Downton Abbey: A New Era finally gives its sole queer character the ending he deserves

Downton Abbey: A New Era

The Crawley family finally returns in Downton Abbey: A New Era, which hits cinemas on Friday (29 April). And, despite the name, fans can expect the same silly yet comforting drama they know and love.

This story contains spoilers for Downton Abbey: A New Era. 

It has it all – a wedding, a birth, a death, a threat to the family bloodline, a villa on the Riviera and Dowager Countess Violet Grantham (Maggie Smith) firing off deadpan one-liners.

This time, however, we’re treated to something new: a gay happy ending.

When we last saw the family in 2019, they were hosting King George V and Queen Mary at Downton during a royal tour of Yorkshire, before the trip descended into chaos and a failed assassination attempt.

The first Downton Abbey film also saw butler Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) further explore his sexuality, striking up a short-lived romance with the king’s royal dresser Richard Ellis.

But on a trip to York, Barrow is invited to an underground gay bar, where he is arrested after the club raided by police.

At a time when gay sex was punishable by life imprisonment, and gross indecency by at least two years behind bars, Barrow was in a precarious situation. Luckily, Ellis was able to have him released by using his position in the royal household.

While fans may have been starting to think that Barrow would never catch a break, having endured beating, imprisonment and heartbreak since the TV series first began in 2010, Downton Abbey: A New Era finally gives its only queer returning character some hope for the future.

When a film production company arrives at Downton to make a silent film, an arrangement begrudgingly accepted by the family to raise funds to fix their leaking roof, the staff are besides themselves with excitement.

Barrow soon catches the eye of movie star Guy Dexter (Dominic West), who insists the Butler call him by his first name because he has lived in America for 10 years and no long “believes in” servants.

Eventually, having shared a few short conversations and conspiratorial smiles throughout the film, Barrow is invited by Dexter to America to become his own “butler” (read: live-in boyfriend).

While Dexter insists that the set-up can mean “as much or as little” as Barrow likes, it is abundantly clear that he is more than willing to travel across the world and live happily ever after with the handsome film star.

Downton Abbey: A New Era is in cinemas from 29 April, 2022.