Maggie Smith will have her own COVID-19 bubble during 'Downton Abbey' sequel filming

Maggie Smith in the 'Downton Abbey' movie. (Credit: Universal/Focus Features)
Maggie Smith in the 'Downton Abbey' movie. (Universal/Focus Features)

The team behind the upcoming sequel to the Downton Abbey movie will take extra measures to protect octogenarian star Maggie Smith.

A follow-up film is due to shoot in the early part of next year, with Smith signing on to return as the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, according to the Daily Mail.

Read more: Critics praise Downton Abbey movie

The acting legend will celebrate her 86th birthday in December and this film sequel is likely to mark her final appearance as the character she has played since the show first aired in 2010.

Production is due to take place between March and May under strict coronavirus protocols, with the Mail reporting that Smith will “have a bubble of her own, to keep her extra safe”.

Watch: Downton Abbey cast deliver love letter to Maggie Smith

Long-term Downton star Jim Carter confirmed in September that the sequel is pressing ahead and that cast members have seen a script.

He said: “It’s got all the same characters in, all the regular characters, and I think the will is, COVID willing, we’ll film it next year.”

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News of Smith’s return will be a relief to fans of the series, after the character confided in the previous movie that she was ill and did not have long to live.

She will, however, join the lengthy list of returning players alongside all of the core members of the ensemble, as well as movie guest stars Imelda Staunton and Tuppence Middleton.

'Downton Abbey'. (Credit: Universal)
The cast of Downton Abbey. (Universal)

A sequel to the Downton Abbey movie was almost inevitable, given the film’s excellent $194m (£149m) worldwide gross.

Set in 1927 and penned by show creator Julian Fellowes, it spun a series of storylines around a royal visit by King George V to Downton and the Crawley family.

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Its haul in the UK put it into the box office top 10 for the entire year in Britain, ahead of mammoth blockbusters like Jumanji: The Next Level, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Hobbs and Shaw.

The film was able to mimic the success of the TV show which, at its peak, drew around 10 million viewers for ITV every week.

Watch: Clip from the first Downton Abbey movie