What’s Up Next for ‘Downton Abbey’ and Dame Maggie Smith?

Is the Dowager Countess (aka legendary actress Dame Maggie Smith) leaving Downton Abbey or not?

There are two very different stories circulating today on whether Violet Crawley, the tart-tongued Dowager Countess, as magnificently portrayed by Smith, will be leaving the acclaimed BBC series ‘Downton Abbey’ after its upcoming third season, which has caused as many rave reviews in its native U.K. as here ‘across the pond’ in North America.

One story would have viewers believe that Smith has asked series creator Jullian Fellowes to write her character out, making the third season – which is currently being filmed – her last. Accordingly, it is being reported, as of last week, that Smith has not renewed her contract.

But the other story coming from The New York Times is stating that Carnival Films, the company that produces ‘Downton Abbey’, is denying the weekend report that broke in the UK newspaper The Daily Mail. The NYT report states that an anonymous source revealed Smith’s leaving, but a spokesman for Carnival is dismissing the story as “complete nonsense”, further stating that “we never comment on future story lines but it’s not true that she’s leaving”. PBS’s Masterpiece, which airs the series here in North America, also stated they never discuss future story lines and a representative for Smith declined to comment.

So which story should viewers believe?

The one thing that is known is that the Dowager Countess is one of the best-loved characters in the large ensemble cast of ‘Downton Abbey’ and if her leaving does come to pass, it will be just as difficult for Fellowes to say goodbye to this character as it will be for the fans to say goodbye.

‘Downton Abbey’ will be back for its third season in the U.K. this September while those of us here in North America will have to wait until 2013.