Tonight, as the plush velvet curtain draws to a close on the latest season of Downton Abbey, it’s worth taking a look ahead to what comes next for the Crawley clan. I’m not talking about whether Lady Mary will finally give the green light to one of her tweedy, stammering suitors. Or if Edith will be able to keep her secret, scarlet-letter shame under wraps in Switzerland amongst all the chocolate shops and cuckoo clocks. Or if the increasingly dim and blowhard-y Earl of Grantham will gamble away his wife’s fortune at the card table. I mean what comes next career-wise for the stars of the show.
It’s a question that’s particularly timely since we’re all currently being pummeled by trailers for Non-Stop showing Lady Mary herself (Michelle Dockery) dressed as a flight attendant watching Liam Neeson crack skulls at 30,000 feet.
Before we get to Dockery’s big crossover moment, though, let’s take a quick glance backwards. At the end of Downton’s third season, we saw a couple of very high-profile departures, as Jessica Brown Findlay’s Lady Sybil and Dan Stevens’ Matthew Crawley were – spoiler alert – killed off. As a result of their soap operatic exits, the actors were freed to ditch their period frocks, swing by the nearest Sunglass Hut, and head west to try and take Hollywood by storm. Which is exactly what they did (even if the jury’s still out on how those gambles worked out).
Let’s start with Lady Sybil. Earlier this month, Brown Findlay had a flashy role in the big-budget love story Winter’s Tale. In case you missed it – and odds are you did based on its grim box-office haul – the husky-voiced actress plays the sickly daughter of a newspaper tycoon (William Hurt) in 1916 New York. With her flowing auburn tresses, alabaster skin, and death-sentence diagnosis of tuberculosis, she’s playing another tragic beauty a la Sybil. For a brief moment in the film, though, there seems like there might be hope for her character, after she catches a ragamuffin thief (Colin Farrell) casing her father’s Downton-esque mansion, and the two exchange flirty poetic declarations and come-hither glances. But alas, even love…and not just any love, but the mystical Colin Farrell kind of love that comes with a flying white horse…isn’t enough. Like Lady Sybil, things don’t end well for her. Still, Brown Findlay is one of the better things in the otherwise sappy film. And it left me wanting to see more of her. Especially in something that didn’t involve a corset or a coughing fit that promises third-act doom.
As for her partner on Downton season 3 exile island, Dan Stevens, things have looked pretty sunny for him since leaving the hit show. He’s lined up several films that will afford him the opportunity to move far, far away from his repressed milquetoast Hugh Grant-in-tails persona on the show. Actually, I’m being a bit unfair. Stevens’ Matthew Crawley was one of the sanest people in that drafty pile of bricks. For starters, he actually knew what it was like to work for a living instead of swirling a snifter of Cognac while playing snooker. And Stevens clearly knew he could do more. You can’t blame the guy for striking while the iron was hot. Unfortunately, his decision to leave the show cornered Julian Fellows into scrambling to come up with a pretty silly deus ex machina demise at the end of last season.
So was his decision to leave the show a good call? Judging from the reaction at the Sundance Film Festival to his latest film, The Guest, the answer is mostly yes. The Guest is a totally bonkers action flick that was created by Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett – the director/writer team behind You’re Next (a movie I really liked). Stevens isn’t some supporting character in the movie either, he is the movie. He stars as David, a soldier who shows up to console the family of one of his fallen comrades and then…actually, it’s probably better not to say too much about the film’s plot, other than to say that it’s completely bananas. And Stevens is very good. Will it be a huge box-office hit? I sincerely doubt it. Will it get Stevens more interesting post-Downton parts. I think so.
Which brings us to our next Downton-to-Hollywood gambit: Hugh Bonneville, a.k.a. the Earl of Grantham, who recently popped up as part of the ensemble in George Clooney’s WWII quasi-heist film, The Monuments Men. Bonneville wasn’t risking much by signing on to this one. After all, it’s a George Clooney movie. And it’s not like he gave up his day job to do it. He’s still lord of the manor back on PBS. But I don’t think he – or anyone else, for that matter – expected this film to get the reviews it did. They were brutal. Still, I have to imagine spending a couple of months palling around on a movie set with Clooney, John Goodman, and Bill Murray was reward enough.
Finally, we come to Michelle Dockery. I don’t think any fan of the show would have predicted that Lady Mary, Grantham’s oldest daughter – the crown jewel for any bachelor-on-the-make in British high society – would wind up on the silver screen playing a stewardess. My monocle just fell into my lap just typing that sentence! Then again, Lady Mary’s always been full of surprises. If anyone in the Downton cast seemed destined for a post-show bump into the rarefied air of Hollywood, it was probably her. After all, she’s the straw that stirs the Downton drink.
In Non-Stop, which comes out on Feb. 28, Dockery plays a can-do air hostess who finds herself on the same flight as Liam Neeson. And judging from Neeson’s recent resume dispatching Albanian goons in Taken and flesh-hungry wolves in The Grey, that’s not a place you necessarily want to be unless you want to get covered in blood. That said, the film will undoubtedly be a huge hit. You just can’t go wrong with an avenging Neeson at the box office these days. But will it lead to bigger, better offers in better, splashier movies for Dockery?
Only time will tell. In the meantime, though, let’s all settle in for the season 4 Downton finale tonight and enjoy Lady Mary while we still have her. Because it might not be long before she packs up her valise, says a bittersweet farewell to Mr. Carson, and hops a one-way flight to Tinseltown.