Auld Lang Syne, a Scottish folk poem of times gone by recorded by the Bard of Ayrshire Rabbie (Robert) Burns (1759-1796) and set to the tune of a traditional folk song in 1788, turned out to be a fitting way to bid farewell to the successful and much-loved English iTV television series Downton Abbey.
It was 2010 when the series first debuted, quickly becoming a global phenomenon and collecting numerous awards for its creator-writer Julian Fellowes.
The finale was revealed in England on Christmas Day night.
Full of love, loss, happiness and heartbreak it is sure to warm the cockles of many hearts as it is presented elsewhere in the world, declared our British correspondent who was reported sobbing throughout scenes designed to fan the flames of love extinguished… now fully past and gone.
It is recommended that you take out your Grannies lace bordered hankie or grab a box of tissues before spending quality time with your favourite characters upstairs and down at Downton Abbey one last time, as they continue to ‘adapt to the pace of twentieth century change’.
The lyrics of the well-beloved song give us a clue as creator Julian Fellowes poses a rhetorical question; whether it is right that old times be forgotten, or is their singing but a call to remember long-standing friendships?
There is no doubt many have been formed with this series endearing characters. As we end our association with them all it is at a point of new beginnings for many of our favourites.
The stately English home Highclere Castle has been the set for Downton Abbey for the past six years. Certainly its future has now been forged too, established as it is as the home of Robert, the Earl of Grantham and his extended family including his lovely American born wife Lady Cora and their daughters and all those who are associated with them.
Followers of the series have their favourites among those living upstairs and downstairs, all of whom depend on each other to forge successful lives.
The Regulars Upstairs are all there: Lord Robert Crawley played by Hugh Bonneville, Lady Cora by Elizabeth McGovern, Lady Violet by Maggie Smith, Lady Mary by Michelle Dockery, Lady Edith by Laura Carmichael, Lady Rosamund by Samantha Bond, Isobel Crawley by Penelope Wilton and Allen Leech as Tom Branson.
And, Downstairs: Charles Carson played by Jim Carter, John Bates by Brendan Coyle, Thomas Barrow by Robert James-Collier, Elsie Hughes by Phyllis Logan, Anna Bates by Joanne Froggatt, Mrs Patmore by Lesley Nicol, Daisy Mason by Sophie McShera, Molesley by Kevin Doyle and Andy Parker by Michael Fox.
Please don’t read any further if you don’t want to encounter spoilers.
The finale starts with Earl Robert out on his estate on a lovely summer’s day taking a morning stroll with his family.
They are all discussing how Marigold, Lady Edith’s daughter will be going to school in London soon – gone are the days of governesses at home.
Lady Edith has also declared she is moving up to town to start a new life without the man she loves, Bertie Hexham née Pelham played by Harry Hadden-Paton, who has moved up and on in society to become a very grand man indeed since they parted.
Her magazine is going well and giving her an independent income so she can now live alone as spinsters (such an ugly word) do.
Henry Talbot now married to Lady Mary has become an integral part of the family too, although he’s a bit ‘down in the dumps’. He’s wondering what his life ahead will be now the ‘fun’ has fled from car racing.
Henry is endeavouring to work out what might be a suitable career for a man in his position.
Downstairs our favourite under butler Thomas Barrow is taking a breathing space, as the very pregnant Anna urges him to take some time to work out what brought him so low that he recently attempted suicide, only to be saved by Baxter, Mrs Hughes and Andy.
Anna decides to work on downstairs, despite being so heavily pregnant causing Carson to complain to his wife Mrs Hughes that he’s not ‘used to’ dealing with such issues.
She advises him that changes are happening and that the future is likely to include no ladies maids at all. Perish the thought.
Over cocktails in the garden Henry offers to take Lady Edith up to town the next day, while members of the family plan to go and visit Lady Violet at the Dowager House, where her servants Denker and Spratt are as usual, sparring below stairs.
Denker is endeavouring to work out Spratt’s big secret.
Lady Edith drops in to visit Spratt, who is delighted with the news his agony aunt column is going so well they are going to offer him his own ‘page’.
Things are looking up indeed, although he has to warn Denker who listens at keyholes, that ‘curiosity killed the cat’ and we know she won’t be put off that easily.
Thomas Barrow finds a job not far away, although he wouldn’t leave Downton Abbey by choice, but times they are a changing rapidly.
Mr Moseley has been offered an expanded role down at the Village school, complete with a cottage of his own. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person and hopefully he will wake up to the fact Baxter is in love with him one day soon.
Mrs Hughes is dreadfully concerned about Carson, whom she has noticed has ‘shaking hands’, not an affliction that is helpful for a Butler.
She discovers it’s one that his father and grandfather had as well, most likely an aspect of what we know today as Parkinson’s disease.
Isobel Crawley goes to visit the love of her life Lord Merton, who has not been well.
He has been told by an eminent Harley St Doctor he has ‘pernicious’ anaemia, which means certain death. He declares that his only regret is that he would have liked to be married to her, giving her pause for both thought and action.
Downstairs another new ‘fangled’ invention has arrived to disturb Carson’s world, when Anna takes delivery of a ‘hair dryer’ for shaping Lady Mary’s bobbed hair. What a beauty it is.
Daisy is fascinated, never having changed her hairstyle at all. Andy the footman tells Daisy she doesn’t need to change her hair, but as ever she is only rude and unkind to him.
Up in town Lady Rosamund manoeuvres Lady Edith into an unexpected dinner with her old beau Bertie Pelham, now the 7th Marquess of Hexham at Brancaster Castle in Northumberland , who declares that since they broke up he has found he cannot live without her.
Lady Mary has, in a gesture of reconciliation with her sister, tipped him off that Edith was in town and organised with Lady Rosamund they should meet up.
Edith declares to Bertie he broke her heart and looks confused now he is telling her he cannot live without her.
The upside is that he proposes marriage once more because he’s not ready for a life without her and what can she do but graciously accept.
Back at Downton Abbey Lord Robert and Lady Cora find out as they are going to bed when Edith phones. They are thrilled with the news, as indeed are all those downstairs. Everyone wants to see Edith happy.
Dowager Violet and Isobel come together to talk about Lord Merton and the vagaries attached to mature love with the Dowager laughingly not incriminating herself by admitting to her own love challenges.
Thomas Barrow is having his hand shaken goodbye as he takes his leave of all those upstairs and downstairs and as the family leaves for Northumberland.
Thomas makes a passionate speech from the heart, causing us all to blubber as Lord Robert offers him his hand too and wishes him very good luck in his new position.
It is a terrible wrench for him to leave, most decidedly when Lady Mary’s dear little son Master George comes to plead for him not to go… hanky time again.
Mrs Patmore downstairs takes to telling Daisy off at last for her awful attitude and thankfully, the point hits home.
Lord Robert and Lady Cora arrive at the ‘Hexham’ estate, a huge castle in the north of England that is overwhelming in size, furnishing and fittings.
They discover how formidable Bertie’s mother Mrs. Pelham (Patricia Hodge) really is, especially when she declares she wants Bertie to be head of a noble and ‘moral’ family, casting dispersion on the last Lord Hexham his cousin and his visits to ‘Tangiers’. Goodness what will she think of Edith’s tale?
Golly is all Lord Robert can really think to say after she leaves the room, and we agree.
Lady Edith now has a big decision to make whether to tell her future mother in law her secret before the dinner to announce her and Bertie’s engagement. Fortunately this time she makes the right decision.
Back home at Downton Abbey our two favourites Tom Branson and Henry Talbot are discussing the future when Carson’s shaking hand spills the wine allowing them all, especially Lady Mary to know about his worrying affliction.
She comes to see him and tells him they must not be afraid to make changes in his best interests.
Lord Merton and Isobel visit Dr Clarkson for a second opinion on his health when his nasty daughter in law arrives to take him home, warning Mrs Crawley off.
Thomas Barrow arrives at his new position, where there are only two other servants. He is working for two very dull elderly people, who do not have a relationship with their staff as he has enjoyed at Downton Abbey and it’s hard for him to swallow.
After a few days he knows he hates his new position, it’s a colourless life and he despairs, as indeed do we on his behalf.
Daisy is also changing her mind about Andy, who is now rejecting anything she says to him, only making her heart grow fonder.
Mr Moseley announces he’s going to leave too, but will come back if needed for special events.
Carson realises just at his time of need everyone is deserting at a time when he’s ‘worse than useless’.
Isobel Crawley is being barred from Lord Merton’s house, the door slammed in her face and so she enlists the Dowager Violet’s help to confront the issue. The Dowager has been around long enough to know he’s being held a captive in his own home… and declares they must demand entry and force the issue into the open.
Dowager Violet and Isobel then storm the portals of Lord Merton’s house demanding to see him.
Hearing her distinctive voice he comes downstairs to discover what has been going on. Isobel offers to help him pack and come and live with and marry her and he accepts, finally taking leave of his awful son and his wife.
Lady Edith will become a Marchioness on New Year’s Eve and as the 29th of December arrives the house is all-abuzz, as the much loved Lady Rose and her husband Atticus arrive from America for the festivities.
Everyone is thrilled to see her, especially the servants when she dashes downstairs to show them the photos of her baby.
This is when we discover that Thomas Barrow has been invited back for the wedding as a guest.
Lord Merton insists that new tests be taken by Dr. Clarkson as he cannot explain how well he feels when he should be fading fast.
Lady Rose insists on Lord Robert, who is always complaining about Cora’s involvement at the hospital, drive her to town.
She takes him to a meeting Lady Cora is chairing with the public so he can see what a wonderful job she’s doing.
Rose tells him that if he wants to keep his marriage he must let his wife go in order to keep her.
Staying to watch her chairing the meeting from the back he can’t help but be impressed about how capable his wife really is when managing all the issues at hand.
It reminds him of how well organised and efficient she was when running their home as a hospital during the war.
Talbot and Branson Motors have now been established in the town and Lady Mary comes to visit. She gives her two favoured men Henry her husband and Tom her sister’s widow and her friend her approval for their new partnership and vision to be car salesmen in a growing market.
She also chooses the moment to tell Henry she’s having a baby, a secret the three of them must keep until after Edith’s wedding, no matter how hard. She doesn’t want to spoil her sister’s big day.
Henry is overjoyed, his cup is now filling fast.
Denker is in high dudgeon, telling Spratt she knows about his double life… and threatens to tell the Dowager.
However this could be her final undoing as Lady Violet goes into hysterics as she enjoys reading his ‘agony aunt’ column, clearly admiring her Butler’s hidden talents.
She loves being unpredictable.
Lady Edith’s wedding day dawns at last, the English version of a happy ending.
Tom Branson is declaring he likes strong women to Lady Edith’s editor Miss Edmunds played by Antonia Bernath, as everyone is paired off at the last.
This also includes Mrs Patmore, when Mr Mason makes a pass at her in the kitchen.
Daisy has decided to go upstairs and borrow Lady Mary’s hair dryer to cut and ‘bob her hair’ heralding her own change of heart and mind.
It is nearly a disaster until Anna arrives to help her to re-style and shape it.
She looks fabulous going from dowdy to delightful in one fell swoop. All she has to do now is let Andy know that she is ‘sweet’ on him.
While in the pews at the village Church waiting for the bride to arrive Lord Merton receives the good news that he’s not going to die, the original diagnosis was wrong. So all will be well that ends well for Isobel Crawley too.
How lovely you look says Lord Robert to his daughter Lady Edith as he gives her his arm to take her to the church on time. She’s every inch the beautiful 1925 fashionable bride as she walks down the aisle.
At the wedding party afterwards back at the Abbey, Lord Robert tells Lady Cora how proud he is of his wife of real substance.
Carson is caught out when he cannot fill the champagne flutes and nearly falls apart with distress.
Thomas Barrow steps forward to help him and is unexpectedly offered the job of Butler when Lord Robert having a brilliant flash of insight, invites him to come back – indeed this means it will be a happy outcome for them all.
Anna arrives in Lady Mary’s room where all of a sudden her waters break, and Lady Mary insists she give birth in her bed.
Carson is horrified and Bates delighted, especially when they have a son.
The toast downstairs in the great entry adorned with the Xmas tree is Edith and Bertie, the bride and groom… and Miss Edmunds cleverly catches the bouquet.
Downton Abbey will be a very different place in the New Year with a new baby for Henry and Mary, a playmate for the Bates baby who will be also taken into the nursery too.
Carson wishes Lord Robert well, shaking his hand and thanking his Lordship, who reciprocates.
Lady Cora and Lord Robert are left to wax lyrical about a long and happy life ahead as the champagne flows and the clock counts down to midnight.
And the last word goes to Lady Violet, who wishes she had a choice to go back to the future …
… and there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015-2016
Watch the Trailer for the Xmas Finale