomenally successful series to a close, the ways in which it touched their lives, and whether there's a future for more tales from the aristocracy of the past.
Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley):
"It feels right that Season 6 wraps it up, but of course, at the same time, it's saying goodbye to it, it's just strange. It's beginning to sink in now. When we had the last shooting day at Highclere, that was huge -– and I wasn't quite expecting it. I thought I'd be able to walk away. I guess I just didn't expect to be that emotional. And Laura [Carmichael] and I walked hand in hand through the house one last time, and we were just in bits! So it feels like an end of an era. And it's just been joyous.
"The timing felt right. I think collectively everyone felt this was the right time... I think if we'd have kept going, it would be maybe tricky to kind of find somewhere to finish. We've made friends for life. That's what I'll take away with me is the experience and the people that I've got to know. We're like a family, and it's not just the cast. It's the crew as well. You become so close because you're pretty much living day in, day out, on that set, and of course, you share so much with one another, so that's what I'll take away with me."
Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley):
"Michelle and I are criers -– like, consistently. We're weepy girls. We just love a weep. And it has been huge, and we have grown up on this show in a way that we think is maybe different to some of the others actors have had experiences like this before. We started when we were in our 20s, so it's a big change in my life growing up on the job.
"I think it would be crappy if you felt it was just the same as any episode. It feels like a special when there are satisfying elements to it. But as far as, I think Julian half-imagines or hopes, there's just no way you'll stop thinking about these characters until they're all dead and gone."
Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates):
"Not all the loose ends are tied up. For "Downton Abbey," that would be strange and unrealistic. But I feel like we leave all of the characters in a place that's OK. It's all right. We can leave that there for a bit and it's fine.
"I absolutely wouldn't rule out [a reunion film or special]. I think actually, it would be a lovely thing. To be able to sort of have a break, do different things, and then come back and have a sort of reunion almost. It would be incredibly fun. And from a selfish point of view, it would be great fun to do."
Elizabeth McGovern (Countess Cora Crowley):
"I feel wary of the idea of a movie, but I'm not completely closed to the idea because I think it works so well in this context of a TV show. And I would be very frightened of tainting what we've done, what we've worked so hard to achieve. So I don't know: I wouldn't say that I wouldn't do one, but you'd have to conceive it in a way that makes sense for it to be a feature film, not just another episode that you splash onto a screen. I mean, I, myself, don't have the imagination to be able to envision what that would be like.
"In some ways, it's a character that's too close to myself to really be able to say [what I love about her]. The only difference between is that I think she's more self-effacing than I am. I mean, I'm obviously someone who is an actress in pursuit of a career, and I can't imagine Cora in a million years would ever indulge herself in that way. So maybe that's what I like about her. But it also drives me crazy because she's so self-effacing."
Gareth Naeme (Executive Producer):
"When you make one of those big shows of all time, that is game-changing. I've spent so much of my life trying to get anyone to take any interest in what I was doing. As a producer, you're hustling. You're trying to persuade people... When you're in this situation, you're actually batting people away. Because everyone loves it, everyone wants to talk about it. But I suppose it gives you confidence that your ideas can work, and that people will back your ideas.
"And it gives you confidence that sometimes -– just sometimes -– it can work. That sometimes, a hit show can just get through, and people will fall in love with it. And then you get to that happy place where none of the networks or studios tell me what to do. They don't second-guess. They don't give me instructions because they just know it works. And they back it. And that very rarely happens."
Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley, the 7th Earl of Grantham):
"I will miss it. I will always look on it with huge affection and gratitude because not only this bunch of people, but the experience as a whole has been transformative, really. It really has. But it's time to say goodbye to it.
"A particular memory I have is of standing out on the lawn with Maggie Smith one day when there was the ash cloud over Iceland, this volcanic eruption, so there were no flights or three weeks. And so there were no vapor trails in the sky. It was silent. And it was a beautiful sunny day with a clear sky at the castle. And she said, 'This is what it would have been like.'
"And you sort of realize, of course, we take noise and background noise and vapor trails for granted. And she was absolutely right. It was the first time, probably ever, in my life time I'd looked up and seen no vapor trails. That was a memorable moment."