There are few British TV shows with as much popularity and success as Downton Abbey. The show became the Guinness Book of World Records’ Most Critically Acclaimed Television Show of 2011. Downton Abbey, a British historical TV drama, was created and co-written by Julian Fellowes. The series was set in the early 1900s and took place between 1912 and 1925 in the post-Edwardian era.
The show revolved around the Crawley family and their domestic servants and aired for six series/seasons, from September 26, 2010, to December 25, 2015. Downton Abbey received 66 Primetime Emmy Awards, 11 Golden Globes Awards nominations, and 5 BAFTA nominations across its six series, bagging several wins from the nominations. The show had about 40 main cast members, excluding those who played recurring roles. With several additions and cast leaving the show, the list comprises those cast members that starred in all six series of the show. Here are the 10 best cast members of Downton Abbey.
Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, The Dowager Countess of Grantham
Award-winning actress Maggie Smith delivered another stellar performance as Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Violet is Robert Crawley’s mother and the Crawley family’s matriarch. By the end of the series, Violet finally steps back to allow her daughter-in-law, Cora Crawley, to assume the position. As the family matriarch, she makes and influences important decisions, sometimes to the irritation of her son, Robert Crawley. Like Hugh Bonneville, the character of Violet Crawley was written specifically with Maggie Smith in mind.
Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, The Earl of Grantham
Hugh Bonneville played The Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley. Robert is the patriarch of the Crawley family and married to the American heiress Cora Crawley (née Levinson). Robert has three daughters, losing a son in a miscarriage. As such, much of the seasons follow his schemes to find a befitting heir to save Downton Abbey, his ancestral estate.
Creator Julian Fellowes had Bonneville in mind when creating the character of Robert Crawley. Although a main cast member of Downton Abbey, Bonneville does not appear as Robert in a few episodes in season 4. To make Roberts ‘ absence meaningful, the writers had to create a plot about the Teapot Dome scandal and Harold, Cora’s brother. Behind the scenes, Bonneville needed to film his scenes for George Clooney‘s war film, The Monuments Men (2014).
Laura Carmichael as Edith Pelham, Marchioness of Hexham née Lady Edith Crawley
Lady Edith Crawley is the second daughter of Robert and Cora Crawley. In the last season of Downton Abbey, she became the Marchioness of Hexham after she married Herbert “Bertie” Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton), the Marquess of Hexham. Laura Carmichael played the character of Edith Crawley. Edith had a more adventurous and “exciting” life than her sisters.
Edith is the more daring of the Crawley daughters, being the first to learn how to drive an automobile. Edith was jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony Strallan (Robert Bathurst). She discovers her new lover Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), is married and cannot be divorced. Gregson dies in Germany while finding ways to divorce his wife officially. Edith discovers she’s pregnant and later gives birth to a daughter, Marigold (Eva Samms, Karina Samms). She gives the baby away to adoptive parents but later reclaims Marigold. Edith discovers Gregson left her an inheritance and takes control of her life.
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Talbot née Crawley
Michelle Dockery was cast as Mary Crawley, the first daughter of Robert and Cora Crawley. Mary suffers a great loss in her relationships. First, she loses her second cousin and heir-presumptive, James Crawley, in the ill-fated Titanic. When she eventually marries her distant male cousin, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), he dies, in season 3, in a car accident as he’s driving home from the hospital (after seeing his newborn son). Toward the end of season 6, Mary marries Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode).
Behind the scenes, Matthew Crawley’s character had to be killed off in a hurry. Stevens had planned to leave the show without the immediate knowledge of show creator Julian Fellowes who had just put Matthew and Mary’s romance back on track, and Mary was pregnant. As the go-to option for every show creator, Matthew was killed off.
Jim Carter as Charles “Charlie” Carson
Downton Abbey begins with Charles Carson as Downton Abbey’s butler. Jim Carter portrays the fan-favorite character. Carson came to Downton Abbey when he was 19 and witnessed the birth of all of Robert and Cora Crawley’s children – Mary, Edith, and Sybil. The series ends with his marriage to Elsie Hughes. After suffering a palsy, he resigns as the butler of Downton Abbey and hands over to Thomas Barrow.
Phyllis Logan as Elsie Hughes
Phyllis Logan is cast as Elsie Hughes and appears in all seasons of Downton Abbey. Elsie is the head housekeeper in charge of all the female domestic staff in Downton Abbey. Elsie has never been married and stayed faithful to the Crawleys for the entire series. Elsie married Charles Carson in season 6 and continued working at Downton Abbey, even after Carson’s retirement.
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley, The Countess of Grantham
Elizabeth McGovern was cast as Cora Crawley, The Countess of Grantham and wife of Robert Crawley in Downton Abbey. Cora’s dowry to Robert is used to solve the Earl of Grantham’s financial issues and Downton Abbey. Cora, born Cora Levinson, is an American heiress and daughter of Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) and Isidore Levinson. Cora lost her son in a miscarriage and her younger daughter, Sybil, later on (after Sybil gave birth to her only child and daughter).
She and her mother-in-law didn’t exactly get along initially, especially after Cora was made hospital president. Downton Abbey ends with her mother-in-law and husband having respect for the woman she had become. X-Files actress, Gillian Anderson, was first approached to play the part of Cora Crawley but turned it down.
Brendan Coyle as John Bates
John Bates’ story arc is one of Downton Abbey’s most significant subplots. Robert Crawley hires Bates as his valet, much to the annoyance and disappointment of other Downton Abbey’s domestic staff. Played by Brendan Coyle, Bates was Roberts’ Batman in the Boer War. As such, he has a disability that makes him walk around with a cane. While most of the staff feel his ability makes him unable to perform his valet duties, Bates is resented by footman Thomas Barrow, who hoped to have been promoted to Bates’ position.
As the series progresses, Bates’ romance and marriage to Anna Smith (Joanne Froggatt) take center stage. Bates goes to prison for his wife’s death and is exonerated. He also stands solidly and supports his wife, as she’s also charged with murder. Actor Steven Waddington reportedly auditioned for the role of John Bates, but Fellowes chose to go with Coyle instead.
Joanne Froggatt as Anna Smith
Joanne Froggatt as Anna Smith is a housemaid at Downton Abbey. Unlike the other domestic staff, she was not hostile towards John Bates when he became Robert Crawley’s valet. Anna and Bates eventually get married. Things go awry after she gets raped by Lord Gillingham’s valet, Alex Green (Nigel Harman). With Green’s death, Anna becomes a suspect. Downton Abbey ends with her vindication and Mary Talbot taking her to see a doctor to help her get pregnant.
Rob James-Collier as Thomas Barrow
Thomas Barrow easily became one of Downton Abbey‘s antagonists, with his plots and schemes to become a valet. Rob James-Collier played Thomas Barrow, a gay man in the post-Edwardian era who’s forced to keep it a secret. Barrow is immediately at odds with Robert Crawley’s new valet, John Bates, because he believes it’s a position he deserves. Barrow works with Sarah O’Brien to get Bates fired.
In season 6, Thomas becomes increasingly depressed and attempts suicide. He turns a new leaf after his near-death experience and finds work outside Downton Abbey. Although he finds work as a butler, Barrow is bored with the family. The series ends with Barrow’s return to Downton Abbey.