The Downton Abbey movie is a perfect bookend to the six years of episodes that aired from 2011-2016 on PBS. The overall feel to the two-hour film is that of an extended standalone special, not unlike the Christmas episodes that used to act as season finales. It's the perfect amount of low-stakes drama without anything too terrible coming to pass for any of the beloved characters. But for one character, the final scene of the film did feel like it was a swan song. What happened to Countess Violet in the Downton Abbey film? Please be advised: Spoilers for the Downton Abbey movie follow.
I want to be upfront about this: Nothing happens to Violet. Actress Maggie Smith rules the film from beginning to end, as is right and correct. But then again, if one thinks about it in those terms, nothing actually happens in the film much at all. Not that very much happens in the Downton Abbey seasons either. Pamuk may die in Lady Mary's bed, but there is no scandal. Lady Edith sets her cap for Sir Anthony Strallan, but there is no engagement. On the other hand, Sybil wears pants!
The same refusal to let anything too heavy weigh the Downton Abbey film down permeates the film. The Dowager Countess has a plan to get Lady Maud Bagshaw to will her estate to Robert. She even mysteriously goes to London at one point, though she won't say why. What is Violet up to?
It turns out that Lady Bagshaw is not amiable to turning over her estate to Robert, but not because she wants to deny her family. The person she's willing her house and fortune to is her own daughter, born out of wedlock and hidden in plain sight for decades. But in her argument with Violet, she snaps "I'll outlive you anyway," as if to suggest this is not something the Dowager can control.
She's more right than she knows. In the final scene between Lady Mary and the Dowager, audiences learn the trip to London wasn't about Lady Bagshaw at all. Instead, Violet had some "medical tests." Like the circumspect aristocrat she is, she does not tell Mary what these tests were, or what the results are. Only that, according to the doctor, "I may not have long to live."
Mary is devastated at the new, but Violet won't have that.
I won't spend my time with 'How are you feeling ' and 'Are you quite well?' Oh no. I'll be fine until I'm not.
Mary says the Dowager will always be with them, staring down from every portrait. But Violet demurs. "I'd rather rest in peace."
In the Dowager's eyes, she's already passed on the best of herself to Mary. She charges her granddaughter to take up the mantle, and one day be "the ferocious old lady" that makes everyone quake in their boots. It's a moment of the changing of the guard.
Is this goodbye then to Maggie Smith in any future Downton films? It's not clear yet and probably depends when the next one would be set. But if this is her final appearance, it was a moving one indeed to see her pass the torch.