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The Most Un-Downton Roles Taken by the Downton Abbey Cast

Photo: John Wilson/Netflix/Erica Parise/Hulu/Warner Brothers/Courtesy Everett Collection/Ana Cristina Blumenkron/Netflix

It’s been almost seven years since Downton Abbey’s television run took a bow — and a full pandemic since the first movie — but the estate is open once again for Downton Abbey: A New Era. The new movie might leave you feeling inspired to start another British period drama, but if you’d rather spend more time in the charming company of the extended Crawley family, we have another idea: Why not explore other TV shows and movies featuring each of the show’s leading actors but in roles that are the complete opposite of their well-known upstairs and downstairs personas?

Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil Crawley) in Harlots

The “whore’s-eye view” of Harlots takes place in gritty 18th-century London, and Brown Findlay is tasked with playing one of the city’s most desired courtesans at her mother’s brothel. That’s not all: The mother and daughter team have to constantly compete with a rival brothel owner, ensuring that their unique family business remains on top.

Available to stream on Hulu

Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley) in Anatomy of a Scandal

Not even a skilled rider like Lady Mary could be prepared for the twisted, bumpy ride of this Netflix limited series from David E. Kelley. Dockery plays a prosecutor determined to place British MP James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend) behind bars. But why is she so invested in this case? You’ll have to stick around for the wild and absurd ending to find out.

Available to stream on Netflix

Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley) in Twenty Twelve

Bonneville went full goofball for Twenty Twelve, a spoofed series that follows a group of slightly incompetent employees tasked with organizing the (successful!) 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He plays the head guy in charge with a penchant for wearing bright cycling shirts, so you just know things will go awry before the opening ceremony kicks off.

Available to stream on BritBox

Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley) in Marcella

Carmichael kicked off her post-Downton career by nabbing a supporting role in the crime-noir series Marcella, where she plays a student who strikes up a friendship with a suspected serial killer in the hopes of cracking open the case. Marcella is a surprisingly violent show, and Carmichael’s scenes are peppered with gruesome images. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Available to stream on Netflix

Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) in Eurovision

After Stevens left Downton, he quickly landed several roles that took him far from the British countryside, including a powerful psychic in FX’s Legion and an abusive dog owner in The Call of the Wild. But if you really want to see Stevens cut loose, look no further than Eurovision. In a cast full of over-the-top performers, Stevens steals the show as the hypersexualized Russian singer Alexander Lemtov.

Available to stream on Netflix

Brendan Coyle (John Bates) in Starlings

While he filmed Downton, Coyle also starred in the simple, charming dramedy Starlings for two seasons, playing the patriarch of the working-class family in rural England. The Starling house might be cramped with generations of odd family members, but their spirits never dwindle.

Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley) in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Picking just one title from Dame Maggie Smith’s illustrious career seems almost impossible, but for the sake of this list, we’ll go with … Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Sure, this 2002 Sandra Bullock vehicle probably doesn’t hold up (and didn’t get stellar reviews to begin with), but it is an opportunity to see Smith as a brass American who has very little in common with the Dowager Countess. Where else can you hear Smith, speaking in a southern accent, say, “Oh honey, the only disease that could survive our bloodstream is alcoholism”?

Available to stream on HBO Max

Joanne Froggatt (Anna Smith) in Liar

The drama Anna faces has nothing on the harrowing experience of Laura Nielson (Froggatt) in Liar. Laura is a school teacher who goes on a date with a doctor who also happens to be the father of a boy in her class. The date seems to go great until Laura wakes up in bed not knowing how the date ended. As she unravels the mystery, she becomes desperate for justice — perhaps by whatever means necessary.

Available to stream on AMC+

Rob James-Collier (Thomas Barrow) in Coronation Street

James-Collier had a nice stint on the long-running British soap opera Coronation Street, which earned him a few Sexiest Male honors at the Inside Soap Awards. On his 300-plus episode arc, his bad-boy character had numerous quintessential soapy story lines, from romancing the town’s ladies to falling down ravines.

Available to stream on Hulu

Phyllis Logan (Elsie Hughes) in Lovejoy

Between 1986 and 1994, Logan had a supporting role in the cheeky dramedy series Lovejoy as a friendly confidante to an antiques dealer (played by Ian McShane!) in East England. Watching Logan be the dignified yin to McShane’s roguish yang is truly a wonderful sight to behold.

Available to stream on Acorn TV

Sophie McShera (Daisy Mason) in Cinderella

Downton’s scatterbrained kitchen assistant is the one barking out the orders in the 2015 live-action Cinderella. McShera plays Drisella, the yellow-frock-wearing, tone-deaf, evil stepsister who gives Ella her titular nickname. The actor playing our kind, gentle, fire-building Ella? That would be none other than Lily James (a.k.a. Lady Rose). What a role reversal.

Available to stream on Starz

Allen Leech (Tom Branson) in Bohemian Rhapsody

As Tom Branson, Leech wooed Lady Sybil Crawley, but in Bohemian Rhapsody, he makes out with music royalty — Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek). In the 2018 music biopic Leech plays Paul Prenter, a manager for Queen who is clearly attracted to the band’s frontman. Pretner helps Mercury on his journey to discovering his sexuality, but between the drugs, wild orgies, and a ploy to get the band’s original manager fired, it’s clear that Pretner isn’t a great influence.

Lily James (Lady Rose MacClare) in Pam & Tommy

James traded Lady Rose’s flapper gowns and pin curls for bathing suits and beachy waves to embody ’90s icon Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy. The Hulu miniseries reexamines the way the tabloids and culture at large treated the Baywatch star after the private sex tape she made with her husband, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan), was stolen from her home and sold without her permission. James is almost unrecognizable underneath the big blonde hair and makeup.

Available to stream on Hulu

Jim Carter (Charles Carson) in Red Riding

Carter honed his “bad cop” chops for this supporting role in Red Riding, a three-part miniseries that spans the ’70s and ’80s to tell various bleak narratives about murder, violent crime, and police corruption in Yorkshire. (This also serves as a reminder that Carter has a fabulous head of hair.)

Available to stream on AMC+

Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley) in Brief Encounters

Set in the 1980s, Brief Encounters gave Wilton the chance to play a later-in-life woman who gets involved in the booming business of sex toys and lingerie. Her character starts off a bit hesitant but ends up loving it. She’s in the midst of a sexual awakening, after all!

Available to stream on Acorn TV

Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley) in Freezing

Funny enough, McGovern and her Downton beau, Hugh Bonneville, starred together as a husband-and-wife duo in this three-part comedy before they filmed the period drama. Freezing centers around the couple — McGovern plays a Hollywood film star; Bonneville is a book editor — who find themselves out of work at the same time while living in modern-day London. Shenanigans and ennui ensue.

Lesley Nicol (Beryl Patmore) in The Catch

Although Nicol is mostly seen in period dramas, she did appear in a two-episode arc on ABC’s The Catch as the ruthless and glamorous matriarch of a mob family. Recently, she also popped up in The Boys as the mother to vigilante Billy Butcher.

Available to stream on Hulu
The Cast of Downton Abbey’s Most Un-Downton Roles