Three years after the residents and staff of the beloved Downton Abbey left our TV screens fans of the show can finally let out a huge sigh of delight as the Crawley family and their ever-loyal staff head to the big screen this week. With the film just around the corner, cast members and the filmmakers attended a press conference in London’s Corinthia Hotel to give us the lowdown on their Royal adventure.
The movie has us return to the Great House with the most illustrious guests the Crawley family could ever hope to entertain, their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary. With a dazzling parade and lavish dinner to orchestrate, Mary, now firmly at the reins of the estate, faces the greatest challenge to her tenure as head of Downton. A royal visit from the King and Queen of England will unleash scandal, romance and intrigue that will leave the future of Downton hanging in the balance.
Whilst not every member of the extraordinarily large cast was in attendance, the whole day was split into five different press conferences that consisted of returning and new cast members. Those in attendance were Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley), Jim Carter (Mr Carson), Phyllis Logan (Mrs Hughes), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley), Allen Leech (Tom Branson), Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley), Imelda Staunton (Lady Bagshaw), Tuppence Middleton (Lucy), Kevin Doyle (Molesley), Michael Fox (Andrew Parker), Lesley Nicol (Mrs Patmore), Robert James-Collier (Thomas Barrow) and Sophie McShera (Daisy). Whilst from the filmmaker side we had the pleasure of show creator and writer Lord Julian Fellowes, Director Michael Engler and producers Gareth Neame and Liz Trubridge.
Why and who decided on making the series into a movie?
Gareth Neame – It was a gradual thing, it wasn’t anyone of us who had the idea, the three of us talked about it, probably a couple of seasons before we finished the TV show. We knew it wouldn’t go on forever but we knew the show was big and popular enough globally and it was well known for having a very lavish production value that would lend itself to the big screen. We were talking about it 2 years before we finished but the actors whereas well, they could see that potential. I think it was something that just snowballed in our minds. Certainly, when we announced that season six was going to be the final season we were already stated our ambition that although it was ending that we would like to see a film come to pass. It was then a question of time, getting all the actors assembled and for us to have the right story etc. It was a group decision.
Julian Fellowes – I didn’t believe in the film, it had been mentioned and Gareth was much more of a believer than I was because there are lots of wonderful series that have no movies. Mad Men, West Wing, Good Wife, none of them had a film, so I didn’t see it as inevitable at all. I thought, rounding them all up because they are all-stars, doing shows on Broadway and series in Hollywood and this that and the other I thought it would prove impossible.
The movie sees the baton being passed onto Mary, why was it time for on the older members of the household to make room for to the younger generation to take over?
Julian Fellowes – I think that a very important part of the survival of these houses is always dependent on the older generation knowing when it’s time to let the next generation come in. When they don’t do that when they hang on and hang on and hang on and the heir finally gets it when they are 68 it means they are too old to make the changes and do the work that needs to be done. I wanted to make it clear that Mary was going to be put in charge while she still had a level of kind of energy and attack to get on with it. Even she has her moments of doubt as to whether she wants to do it, but if she was not allowed to get in until she was 60 she wouldn’t have done it. I suppose that was the point that I was endeavouring to make.
Will there be more Downton movies in our future and could we see the Crawley’s heading into the war?
Julian Fellowes – There is no point in saying no because the moment you so no in this business you have to swallow it. I don’t know if there will be more. We have gone with them for 15 years from 1912 to 1927, I don’t believe in talcum powder hair and wobble sticks. I think if you make them age 60 years it’s not very credible so I would rather we pace on in a slow manner. I wouldn’t take them 20 years forward. In that time Violets gone from about 70 to her mid-80s’ and in that time, Maggie’s gone from her late 70s’ to her early 80s’. There is not that much difference between reality and fiction. Whether there is another bit to come out of it, who knows. It all depends on how people respond to the film
New Cast Members
Tuppence Middleton – on joining the cast
Yeah, I suppose it was a little bit daunting because it’s such a huge cast and its been going for so many years. There is that sense that you might feel slightly us and them but it really wasn’t like that at all. Everyone was so accommodating; I immediately felt part of the family. It was a lovely atmosphere. I felt very welcomed.
Imelda Staunton on joining the cast and her husband (Jim Carter) on the film.
It felt very comfortable. Penelope [Wilton] had worked in the theatre together; a few of us did know each other from before. I have had Carson coming home every night for many years, so I did feel at ease and hope I didn’t let the side down. I would have got it in the neck from Carson every night if I hadn’t have pulled my weight.
Downstairs or upstairs? Of course, I got the script I thought I would be downstairs, no doubt about it. I think we [Jim Carter] went to work together 3 days a bit over-excited. I would have of course liked to have been downstairs giving Carson quite a hard time but not to be. I was very happy in Geraldine James Company, and Penelope and Maggie. Gosh, that’s like being with Federer and Nadal upstairs.
Jim Carter on working with wife Imelda Staunton
I saw less of her than I do at home. We went into work for three days together and one day she was across a field full of horses and for two days she was on the other side of a dining table. I refused to serve her wine in case she got over excited and expected that kind of behaviour at home. I do remember the day she was offered the job. I was sat at home she came in and said she had just been offered a film. I said anything nice and she said yeah Downton Abbey. Well, I had read the script, what can she play, Mrs Patmore doesn’t have an assistant, then I found she was playing somebody posh. The three days we went in together was a treat.
Returning to a character after 3 years away
Penelope Wilton – I think that if you live with someone for a very long time, and I lived with Isobel since 2010, it wasn’t too difficult to pick it up again because they were all the same group of people. One slotted back in quite easily, Julian’s writing is such that it hadn’t changed it was still 1926 so when we left the last series this was a continuation of that period. I enjoyed coming back to it. There are some wonderful set pieces.
Allen Leech – In relation to coming back, one thing we all thought about finishing the show was that we had such an amazing time over the six years, we wouldn’t get the opportunity to do it again. Then when the opportunity arose, it, for me, was a no brainer to get to work with people who were my family again. It was an absolute joy, as Jim Carter says the greatest thing is we all love each other but we only have to be around each other for 12 weeks. It was just wonderful to come back. I am very grateful to Julian [Fellowes] for giving me such an interesting storyline and the fact that he has so much to do. As when Hugh Bonneville rang me after first reading the script he said you have more plots than an allotment.
Elizabeth McGovern – If I had to say anything it felt remarkable the same to come back. It was remarkable how everyone slipped into their old roles very seamlessly.
Jim Carter – It’s like going back to school, oh hey everybody is everybody… It’s the same, but in a nice way because it was so familiar because we had done it for six years and for me in particular, like Hugh, didn’t get to wear women’s clothes, I put on the same costume I had worn for six years and it felt like putting Carson back on with the costume. That increased the feeling because a lot of the crew were the same. The make-up designer, the costume designer, several members of the crew were the same, so it felt very comfortable, familiar and very nice.
Phyllis Logan – I agree with all of that, I was super excited to know that we were all going to get back together again. Like you say about school, it was like when you have these school reunions…well I say that but I’ve never been to one in my life, Just this came about earlier, it was only three years since we left school.
The difference between filming TV series and Movie
Michael Fox – Practically, it felt like the shots where kind of constructed slightly differently. So it would be more like a ballet, like choreographing to have one scene to run through altogether which I don’t think we’ve had before. Most of the time downstairs its quite fast phrenetic and the upstairs scenes would be quite still, but this one felt much more like a ballet, like a dance.
Lesley Nicol – The lighting was more complicated. Weirdly, going back to the kitchen set, as soon as you walked in you felt oh there’s something weird here. It was bigger. It did feel similar to like going home with a place we spent a lot of time in really.
Sophie McShera – We did have extra rooms. So rooms on the TV show would only be mentioned could actually exist with the film budget. So we were all really excited on our first day as we were in the wine cellar and we had never actually had a wine cellar.
Penelope Wilton – We didn’t have to work as fast. When you are doing television as we all know, especially doing the series, your being asked to do everything in quick time. Whereas in the film, and one storyline really – although there are many strands to it – you have a great deal more time. So, in a day you don’t have so many minutes filming in the bag before the end of the day. So, in that way, it was extremely leisurely.
Michelle Dockery – It certainly felt on a grander scale, we had the luxury of a bit more time, which is wonderful to have just a little bit more time to find the scene and to prepare as well. For every department, preparation is key.
Allen Leech – The opportunity for us all to be more specific in every department including our own performances because we had time. Time gives you the opportunity to take a chance if it doesn’t work your not then under pressure then to go back and try to unpick whatever you have decided to do. That was a lovely luxury.
Robert James Collier on Thomas’ journey in the movie
He [Thomas] misses all the royal pomp and circumstance because when it’s first announced that the Royal family are coming to visit, Thomas is the actual Butler at Downton Abbey but it becomes apparent that he may be slightly out of his depth. It’s something that the Crawley family notice so they bring Carson back – I was going to say from the dead but that’s the wrong choice of words – they bring him out of retirement to oversee the Royal visit. You can imagine the kind of guy Thomas is, he’s not thrilled by this, he feels he’s being usurped, it’s a vote of no confidence in him so he steps himself down.
Hugh Bonneville – Normally, filming in the dining room… during the series only because you knew it was a long time in a hot room – but in fact, one of my favourite scenes in the movie when I read it and when we filmed it was a scene in the dining room and one of the staff gets a bit over-excited about the presence of the Royal family. I think watching Kevin [Doyle] perform that – I always like watching Kevin perform – so I did actually stay in the hot room to watch his close up because it was just a joy and I think it works on the screen too.
Elizabeth McGovern – Mine was dancing with Hugh Bonneville. Need I say more?
Jim Carter – I like the last scene. Carson and Mrs Hughes, Phyllis was going to say she liked the last scene when Carson and Mrs Hughes shut the doors and would wander off into the sunset thinking about the possibilities of a second film.
Phyllis Logan – Yes, we would go back up the drive and would open the door with our own key, it would be like the revolution has happened.
Kevin Doyle – I modelled the bow/curtsy on Teresa May believe it or I actually did. There is this famous photograph of her curtsying to some Royal, it was such a preposterous curtsy I thought I’m going to have that.
Who would you like to play from upstairs?
Kevin Doyle – I would like to play Lady Edith. I feel Molesley is the equivalent downstairs of Lady Edith, sort of overlooked and rather hapless but has a happy ending.
Sophie McShera – Mrs Patmore gets quite good one-liners, I think she is a bit of a Dowager.
Lesley Nicol – I know but I wouldn’t presume to say that, because it’s Dame Maggie isn’t it.
Sophie McShera – I do think you get some good put-downs.
Downton Abbey hits cinemas September 13th