This article contains spoilers about Downton Abbey’s Christmas Special, do not read if you don’t want to know what happened.
This Christmas an approximate seven million people watched ITV’s period drama Downton Abbey, the Christmas special. Typically, Christmas television is family television that complements the festive season. However, ‘Downton ruined Christmas’ was flashed across all social media sites as Julian Fellowes juxtaposed Christmas with the death of a much loved main character Matthew Crawley, new husband to Mary and heir to the Downton estate.
The successful series recently saw the death, during childbirth, of Lady Sybil Branson, the youngest and favorite daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham of Downton. Sybil’s devastating death was a shock to the audience, cry-worthy to many watchers and her death and associated grief still lingers throughout the estate, especially with the storyline focusing on her widowed husband and baby.
The Christmas episode saw Mary Crawley, wife to Matthew Crawley, leave her family in the Highlands to return home due to her pregnancy causing her discomfort. The typical stubborn character did not allow her husband to go home with her – a recipe for drama. Mary goes into labour having parted her family and gives birth whilst her family are heading back to Downton. The joy of Mary giving birth, being joined by her husband, would have been seen as the appropriate ending to the Christmas episode. A magical image was created as Matthew said he felt as though he had swallowed fireworks whilst standing next to his wife with his new born son in his arms.
Suspicions rose in the United States that Dan Stevens, the charismatic actor of Matthew Crawley, was leaving the Downton Abbey cast as he was rumored not to renew his contract. It was after the uproar of his character’s death that Stevens was forced to announce how he wanted ‘adventure’ and to move into different areas and was not prepared to stay to enable his leave of Downton to occur in a more subtle manner.
The euphoric image of Matthew driving in the sunshine with his roof down came to an abrupt, traumatic end as Matthew was instantly killed in a car accident. The Christmas special finished focusing from the father lying dead to his wife Mary holding their baby in her hospital bed. The writer of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, states how he didn’t have an option as Stevens did not want to be part of the fourth series. Fellowes says he would have, if there was a slight possibility, kept Crawley alive.
Rating: A storyline which would have created a depressing but nevertheless a classic dramatic ending at any other time of year was felt to be inappropriate as an end to Christmas day. The audience was left stunned by the unexpected demise of another favorite character in such an abrupt and almost violent way. 2 stars.