Hugh Bonneville has played Robert Crawley, The Earl of Grantham, since the first episode of season one in 2010.
As the head of the Crawley household and the agent of Downton Abbey (at the beginning of the show), Robert takes his responsibilities very seriously.
The series begins with Robert finding out the heir to Downton, his cousin, died in the sinking of the Titanic. Much of the first season focuses on Robert’s attempts to keep Downton in the family, as his three daughters cannot inherit the estate.
By the 2022 film “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” Robert has stepped down from running the estate.
During the events of the second film, which takes place in 1928, Robert finds out that his mother Violet, the Dowager Countess, has inherited a villa in southern France. In order to get to the bottom of the mystery of why his mother was given the villa, Robert travels to France, leaving the care of Downton in his daughter Mary and son-in-law Tom’s hands.
His wife, Cora, is played by Elizabeth McGovern. She also debuted in the first episode.
McGovern is the lone American in the cast of “Downton Abbey,” as she plays a US heiress, Cora, who Robert married in order to secure Downton’s financial future. However, the two ended up actually falling in love and having a happy marriage which produced three daughters.
McGovern returns for “A New Era,” accompanying her husband in his journey to France.
She’s now the grandmother of multiple grandchildren and, as usual, is on hand to support her husband and daughters in their various adventures.
Michelle Dockery has played Mary Crawley (now Talbot) since the first episode.
In the first episode of “Downton,” Mary is dealing with the death of her fiancé and cousin, who died on the Titanic.
Throughout the first few seasons, her relationship with another distant cousin, Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens) was one of the biggest plotlines in the show.
Mary is now married to Henry Talbot, and she co-runs the estate with her brother-in-law, Tom.
Mary married Talbot (Matthew Goode) in the last season of “Downton.” By the second movie, the two are still married, but her husband is busy traveling the world — in real life, Goode couldn’t be in the film due to scheduling conflicts.
While her sister Edith, brother-in-law Tom, and parents travel to France, Mary stays behind to supervise the production of a movie being filmed at their estate while dodging the advances of its director, played by Hugh Dancy.
Mary’s younger sister Edith Crawley (now Pelham) has been played by Laura Carmichael since the first episode.
Edith began the series as the oft-overlooked middle Crawley sister and remains unlucky in love throughout the series — she was both left at the altar and essentially widowed when her fiancé died (and she was then-pregnant with his illegitimate child).
She eventually finds love with Bertie Pelham. They got married during season six.
Edith and her husband Bertie welcomed their first child together in the first “Downton Abbey” film.
Edith accompanies her parents on their journey to France, along with her husband.
The breakout character of the entire show, of course, is Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess Violet, Robert’s mother. She is also introduced in the series premiere.
Violet is easily the funniest character on “Downton,” as her sharp wit never fails to make us laugh. Her schemes, while a tad conniving, always come from a love of her family and her ancestral home.
At the beginning of “A New Era,” Violet reveals she has a mysterious past that her family doesn’t know about.
At the end of the first film, Violet revealed to her granddaughter Mary that she had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and wasn’t sure how much time she had left. But when “A New Era” picks up, Violet is still among the living — and actually has inherited a villa in the south of France.
Violet decides to leave the villa to her great-granddaughter and asks her son, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, and grandson-in-law to take stock of the home. While there, Robert discovers that his ancestry might not be what he thought it was.
The Crawley’s longtime butler, Mr. Carson, has been played by Jim Carter since the first episode.
Carson has been part of the Grantham estate for almost his entire life, as his father was the head groom, and Carson started out as a junior footman. By the time the show starts, Carson is the head of all of the male servants and is a trusted confidante of Robert and his daughter, Mary.
Throughout the series, fans watched the relationship between Carson and the Crawley’s housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, develop. They got engaged during the season five Christmas special and were wed in season six.
During the series finale, Carson is finally forced to retire due to a health condition.
After being brought back into service during the first movie, Carson is back at Downton for the second film.
Along with making the journey to France with some of the Crawley family, Carson is also brought back to the estate at Mary’s request to train a new butler.
Phyllis Logan has played Mrs. Hughes (now Mrs. Carson) since the first episode.
Mrs. Hughes starts off the show as the head housekeeper at the estate, and essentially the most important opinion in all things happening “downstairs” with the servants — not even Carson likes to do things without Mrs. Hughes’ approval.
The new Mrs. Carson is still working at Downton in the new film.
After being very stressed out about the royal visit in the first “Downton Abbey” film, Mrs. Carson (née Hughes) now has to contend with a film shooting at the estate.
One of the series premiere’s storylines is the introduction of Mr. Bates, played by Brendan Coyle, to Downton Abbey as a new valet to Robert.
Bates and Robert first served together in the army, which is why Robert feels obligated to hire him and keep him on staff, despite an injured leg that many of the fellow servants believe makes him unsuitable for the work. However, he proves them all wrong and becomes a beloved member of the staff.
Bates also falls in love with a fellow employee, Anna, the head housemaid. Their up-and-down relationship is the focus of many a storyline. They married in season two and had their first child in the series finale.
His on-screen wife, Anna, is played by Joanne Froggatt.
At first, Anna is the only person at Downton who is kind to Bates when he arrives, and the two share a special bond that eventually progresses into love.
Anna also proves herself as a maid and is promoted to lady’s maid for Mary during the course of the series.
Anna was also at the center of one of “Downton Abbey’s” most controversial storylines when she is sexually assaulted by a visiting valet during season four.
One of the most polarizing characters on “Downton Abbey” is Thomas Barrow, played by Robert James-Collier since the series premiere.
Barrow starts off the show as one of the most consistent villains, constantly scheming to take out Bates — and then anyone else who is in his way of getting promoted to Carson’s position when he retires.
Barrow slowly undergoes a transformation and becomes one of the most beloved members of the staff, all while experiencing the hardships of being a closeted gay man in the 1910s and ’20s.
Barrow ended the first movie with a chance at romance, but by the second movie, he seems to be single again.
Barrow begins “A New Era” as the butler of the estate, and seems to make an impression on the star of the movie that’s filming at Downton, Guy Dexter, as played by Dominic West.
Daisy Robinson is played by Sophie McShera, beginning in season one.
Daisy begins as one of the kitchen maids at the estate who is frequently taken advantage of, or is the subject of pranks, due to her innocent and gullible nature. Over time, she develops a strong relationship with the cook, Mrs. Patmore, and eventually becomes the assistant cook.
By the series finale, she has fallen in love with Andy Parker, a footman at her father-in-law’s farm.
Penelope Wilton made her debut at the very end of the first episode of the show as Isobel Crawley, Matthew’s mother.
The first episode of “Downton Abbey” ends with Matthew receiving the news that he is the new heir of the estate while eating breakfast with his mother. While he is reluctant to take on the responsibility, his mother is determined for her son to accept the offer.
After her son’s death, Isobel becomes genuinely close with Violet, and the two bond.
Raquel Cassidy became part of the cast in season four. She plays Phyllis Baxter, one of Cora’s maids.
When Baxter joins the staff, it becomes clear that Thomas Barrow knows a secret about her, and uses it to manipulate her. Eventually, it’s revealed that she had stolen jewels from a previous employer and spent time in prison.
She and Molesley have affection for each other, but nothing really happens between the two during the series.
Kevin Doyle joined the cast in the second-ever episode as Joseph Molesley, Matthew’s valet.
Molesley becomes part of the Crawley household when Matthew arrives at Downton, and he is named his valet.
After Matthew’s death, Molesley is left without a job and struggles to find work until he’s welcomed back as a second footman under Carson.
Allen Leech joined the cast halfway through season one as Tom Branson, the Crawley’s Irish chauffeur.
Tom is the most explicitly political character on the show, as he’s a vocal supporter of Irish independence and socialism. He bonds with Lady Sybil, the youngest Crawley daughter, and the two eventually get married.
Sadly, Sybil dies in childbirth, leaving Tom alone to figure out where he fits in his new family, as a new member and former employee. He is eventually named co-agent of the estate with his sister-in-law, Mary.
Tom is now married to Lucy Smith, and the two travel to France together to check out the villa Violet left to Tom’s daughter.
During the first movie, Tom falls in love with Lucy, and “A New Era” begins with their wedding. After the reception, Violet gives her lawyer permission to tell Tom and Lucy that Tom’s daughter with Sybil, her great-granddaughter, will be inheriting the mysterious villa that’s the subject of the film.
Robert’s younger sister, Rosamund Painswick, debuts in the season one finale. She’s played by Samantha Bond.
Rosamund begins the series as a widow. She and her late husband, Marmaduke (yes, really), lived together in London, and she remained there after his death.
Throughout the show, Rosamund is a well-meaning, if meddlesome, member of the Crawley family, but is always a welcome addition.
Andy Parker joined the staff at Downton during season five. He’s played by Michael Fox.
Andy joins the staff as a hall boy and later becomes a footman. He and Barrow have a heartwarming friendship, after Andy gets over Barrow’s sexuality, and lets Barrow teach him how to read and write.
Andy also falls in love with Daisy, the assistant cook, and the two are engaged in the first film.
Douglas Reith began playing Lord Merton, aka Dickie, in season three.
Lord Merton’s first appearance involves him apologizing for the legitimately gross (and potentially illegal?) behavior of his son, who drugs Tom Branson the night before Mary and Matthew’s wedding.
He appears later on in seasons five and six to court Isobel, Matthew’s mother. They were married in the series finale.