Feelings run high ahead of 'Downton Abbey' finale

TV still.

LONDON - Emotional "Downton Abbey" fans are counting down the days to the start of the last season of the hit British television series, as the period drama's cast told AFP about filming a tearful final scene.

The sixth and final series of the historical drama premieres on British TV screens on September 20, with fans marking the countdown on Twitter.

The series follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the early 20th century, and has averaged a weekly audience of 11 million viewers in Britain alone.

In the past five years it has also become "one of the UK's biggest ever drama exports", according to Carnival Films and Britain's ITV channel, which commissioned the series.

The final instalment will follow the family towards the end of the 1920s, shortly before the onset of the Great Depression.

Jim Carter, who plays strict butler Mr Carson, told AFP about that charged moment when they wrapped up the final scene.

"We were in the servants' hall, all the gang, candle lit, a muted scene and they said 'cut'. I started to say a few words on behalf of everybody and... before I knew it... I was a mess! And all the crew, the blokes were all crying - it was a soggy mess!" he said.

Still, fellow cast member Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, expressed the view that it was time for the series to end.

"For me it feels as though these characters have told their stories and it feels right to put them to bed," she said in a recent interview in London.

The Crawleys' life "was coming apart, they're not able to continue the life as they know it, much beyond the decade of the 20s.

"So it's sad, but it feels right to me at the same time."

Royal watch 

It was not only the cast who were wiping away the tears, as sentimental fans took to social media.

"The final season of Downton Abbey starts this month. please look away while I weep after every single episode," wrote Twitter user "skepanie, inc".

Other fans retweeted posts on the show's official page, which informs them each day of the number of "sleeps" left until the last season begins.

A critical and commercial success - and a cult hit in the United States - "Downton Abbey" has been broadcast in more than 100 countries, including Australia, Russia and China.

Downton writer Julian Fellowes said the series was originally aimed squarely at a British audience, and that its global success had come as a shock.

"Whole continents took to the show and I can't really explain why. But I'm terribly pleased they did!", he told AFP.

The show also has fans in high places, as it was revealed last week that Queen Elizabeth II was a Downton watcher.

British royal expert Brian Hoey told People magazine that the queen "loves to pick out the mistakes" and had noticed an officer wearing anachronistic medals.

The final season has nine episodes, with the last one airing on Christmas Day.