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Downton Down Time: A Cinematic Survival Guide to Sundays Without Downton Abbey

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Downton Down Time: A Cinematic Survival Guide to Sundays Without <i>Downton Abbey</i>

Fans of Downton Abbey seem to reach fever pitch excitement levels with each new season’s debut. If the characters of this ITV/PBS Masterpiece series were the Beatles, you can bet there would be a mob crying at their concerts and chasing their limos down the street.

One known fanatic planned her weeks around the most recent season of Downton Abbey, polling friends on Facebook about favorite characters and plot lines, posting pictures of Downton memorabilia, and chatting about the tea and treats she enjoyed every Sunday night at “Downton Time.” Now, like so many besotted Dowtonites out there, she will have to wait another 10 months before Season 6—reportedly to be its last—airs on PBS (at the very least, another 6 months before it is broadcast in the U.K.).

In the interim, here are eight films to fill that empty weekly slot and make the time between now and the next “Downton Sunday” go a little faster.


8. Michael Collins
Year: 1996

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Neil Jordan’s historic biopic on the life of Irish patriot Michael Collins (played by Liam Neeson) shows what viewers might have seen if the Downton cameras had panned about 275 miles due west of Yorkshire, to Dublin, Ireland. While this film is not quite as glamorous as DA, it tells an important story of the Irish fight for independence from Britain, and offers a great visual explanation for why Tom Branson spends the first three seasons of DA being so grumpy.


7. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Year: 1969

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Though some viewers loved to hate last season’s dogmatic school mistress, Sarah Bunting, it was women like her who undoubtedly had a positive impact on the future social status of many pupils in the lower-to-middle classes and also those in service, like Daisy. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie portrays a similar outspoken teacher in the same era, this time in the Scottish city of Edinburgh. Maggie Smith earned one of her two Academy Awards in her role as Jean Brodie.


6. The King’s Speech
Year: 2010

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Though the abdication of King Edward VIII and reign of King George VI did not commence until 1939, the last two seasons of Downton have already foreshadowed this tumultuous time in royal history. The friendship between Prince Albert/“Bertie”/King George VI (Colin Firth) and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), demonstrates just how much England was governed by tradition, social status and duty, and how the restrictive nature of royalty and nobility over the working classes was being challenged more than ever. The age of young women like Ladies Mary, Edith, Sybil, or Rose being presented at Court was soon to become extinct, and this period was one of painful change to many devoted royalists, like Lord Grantham and Carson.


5. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Year: 2008

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Based on the marvelous under-the-radar novel written by Winifred Watson in 1938, this film takes in all the frivolity of the flapper era from a working woman’s point of view, and stars the vivacious Amy Adams opposite a frumpy Frances McDormand. It’s easy to imagine Lady Rose dancing in the background as Miss Pettigrew gets swept up in the glamorous lifestyle of the flighty actress Delysia.


4. Becoming Jane
Year: 2007

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Set about a century before Downton, Becoming Jane is a biopic of famous English authoress Jane Austen. It tells the speculative story of young Austen (Anne Hathaway) who, against her family’s wishes, pursues a scandalous romance with an Irish rogue (James McAvoy) in a manner that would make Lady Sybil proud. Becoming Jane also features Maggie Smith as Lady Gresham, a role that precedes the Dowager Countess but has many striking similarities.


3. A Very Long Engagement
Year: 2004

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Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement is not only one of the most visually stunning films of the last decade, it is also a timeless period romance as good as any seen in DA. When Mathilde (Audrey Tatou) is told her fiancé has been killed in WWI, she refuses to give up until she has pursued every possibility that he might still be alive. Like the Downton women, Mathilde never stops believing in her instinct, or in her man, and her journey to find answers is remarkable.


2. Atonement
Year: 2007

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Though fraught with more melodrama and less humor than Downton, this steamy Oscar-winning love story between the mistress of the house (Keira Knightly) and her servant’s son (James McAvoy, again) still checks many of the same boxes. Throw in a false accusation of what the little sister thought she saw, and then the onset of WWII, and you have a recipe for cinematic success. Atonement is based on the best-selling novel by Ian McEwan and launched McAvoy, as well as Saoirse Ronan as 13-year-old Briony, into stardom.


1. Gosford Park
Year: 2001

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For any die-hard Downton fan, this goes without saying—if you haven’t seen Robert Altman’s film, whose script won DA creator-writer Julian Fellowes an Oscar, there’s no better time. Sort of like DA on speed, Gosford Park is a murder mystery set in the English countryside among a household full of guests, servants and dubious characters. The all-star cast includes Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Gambon, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Stephen Fry, Ryan Phillippe and Helen Mirren, as well as DA regulars Maggie Smith and Richard E. Grant.


After spending several years in Ireland, Maryann Koopman Kelly now lives with her husband, kids and border collie in California, where she continues to write freelance and blog about life as she knows it. You can follow her on Twitter.

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