Season 5 finds the Crawley family and the staff struggling with responsibilities and choices as they adjust to life in the Roaring Twenties. A new Labour government heralds changes that are being felt throughout the land, and Robert, Mary and Branson together must navigate these shifting sands to ensure the future of the estate for generations to come. As Branson finds himself playing a more crucial role at Downton than ever before, he can’t help questioning his place in this world. Mary is finally coming to accept that she would like to marry again, but will she ever be able to find the same happiness that she had with Matthew? Meanwhile with still no news of her beloved Gregson, Edith suffers under the burden of her terrible secret.
Downstairs, the servants are starting to consider what effect social changes may have on their working lives. While Daisy’s mind is opened to new possibilities, Mrs Patmore views such new and uncertain paths with trepidation. Anna and Bates have weathered many storms and are finally starting to plan their future. But with so much painful history, will they ever be able to completely move on, or will past secrets once again threaten their chance of ever finding happiness?
The story moves on to 1924, when the first ever Labour government heralds a sea change that is felt throughout the nation - nowhere more so than at Downton. A suggested plan for a war memorial unexpectedly pits Carson against Robert and Mrs Hughes. Young Jimmy the footman is the object of some unwanted female attention. Thomas gives Baxter an ultimatum. Branson's growing friendship with someone Robert considers quite unsuitable causes concern. After the tragedy she has been through, Lady Mary now seems ready to find love once more. Cracks appear in Edith and Tim Drewe's special arrangement as she struggles to keep her emotions in check - something which may have disastrous consequences for the entire household.
With the house recovering from the night’s dramatic events, Robert is faced with a very difficult decision. As Daisy continues to struggle with her studies, Mrs Patmore has an idea which might solve everything. Thomas has it in for Baxter. As Rose tries to convince Robert of the virtues of a wireless at Downton, Lord Merton continues his hot pursuit of Isobel. When Mary puts her reputation on the line, Anna is made a reluctant accomplice.
Mary's secret assignation is very nearly blown, but Violet's quick thinking saves the day. Robert is left red faced and furious when things do not go as planned. The events surrounding Green's death come under scrutiny once again. Mrs Patmore is devastated when old wounds are reopened but Carson is unsympathetic. Branson receives an interesting proposition concerning the future of the Downton estate. A figure from Violet's distant past suggests she has buried secrets of her own.
Sarah Bunting continues to cause waves above stairs, but this time she may have gone too far. On returning to Downton, Thomas suffers an inexplicable illness and Baxter suspects there’s more to it than he’s letting on. Violet reveals to Isobel the surprising truth of her past with Prince Kuragin. Mary comes to a decision concerning Lord Gillingham, but things don’t go quite as planned. When Rose’s father returns to Downton, he breaks news that will shock the whole family.
Simon Bricker returns to Downton to discuss the painting with Cora. Branson makes a difficult decision about Sarah Bunting. Rose encounters a handsome stranger. Determined to stop Isobel making the wrong decision about Lord Merton, Violet enlists the help of Doctor Clarkson. Charles Blake surprises Mary with a cunning plan to help her get exactly what she wants. Mrs Patmore seeks Carson's advice on a financial matter. Inspector Vyner returns with some ominous words of warning for Anna.
Relations between Robert and Cora continue to be strained. Blake's scheming starts to come to fruition when Mary is unexpectedly pitted against her love rival. Edith receives some terrible news and decides to take drastic action. Following a mysterious tip off, Baxter becomes embroiled in the investigation of Green's death. Thomas' condition deteriorates, prompting him to finally reveal the truth to Baxter. Love is in the air for more than one member of the Crawley family.
Rosamund shows up at Downton following Edith's surprise departure. Rose is pleased to introduce Atticus and his parents to everyone. Anna and Bates think about a fresh start, now that that their problems seem to be behind them. Molesley is worried after Daisy becoming disillusioned with her studies. Mary and Blake seize a chance to send Gillingham a strong message.
Preparations are under way for Rose's wedding, but family tensions on both sides threaten to derail proceedings. Edith's arrangement with Marigold is happily working out, but how long can she and Cora conceal the truth from Robert? Denker reveals an unexpected side to her personality, which causes trouble for more than one of the servants. With the war memorial due to be unveiled, Mrs Patmore is still upset, but Robert has something up his sleeve. Branson comes to a heart-wrenching decision, and the storm clouds that have been gathering over Anna and Bates finally burst.