WARNING: Mild spoilers for the Downton Abbey movie.
In the Downton Abbey movie, the King and Queen of England come to visit Downton, but this isn’t the first time the Crawleys have met the Royal Family. The new film is the big-screen continuation of the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning Downton Abbey TV series created by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park). The global phenomenon ran for six seasons from 2010-2015 and was broadcast on ITV in the UK and on Masterpiece PBS in the United States.
Set in 1927, approximately 18 months after the series finale, the Downton Abbey movie begins with the announcement that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are coming to stay at the Crawleys’ ancestral home. The Royal Family is touring Yorkshire and plan to spend the night at Downton. Naturally, the royal visit prompts Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), and Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) to call all hands on deck to prepare for the King and Queen’s arrival. While it’s the first time most of Downton Abbey’s characters, especially the delighted servants like Carson (Jim Carter), Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), and Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), have feasted their eyes on the rulers of the realm, Lord and Lady Grantham have actually met the King and Queen before.
In “The London Season”, the Downton Abbey 2013 Christmas special, which also served as the season 4 finale, the Crawleys went to London to present their young cousin Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) at Buckingham Palace. Rose’s debutante ball, which she shared with her friend Madeleine Allsopp (Poppy Drayton), happened in 1923 – four years before the Downton Abbey movie. In “The London Season”, King George V was portrayed by Guy Williams (Queen Mary was played by an uncredited actress). Countess Grantham presented Rose to King George at the palace while Robert Crawley came in uniform in his rank as Lord Lieutenant. Later in the Christmas special, the Crawleys saved Edward, Prince of Wales (Oliver Dimsdale) from an embarrassing indiscretion that Rose inadvertently caused.
In Downton Abbey season 5, King George (voiced by Jon Glover) makes a radio address that the Crawleys and their servants gather to listen to over their new wireless radio. Despite Lord Grantham and Carson’s objections over a “modern contraption” like a wireless being installed in their great house at Lady Rose’s insistence, everyone at Downton Abbey was honored to hear the monarch’s voice.
However, there are some notable differences to how the King and Queen are depicted in the Downton Abbey movie compared to the Christmas special. In “The London Season”, the Royals are much more aloof and intimidating; Queen Mary never said a word while King George exchanged a few forced pleasantries with Rose, mainly asking about her father Hugh “Shrimpie” MacClare, Marquess of Flintshire (Peter Egan). But in the Downton Abbey movie, the King and Queen are portrayed to be considerably kinder people compared to their royal mystique. Indeed, it’s the King and Queen’s servants, including the Royal Butler (David Haig) and the Royal Chef Monsieur Courbet (Philippe Spall), who behave as villains to Downton Abbey’s staff of servants, while the monarchs are nicer and amused because they’re used to people “behaving strangely around them”.
Edward, Prince of Wales (who is the future King Edward VIII) is nowhere to be found in the Downton Abbey movie, but instead, the Crawleys meet Princess Mary (Kate Phillips). They soon discover that the Princess has difficulties in her marriage but, thanks to Tom Branson (Allen Leech), Mary is able to come to a pivotal decision about her future – perhaps the most pivotal impact on real events in the film. Branson also does a huge service to King George in the Downton Abbey movie, which earns him the monarch’s gratitude, while Cora and Queen Mary help Edith, Marchioness of Hexam (Laura Carmichael) solve her own dilemma.
Next: What To Expect From Downton Abbey Movie 2