It’s 1928 and the family and household servants of Downton Abbey are all in attendance at the wedding of Tom Branson to Miss Lucy Smith, daughter of Maud, Lady Bagshaw. Since the decline in her health, the Dowager has moved back to Downton to be closer to the family. Lord Grantham shares the news that the family’s lawyer will be visiting Downton at the Dowager’s request and that the whole family should be present. Violet has inherited a villa in the South of France and in turn she wants to leave it to Lady Sybil and Branson’s daughter, Sybbie, in her will. A decision that doesn’t sit comfortably with Tom Branson. With the question of why the late Marquis de Montmirail left such a generous gift to the Dowager hanging in the air, Lord Grantham receives an interesting phone call. Mr Barber, a film director from the British Lion film company, wants to set his latest silent film, The Gambler at Downton Abbey. Robert thinks it’s a grotesque idea, but with an exuberant offer on the table and a quick tour of the attics and roof with Lady Mary, he reluctantly concedes that Mary is in charge and should do what she thinks best.
Below stairs, the news of the movies coming to Downton has caused quite a stir. Daisy and Anna are overcome with excitement at the prospect of seeing their matinee idols in person while Mrs Hughes must find a way of breaking the news to Mr Carson. Daisy and Andy are now married and living at Mr Mason’s farm on the grounds of the estate – an arrangement that comes with its challenges however Daisy hatches a plan that will hopefully lead to the young newlyweds having their own space.
As the movie crew and film stars prepare to descend on Downton Abbey, the family make plans to escape the impending chaos and take the opportunity to visit the villa in the South of France. Edith plans on going back to work after the birth of her son Peter and the prospect of writing an article about how fashionable the South of France has become as a holiday destination for the rich and famous proves too enticing to refuse.
As the family make ready to depart for France, the film’s leading lady and man arrive at the house sending the servants into a frenzied state of excitement. Myrna Dalgleish is as beautiful in real life as she is in her posters but will she live up to the hype? Her co-star, Guy Dexter is charming and gracious and leaves the female servants swooning in the corridors. His charms do not go unnoticed by Thomas Barrow, but having been rejected so cruelly in the past he keeps his feelings firmly in check. Having been persuaded by Lady Mary to take Carson with him to France, Robert and the rest of the family set sail for France to meet the Montmirails leaving Mary in charge of the film crew. Robert and Cora are pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome they receive from the new Marquis de Montmirail but realise it will take time for his mother to come around to the idea of losing her winter home to a child belonging to this aristocratic English family. Once there the family set about trying to unravel the mystery of this generous gift the Dowager has received while enjoying the beautiful surroundings of the Riviera. However, in searching for the truth, Robert finds more than he bargained for which raises more questions than answers. Questions only his mother can answer. With a secret of her own, Cora feels compelled to share it with her husband which hastens their departure from France.
Back at Downton the film is beset with problems when the studio threatens to pull the plug on the finances due to the growth in popularity of talking pictures. Jack sends his supporting artists home because he can no longer pay them. With the film on the verge of collapse, Mary and Mrs Hughes come to the director’s rescue with an ingenious idea that just might save the day but it means all the servants must step up and help out. Mr Molesley discovers a surprising talent he didn’t know he had and one that opens up a new career path for his future.
The Crawleys return to Downton where Isobel has been tasked by Violet to sort through her papers. There she discovers some letters from the late Marquis de Montmirail to the Dowager and discusses what she finds with Violet and Robert. With the help of the entire household Jack Barber is able to complete his film. Downton Abbey: A New Era is packed full of joyous moments, lots of fun and humour, tears of joy and sadness and new beginnings.
THE GENESIS OF DOWNTON ABBEY
When Gareth Neame, (CEO, Carnival Films and Executive Producer on Downton Abbey), began talking to Julian Fellowes about developing a new television drama series, it was an adaptation of Julian’s acclaimed novel Snobs that he had in mind. Discussions quickly turned to a subject that Gareth had been mulling over for some time and, as luck would have it, Julian had been thinking along similar lines.
“It was while working on an adaptation of Julian’s novel Snobs that I first thought we should really work on an episodic series set in an Edwardian country house,” says Neame. “Firstly, because it is a setting that is uniquely English and we haven’t had an original programme like this in many years and secondly, Julian and I both thought it was good territory to revisit.”
“I couldn’t think of anyone in the world better to write it than Julian and obviously there was a very big nod towards Gosford Park, which had made such a huge impact on defining the English country house genre,” he explains.
“I thought, if you could just take that period and put it into a prime-time series, you could have something really special,” he continues.
For Gareth there are a few television genres that are uniquely American and some that are uniquely British of which Downton Abbey is one.
“When I read Julian’s initial treatment it had such a confidant command of this period and grasp of this world, the family, the servants, and the entire setting that it was clear this was something he had wanted to write for a long time.”
For Julian, Gosford Park struck a chord with audiences everywhere and it was a period he was keen to return to.
”I had never written a television series before and I found you have such tremendous freedom to develop the characters. The way of life of these fully staffed houses had always interested me, long before I wrote Gosford Park. There is something intriguing about a group of people living in such close proximity and yet with such different expectations.”
In these country houses, Julian talks of families living within “a curious universe, alongside their servants who are, on the whole, living a different life but are just as strongly graded as their masters so that, within their world, the butler is King and the housekeeper is Queen, with all their own hopes and dreams.”
“It always intrigues me how did people deal with it, did they retain a sense of self? I hope in Downton we have a very balanced set up as both Gareth and I wanted it to be something recognisable and identifiable to audiences.”
The Edwardian period is not often portrayed in television drama, with dramatists and writers favouring the regency period of Jane Austen instead.
“This is a time that perhaps our parents, but more likely our grandparents, would have lived in, so it’s not a completely foreign country,” explains Gareth. “The modern era began at the end of the 19th Century and this was something Julian and I discussed a lot. By the late 19th century, electricity came in and then gradually motor-cars, telephones, people commuting to work on the London Underground or on a bus and then came mortgages and pensions and are all things that modern audiences recognise and identify with.”
“My father was born in 1912,” adds Julian, “So 1912, which is the year the television series began, is a period that many people alive today have heard about from their immediate family members; it’s still relatively recent history.”
Crucial to the look and feel of the show was for Gareth to bring modernity to the design without compromising the period.
“We wanted the show to have a contemporary feel to it without losing any of the glorious elements that made the era unique. I think this is helped by it being an original script allowing the audience to enjoy all the trappings associated with period drama.”
Julian was also keen to portray what it was like to live and work in service during this time and for women, particularly young women, service was the only option.
“When the economic system changed, people, and most particularly women, began to be offered jobs where they could have a free evening instead of being on duty until they went to bed. It was clearly a better option. Remember during this time we saw the rise of women’s rights, the organisation of labour, the changing status of the worker, the massive increase of productivity in the Midlands, so the modern world was pushing though and in fact the First World War would release all of that energy,” explains Julian
The ambition of Downton Abbey was realised, not only in the script, but in the design, the location, the production values, and ultimately the casting. For Gareth, the excitement of being a producer is to watch these elements come together.
“I enjoy the whole process of filming from beginning to end,” he says, “It’s a process that’s made of a lot of different talents and skills and seeing each of them come together is hugely rewarding; I mean the whole operation, including working very closely on the development and at that point its very much about the script; then at a certain point it becomes about the casting, locations, costumes, make-up and hair, then editing and suddenly the most important thing you’re working on is music and finally the publicity. I really do enjoy all of those aspects of production,” he explains.
“Ultimately for me as a producer it’s seeing the finished product coming together. You create something of value that has a purpose and will entertain.”
Before any of these elements can come together, getting the right producer on board is vital to the success of any production.
“I asked Liz (Trubridge) to be the series producer, not least because of her track record, but mainly because of her relationship with Julian I knew that would work very well for us. She’s been a great blessing for me and run such a tight ship. Nigel Marchant is an excellent producer, who I have enjoyed working with in the past. It really makes my life a thousand times easier having such a great team on the ground.”
For Gareth, casting was also crucial for Downton Abbey but what can often be difficult and arduous process was in fact very straightforward.
“It was a joy to cast this drama purely because it wasn’t hard to find the actors you would want to play this part and we were blessed that pretty much everyone we went to came on-board.”
One of Julian’s many considerable achievements with the scripts is to create many characters, introduce them all in the first episode and give them storylines.
”Julian has got a great command of every single one of those characters and the journeys they go on and that really gives the actors something they can get their teeth into.”
“The modern audiences’ viewing habits are much more sophisticated now and viewers are able to handle lots of information simultaneously, most likely as a result of the increasing pace of television dramas such as Chicago Hope and The West Wing,” says Julian.
One of the most important characters in the script was the house itself and despite visiting Highclere Castle first, Gareth, Julian and the production team spent six months visiting many different houses eventually returning to Highclere Castle. With its 1,000 acres of grounds, landscaped by Capability Brown, the Castle provided the perfect backdrop for Downton Abbey.
“Finding the hero location was a funny journey because from day one Julian said the house he had in mind was Highclere. When the show was greenlit I came down to have a look around,” recalls Gareth.
“Initially, it seemed wrong to just tick the box without exploring other options because it was such a key factor in the show and probably the singular most important character,” he adds. “One of the reasons we came back to Highclere was that our production designer (Donald Woods), made a point that the show was set in Edwardian England and many period dramas over the last few years have tended to be set in Georgian houses.”
“Highclere’s high Victorian look felt so different to other period dramas and we were keen to make a fresh statement so the show could stand out.”
Julian’s passion for great houses is well documented and for him the choice of Highclere Castle as the location for Downton Abbey was an easy one. However, with a huge ensemble cast, supporting artists and a crew of over 100 it was important from a logistical point of view that the house was accessible.
“I love Highclere and wanted Gosford to be at Highclere. But Bob Altman very much wanted people to be able to sleep in their beds and so we had to move nearer to London to Wrotham, (another wonderful house). To me, Highclere is a unique architectural statement and tells us so much more about the wonderful confidence of the late Victorians and the confidence of high Empire,” observes Julian.
Highclere Castle is home to the Earl and Countess of Carnavon and their family and is undoubtedly one of England’s most beautiful castles set amidst spectacular parkland. The Carnavons’ ancestors have lived at Highclere since 1679.
“The Castle has some wonderful interiors especially the library which is an absolutely marvellous room. It’s a very quintessential English Library and the Great Hall is wonderful”, adds Fellowes.
It was always the plan to film the state rooms and public rooms on location, however, over the years the kitchens and the bedrooms of large country houses have changed dramatically therefore it was necessary to build the servants quarters, kitchen, and bedrooms in a studio.
“The thing about filming in these great houses is that if you were to start from scratch, you simply couldn’t build this and if you did you would have used up all your budget in one room.”
Where are the Downton characters at the beginning of this new movie?
At the end of the first movie it was clear that Mary was really taking over as the boss at
Downton and that’s a theme we go with throughout this second film. One of the jobs of being in a hereditary business is to accept that it is hereditary and there comes a time when your usefulness is diminished and the moment has come to hand on to the next generation.
Edith’s marriage to Bertie is going well and she has now given birth to a boy but in a rather modern sense, running Brancaster and motherhood is not quite enough for her. She needs an activity that draws on her brain and something outside the family unit. In the 1920s and during the First World War, women had been put to work in different areas of employment and that had stimulated them to want to work. Cora and Robert’s job in the first film was to host the King and Queen, which they did with good grace. They both have a more difficult emotional journey in this film. I wanted to give all the characters more to do this time round and I am rather pleased with the way it turned out.
What did Simon Curtis bring to the film?
Gareth and I started thinking about Downton about 12 years ago and Simon has been part of the inner structure of the show since then; as have all the partners of the core team and cast, including my own wife. Simon has a very strong grasp of narrative, which is always a useful gift, but with Downton, it’s an essential one because of the multi-narrative nature of the scripts. Some of the stories are big and run right through the film and some are quite short and are told in only three scenes. However, all the stories are interlocking and there are many scenes that serve more than one story, which is why, when we have our read-through at the beginning of production I always say to the actors that they must take responsibility for their own story.
How do you even begin to structure a film like Downton that has so many multiple voices?
My first lucky break was being asked to write a film for Robert Altman, which turned out to be Gosford Park. I suspected that Altman felt out of his comfort zone making a film about the British class system so I thought the only way around this is to make it a completely Altmanesque script; that every time he turned the page he would recognise the structure of it. In order to achieve that I went off, in those days to the video store, and took out every single Altman film I could find. I watched them over three or four days, and I designed the film, despite its setting, to make Altman recognise his own territory. As a result, I found that I liked that form of narrative and it suited me. From then on, I moved away from the straight, linear narrative, which is what I’d mainly done before, into this multi-narrative, multi-arc form and that really stayed with me. That structure informed the entire series of Downton in its earliest concept but it does mean that you’ve got to have directors on board who are interested and understand narratives, get the gags and follow them through. Simon is very good at that.
When you are writing, how conscious are you of the balance of drama and humour?
The sort of comedy that I like is real-life comedy and in our day to day lives we all know people who are funnier than others. Those people have the gift of coming up with phrases that are funny but they don’t remove you from what’s going on around you so in that sense you can return to the truth of the narrative situation without any difficulty. That is the level of comedy that sits well in an ongoing family saga like Downton and of course, for that, you need certain members of the cast to be talented with comedy lines. I was lucky with Maggie Smith, because I’d worked with her a few times before and the character I wrote that she played in Gosford Park was quite similar to Violet Grantham in Downton. Maggie has many gifts and one of them is that she can be very funny one minute, and two minutes later have you crying and she can shift gear without changing into someone else. She remains very true to the character.
What are the main differences in writing a series for television and movies?
The main differences between the two is that when you are writing a series for television, after the first series, you are writing for performances that already exist. You are writing to fit the actors. For example, Lesley Nicol is a very funny actress but back in the beginning of all this I didn’t really know her. I’d seen her in East is East which she was very good in but the more I realised how funny she was, the more I wrote for the fact she was funny. You also learn which actors are very good at emotional scenes and I quite deliberately give them material that I know they will shine in because it gives you a lot of high points. I’m part of a dying breed who believes that one of the jobs of the entertainment industry is to entertain. I want people to watch Downton and enjoy it. I want them to go to this movie, have a nice time – laugh and cry, then go out and have a decent dinner and get back home and feel they’ve had a really good evening. That’s my goal and if people ask is it enough to just entertain, then the answer is yes. I also hope that every now and then we can make them think about the disparity of backgrounds in an equal society, or make them think of the difficulties of being homosexual in a period when it was still illegal. We touch on those sorts of subjects but that’s not the prime purpose of the film. The purpose of the film is to give the audience a really good evening out.
What’s happening in the lives of the Crawley family and their household staff?
We have several storylines running simultaneously throughout the film and one of these sees some members of the Crawley family travel to France. The other key plotline is that Hollywood comes to Downton Abbey in the form of a silent movie. The film however, opens with the wedding of Tom Branson to Lucy Smith and since Tom and Lucy fall somewhere between the family and the servants’ hall it would be entirely appropriate for both the family and their servants to be present at their wedding.
Describe the circumstances that take the family to France and how does that storyline knit together with the silent movie storyline?
Violet receives a letter informing her that she has been left a generous inheritance – A beautiful villa in the South of France – by an old acquaintance…someone she knew decades before. She in turn has decided to leave it to her great granddaughter Sybbie, Tom Branson’s daughter with Lady Sybil. All her other great grandchildren are provided for but little Sybbie stands to inherit nothing and Violet wants to take care of her. Naturally, the rest of the family are curious and want to unravel the backstory and mystery as to why she has been left such an extravagant gift by someone they’ve never heard of. They are invited to visit the villa by the current owners and that’s why Robert, Cora and some of the family members head off to France to both see the villa and also escape the mayhem and chaos of the silent movie shooting back at Downton.
How does Robert react to the news of Downton Abbey being turned into a film set?
Robert thinks the idea of a silent movie being filmed at Downton is absolutely grotesque and he doesn’t want to be around while all these film people invade his home. Mary, at Violet’s request, takes him to see the state of the attics and the rest of the family assure him that he really does need the money that the film will pay to fix the roof and other things. For Robert it’s a very convenient excuse to get away from the film people and go down to The Riviera. He knows he can’t really stand in the way of what is a very simple way of making money so he leaves Mary to take charge of the film crew.
How does the film impact on the house, Lady Mary and the servants?
There are all the usual shenanigans of things that don’t quite go according to plan and how the family and staff become embroiled in the making of the film. A particular piece of history is that because it is set in the 1920s the film is silent but during production they realise that the silent movie business is fast becoming yesterday’s news and the new trend is that they need to become a “talkie”. It is Lady Mary’s idea that the director should consider turning the film into a “talkie”. Across both those main story strands we are reunited with all the much-loved characters who each have their own storylines packed with all the usual drama, romance and comedy.
What’s the significance of taking the family out of Downton for the second film?
I’d always wanted to bring the Crawleys to Europe and to the Riviera in particular because it is a part of Europe that the English upper classes would have visited. We’ve never seen the family travel beyond their own shores before. In the television series we had a trip to the highlands of Scotland, a few trips to Northumberland and Bertie Pelham’s family seat of Brancaster and we had an episode when Lady Rose was presented at court in Buckingham Palace for the London Season. The British aristocracy were very influential in creating the Riviera and would travel from Northern Europe to escape the harsh winters. However, it wasn’t until the late 1920s and early 1930s, that they began travelling there during the summer months. It was made popular by Americans like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. The gorgeous villa and beautiful gardens we found in Toulon absolutely epitomised the Riviera that I’d imagined when we first talked about this story idea.
How did the idea for Hollywood coming to Downton come about?
The film is set in 1928 and it was at the time that silent pictures were becoming talking pictures. Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, Blackmail, was in production in 1928 and by extraordinary personal coincidence, my late grandfather was an assistant cameraman on it so I know practically first-hand what happened on that set. They started production and while they were making Blackmail, The Jazz Singer was released and for the first time, audiences were able to go to a cinema and see actors singing and hear their voices. That revolutionised film and silent cinema almost overnight which, having only been in existence a few decades, was a relatively short-lived art form.
I remember my grandfather telling me what it was like when the soundmen arrived, and how the cameras were suddenly restricted because they were very noisy. The cameras had to be shut away in soundproofed booths so that the microphones wouldn’t pick up the noise of the camera, which in turn limited how much you could move the camera around. The soundmen then became the most important crew on the set. We’ve used that detail in the story with our very self-important soundman played by Alex McQueen.
What challenges did you face bringing the script to life with travel restrictions and a global pandemic to navigate?
We were working through drafts of the script during the summer of 2020 and I remember thinking that by the time we come to film it a year later the world would be back to normal. However, the second wave struck in the winter of 2020/21 and moving around Europe became very difficult. It wasn’t until our cast and crew landed on French soil in two chartered planes in June 2021 that I actually believed we would get there. I didn’t know if we would be able to pull it off so we just had to go for it and keep everything crossed while at the same time trying to prepare an alternative version of the film where we tried to shoot the French scenes in England. The day the crew and cast flew out I tracked both planes on a flight app to ensure they landed safely in France, such was my apprehension about the whole thing!
Simon Curtis has been part of the Downton family for a very long time, why was he your choice to direct the second film?
I’ve known Simon for over 20 years but we haven’t worked together for a long time. He’s been a huge champion of Downton and was one of the very first people to see the first episode of the TV series. Ever since then he has been a huge supporter of the show and would accompany his wife Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Grantham) to many of the press tours in the UK and US. He really has been part of the family for a very long time. I wanted the director to be someone who really cared about Downton and who knew the characters inside out and Simon really fitted the bill.
Following the worldwide success of the first film how do you ensure the second film takes it to a new level?
I didn’t feel the pressure this time round as much as I did before the first film. We’d already demonstrated that Downton Abbey could fill a bigger screen with the first film and the television series was so well known for the quality of its production values, set design, costumes and hair and make-up design along with those huge set pieces that fans the world over enjoyed. I’m pretty satisfied that we’ve got some really lavish and fresh ideas in this film that will hopefully delight our fans. We’re always doing something new, without diluting what we know our audiences love, which is to be reunited with all the characters they love.
What were you looking for in your guest actors?
All three of our British guest actors were absolutely pitch perfect. Dominic West is a huge star and what he’s done with his character is wonderful. The same goes for Hugh Dancy as Jack Barber the film director and Laura Haddock as our silent movie star – they were equally as charming in their roles. I think they all really enjoyed the experience too. In France our guest actors were Nathalie Baye and Jonathan Zaccaï who are very well known in France. Of course, we are living in a global age that we are watching actors from all around the world on our screens. Nathalie hadn’t watched Downton Abbey but in preparation for her part she managed to watch all six series and the film, which was very impressive.
What is it about Julian’s writing that continues to engage audiences?
These characters are so well established now and that’s a combination of the characters Julian originally created over 13 years ago and how they’ve come to life in the hands of these actors. Julian said at the readthrough of the first episode that the actors were the custodians of their characters and that’s true. He has an extraordinary turn of phrase and can write great comedic moments and then hit you with heartbreak the next and vice versa. He is a great observer of human behaviour. Then of course the characters are carried by such good actors who’ve got the ability to switch between comedy and heartache.
What would you like audiences to take away from the movie?
I hope audiences will see this movie as uplifting and something that they can really connect with. I hope it’s a real tonic for people after the last couple of years we’ve had and perhaps, if the timing works out, this film will even can encourage people back to their local cinemas.
Can you outline the story of film?
We rejoin the cast of Downton in 1928 and nine months on from the end of the first film. Violet did a little bit of matchmaking in the first film and the second film kicks off at the wedding of our two lovebirds Lucy Smith and Tom Branson. Daisy and Andy have also got married and they’re now living at Mr Mason’s farmhouse. However, we learn very early on that it’s a little cramped there and he’s a lot fussier than they imagined he would be so that’s a challenge for the young couple. Back at the house Violet drops a huge bombshell when she tells the family that she has been left a villa in France, which she’s in turn leaving to Sybbie on the grounds that Mary’s children will inherit well Caroline and any children of Lucy and Tom will have Brompton House. Edith and Bertie’s children will be taken care of so it’s just poor Sybil’s daughter Sybbie who will really inherit nothing and she wants to put that right. Of course, though the question on everyone’s lips is why has she been left a villa in France?
Alongside that storyline we have an additional plot of the movies coming to Downton. A movie director, Jack Barber, calls the house to say that he wants to make his next movie at Downton. He attended a charity event there and because 1928 is the year that silent movies were venturing out of the studios and going on location, he thought the house would make a good backdrop for his film, The Gambler.
How did the storyline of a film within a film come about?
Gareth Neame’s grandfather, the late film director Ronald Neame, had worked as a young camera operator on Alfred Hitchcock’s silent film, Blackmail, which was the inspiration for this part of the storyline. We had to come up with something that was different to the first film and it was hard to top the Royal visit so this was a wonderful idea that felt a strong contrast to the first film. It was the time when silent movies were becoming redundant and ‘talkies’ were the new big thing. It was a significant turning point in the industry because a lot of silent movie stars couldn’t make the transition from silent acting to talking in movies and it often had tragic consequences.
Was there ever a point when you wondered how you might fit a period film crew into Highclere’s rooms alongside the modern film crew?
There was one particular day when we stood in the dining room and thought, how on earth are we going to have our film crew, the film within the film crew, the film within the film’s actors and our actors and all the equipment because there was just so much of it. The 1920s camera was housed in an enormous box much like a large telephone box and had to include an actor and a camera so we were up against it in terms of space but we managed it all.
What made Simon Curtis the stand out choice of director for the second film?
Directing Downton is no mean feat for anyone coming in cold to the title because it’s such a well-established world and there’s just so much knowledge that has to be taken on board. It would be a steep learning curve for any director coming into the mix. Both Gareth and I had worked with Simon before and of course, being married to Elizabeth McGovern he has been very much part of our world for the past 11 years. He was interested and once he read the script he said yes and it just felt right. He’d also worked with so many of the cast before and they were delighted to have him join the crew and when you’ve got a great director you’re your cast already love it’s a big plus. He really cares a lot about Downton and is a very collaborative director.
What were you and casting director, Jill Trevellick looking for in the guest cast?
In the late 1920s most of the big silent movie stars were American but a handful of British actors had infiltrated Hollywood, made it big in silent movies and had become quite well known. Dominic West’s name came into the frame and we all thought he would be superb as our leading silent movie star. We were really lucky to get him because he was due to start in The Crown but their dates moved and we were delighted he became available. He was perfect for the role. For director, Jack Barber we took inspiration from photographs and had a very Bohemian character in mind. What was so lovely about these guest characters is that they really contrasted with our established family and household of servants. These were people who did not live according to the protocols of Downton at all so Jack was a breath of fresh air coming in. When Hugh Dancy’s name was put on the table we thought he was perfect for this character and fortunately he loved the role and wanted to play it. With Myrna it took a while to find the right actor but when we did find Laura Haddock we knew that no one else could have played her quite like Laura and I think she had the time of her life doing it. Then with our French cast, we found the two very experienced and renowned actors, Nathalie Baye and Jonathan Zaccaï who were a terrific addition to the gang.
How did you manage to find such a stunning French location during the Pandemic?
Myself, our Location Manager and Production Designer were able to travel to France in between the two lockdowns and met with our French Line Producer who showed us around a number of villas in the South of France. As it was with Highclere Castle, the first villa we saw was the one we went with and it was quite stunning. It overlooked the Mediterranean and it had gorgeous gardens and its own little secluded beach. It provided lots of space and vistas for dinners outside on the terrace – situations we would rarely see the Crawleys in.
What does it mean to you personally having worked with this cast and some crew for the last 11 years, to get this second film off the ground and bring the Downton family back together?
It means everything to me to bring this second film to the big screen and makes me emotional thinking of it. It’s been such a journey. Gareth and I are a great team and I love working with him. We care about this world and we care about getting it right and delivering it to the fans who have been so loyal for so long. I hope they like it.
What is it about Julian’s writing that resonates with the audience?
His great skill is that he can write for 20 main characters and give them all a piece of the action. He has this incredible task of giving them all something to do that feeds into the narrative of the overall film, and at the same time adds in attractive enough guest parts to draw in the calibre of actors we want. I don’t underestimate that skill.
What do you hope the audience will take away from this film?
The key to Downton is it’s a feel-good film and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. I very much hope that the audience will come with us as we take our characters out of their usual environment and encounter different worlds. There will be the usual mix of high comedy and ups and downs as there always is in the world of Downton. I hope it’s a real tonic for families of all generations and that they will feel able to return to the cinema again to spend a few very happy hours together.
How did you come to be involved as director on the film?
I have had the privilege of working with so many of the cast and crew on both sides of the camera in the past. Gareth Neame and I had worked together on Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky and Liz Trubridge and I worked together on A Short Stay in Switzerland that I’d made with Julie Walters. I think the fact I knew the show and all of the characters so well plus the fact I had followed it very closely from the very first episode all landed in my favour.
What do you love about the show and first film?
I had read the script of the first episode very early on and I absolutely loved it. Then when I saw it, I really thought it was extraordinary, watched every episode of the television series and loved it. My greatest admiration is reserved for the actors and Julian Fellowes. Julian is such a genius at giving everybody a story full of these telling moments of humour and emotion that characterise the show, much like Chekhov did with his stories. That was very rewarding to work out each time we set up a scene; to find the emotional beat of each scene. I think why Downton Abbey resonates with its audience is because it’s a specific moment in time that is universal because it treats everyone with respect. No matter their age or their class or their role, Julian gives everybody a humanity and a certain dignity.
Knowing the series as well as you do, did this film script surprise you?
I thought it was a very satisfying script that brought resolution to so many of the stories in a really satisfying way, even more than the first film did. It gave the key characters really great storylines to work with. Tapping into the history of film making in the UK with the film within a film storyline and a trip to the South of France. I basically said ‘I’m in’ at that point because they are two passions of mine. I’d made a film about the making of a film before and it’s very close to my heart, as is the South of France.
Where did the last film leave the characters and where do we find them again at the start of this film?
At the end of the last film there was a sense that Tom and Lucy were going to get married and nine months later here we are at Tom and Lucy’s wedding. Violet, who we knew was ill, has now moved back into Downton Abbey to be closer to the family. When everyone gets back to Downton from the wedding, they’re greeted with a bombshell. Violet has received a letter and reveals that out of the blue, she’s been left a gorgeous villa in the south of France and so that kicks off a mystery that involves a trip to France to uncover the real story behind that.
What is the background to the film within the film storyline?
A director, Jack Barber, played by Hugh Dancy, makes a call to Downton Abbey to
Request the use of the house as a location for his next film, The Gambler. Interestingly, just like the famous story, of Hitchcock’s Blackmail, which was a silent film made in the 20s, just when sound in films came along. Hitchcock had to scramble around and turn it into a talkie and that’s what happens to Barber’s film, The Gambler at Downton. Inevitably, our characters get involved in the making of that film and its transformation from a silent film to a talkie with much hilarity and consequences for all.
How do the family and staff react to these movie stars descending on Downton Abbey?
As you might expect they react with a mixture of horror from the traditionalists like Robert and Carson and excitement from some of the younger members of the household for example, Daisy is beside herself at the prospect of meeting movie stars.
Having worked with a lot of the actors previously what was it like directing such a large ensemble?
I’ve been very lucky in that some of the things I’d made in television, like David Copperfield and Cranford, meant I’d had experience working with a big ensemble cast. What’s intimidating about directing Downton, (which I’m sure all the previous directors have also felt), is that there’s no such thing as an easy scene in Downton. There might be as many as four mini scenes within one bigger scene and four different clusters of conversations that all require coverage from various different angles and that all takes time. In this film we had the usual ensemble of actors, then add in the crew and actors for the film within the film, plus our own crew and that amounted to over 50 setups for one particular dinner scene across three days. It was relief to get to the end of that scene.
What advice did the historical film consultant Laraine Porter add to the mix?
Laraine was very helpful even just in the learning about that very specific moment in time where talking was first possible in film. She also informed us about important details like the camera having to be in a soundproof box because it was so noisy. Elements that I hadn’t known, and other details like having a pianist play to the silent movie actors to help them get into the mood of the moment and so on.
Were you able to help Hugh Dancy with his role as Director, Jack Barber?
I could totally empathise with the agony of Hugh Dancy’s Jack Barber, the director who was struggling with his schedule and actors and so on and I channelled a lot of my energy into helping him find that character. Then we had Alex McQueen, whom I’m a big fan of, come and join us as the self-important Soundman who wants to run the set in his own way.
What were you looking for in the guest actors playing Jack Barber, Myrna Dalgelish and Guy Dexter in the UK, and Nathalie Baye and Jonathan Zaccaï in France?
I’d really admired both Hugh Dancy and Dominic West for a long time and so I was thrilled they could join us. Laura Haddock was a great addition to the cast and very good as the actress who’s panicked at the prospect of sound arriving. Then in France, the brilliant Belgian actor Jonathan Zaccaï joined us along with Nathalie Baye, who’s one of the great French actresses. I’ve always loved her work so it was thrilling to work with her. During the first week of quarantine in France we organised for the crew to watch her film Day for Night, which is a love letter to making a film in the South of France and that was very meaningful.
How best would you describe this group of actors and what they’ve become over the years?
This is a family of actors playing a family of characters, and a lot of the shots in this film were
12 years in the making, especially around all the births, marriages and deaths that have occurred in real life and on screen. The actors are all totally aware of what’s going on in each other’s personal lives, the ups and downs, and new family members and losing family members and that emotional insight and knowledge was incredibly potent and valuable for many of the scenes in this film
How significant was taking Downton out of England for the first time?
It was tricky to navigate both in story terms and production terms, because due to COVID, we didn’t know whether or not we would be able to travel to France until a few weeks before we actually went. The studio, rightly, had asked us to have a back-up plan and prepare UK locations to double for France should we not be able to go. I’d never even been to the location until we went there to film. I’d obviously seen video footage of this gorgeous house, and so I fought to go there and it was a very special experience for us all to be there, particularly after lockdown at the end of the film.
What was your vision for the film?
The easy answer to that is, that the interweaving yet separate storylines gave us the opportunity to deliver every scene with some sort of twist which has been quite liberating. When the film company turn up at Downton, all the usual rules and conventions are thrown off kilter and that in turn helped me push everything slightly off kilter. Directing any film is a huge responsibility and this is a big film with a huge audience waiting for it.
As a director, how do you and the producers, Liz and Gareth together with Julian, strive to make Downton a big-screen experience in terms of production values and scale?
The production values were always really high for the show but, obviously, on a film, you have more time. The trip to France in itself gives the film scale and makes it feel different which means we could be ambitious with the scenes and the sequences, and it does feel like a very cinematic experience. As with all our collaborators, I was thrilled to have Andrew Dunn as the Director of Photography. I’ve admired his work hugely for a long time and, of course, he shot Gosford Park, which is the godfather of Downton Abbey. It was a real honour that he came on board, and he delivered a fantastic job. Then of course I have worked with production designer Donal Woods and his team five or six times and it was a joy to be reunited with him. With Costume Design and Hair and Make-Up Design I was so confident Anna (Robbins) and Nosh (Anne Oldham) knew what they were doing that I left them to their own devices and the costumes are phenomenal and I love the Hair and Make-up looks. They delivered the key components of the look of the film
What do you think is the enduring appeal of Downton Abbey to audiences around the world?
What Julian does so well is give everybody a dignity and a humanity, whether they’re young or old or whatever their job or class is, and I think people the world over respond to that. The kitchen maid and the Lady of the house are equally as important in the mix of the story and it’s an example of society working together. Not that everything in 1929 was great for the people who lived at that time, but there were things and elements of that life that seem enviable now, where people did all work together. The first film came out at a time in the midst of Brexit and Trump, where people were nostalgic for years when they used to sit on their sofas watching the series and be happy on a Sunday night with their family. I hope this film will come at a time where, particularly, coming out of the pandemic, and a few years that have been so difficult for so many people all over the world, it will provide some much- needed familiarity and entertainment. I hope this will be a gift to the world of an enjoyable emotional, entertaining roller coaster, just when it’s needed.
How did you approach elevating this second film script after the splendour of the first film and the Royal Family coming to Downton? Did you feel additional pressure?
In the second film Julian wrote a lovely villa into the script located in the South of France so that gave me loads of fresh inspiration for the second film. When I was looking for the villa we saw five in total and my brief was that it had to be different from every other house that we had previously seen in the television series and film. In other words, it had to be the complete antithesis of Downton Abbey. When I found the Villa Rocabella near Toulon in France, everybody loved it. It had to look very Mediterranean and feel open and summery with all that you associate with the South of France.
What was your overall vision for the French villa?
We really wanted the French villa to be colourful, bright and have a relaxed feel to it. Downton would have had lots of servants and footmen and in France the servants would be largely invisible and few and far between. There are some hilarious scenes involving Mr Carson who brings a little bit of Northern England butlery to these rather relaxed people in France which should give the audience a lot of laughs. The overall feel of the villa is relaxed, with lots of light, sun and sea surrounded by endless sumptuous greenery and beauty of the Mediterranean flowers and plants. There is also something about the light in the Mediterranean, which is unique and quite different from the light everywhere else in the world. It’s somehow really magical.
Can you describe the additional locations and set pieces you had to design?
We’ve obviously got our hero location in Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey which doesn’t change and all the sets for the downstairs rooms which were set up at Ealing Studios. However, our opening scene is the wedding of Tom Branson to Lucy Smith and that takes place at Lady Bagshaw’s family home. That location was actually quite difficult to find because it had to be a house that was smaller in size than Highclere but still had its own identity. It also needed to have a church next to it which is actually difficult to find but we discovered a lovely house in Suffolk, Belchamp Hall, near Sudbury which worked perfectly.
Highclere Castle is such an iconic building and known the world over as the home of Downton Abbey; what was your brief when searching for the additional hero locations for the second film?
All three of our hero locations in the second film needed to contrast with each other and I do think we managed to achieve that pretty well in the end. Each location had to have its own character and that was key in creating the layers of the design. I wanted to give them their own colour palette, their own style and their own atmosphere. In the South of France there were no gilt framed paintings or lots of furniture. We filled the rooms with a few pieces of 1920s ‘modern art’, but mostly we had bare walls and far less furniture because it was a holiday home for the Montmirails. The English aristocracy would have had lots of heavy gilt framed paintings and family portraits in their home and the French were a little more modern and forward thinking at that time. The Bagshaw home was used as a backdrop to the wedding party and again I wanted it to look vastly different from the austere majesty of Downton Abbey so when we found Belchamp House it did exactly that. It’s a Queen Anne style country house of rich red brick that has been standing since the 17th century and contrasts perfectly with Downton Abbey and the French villa in terms of its style, size and grandeur.
Downton always comes with a number of big set pieces and this film is no exception – can you describe what you wanted to create with the opening wedding scenes?
The film opens at the wedding of Tom and Lucy which takes place in a small church near the grounds of the Bagshaw family home which we found at Belchamp Hall, Suffolk. We needed to have a church that was close in proximity to the wedding reception for the practicality of filming as much as anything else. Throughout the television series the family church was always the same and was located in the village of Bampton, Oxfordshire. However, Lucy’s wedding would of course take place elsewhere. We wanted this church to be less formal than the Downton Abbey church because both Tom and Lucy fall somewhere between aristocracy and working class and don’t fit into either camp. We set up a marquee in the gardens and there were guests milling around. There was also a nod to Tom’s roots with Irish fiddlers and it was quite a relaxed and fun affair. I based the colour palette for the wedding on the opening scene of the first Godfather film minus the violence. In particular the sunshine, peach tones, marquees and plenty of wedding guests interacting with each other in a fun and relaxed way. Theirs is a much more relaxed and in some ways modern wedding.
Were informal weddings typical of the time?
We did some research and we found one quite aristocratic wedding where guests were in their swimming costumes and diving into a pool so it wasn’t unusual to have informal weddings. However, we needed to strike a happy balance with our aristocratic family, their guests and the servants.
Having worked with Simon Curtis a number of times do you have a shorthand between you?
Simon and I worked together on Cranford, My Week with Marylin and The Student Prince so we have a natural ease with each other which makes for an incredibly collaborative process. We don’t usually have a formal rigid idea and plan that we all stick to – we usually come up with an idea then expand on it organically involving the Costume Designer and Hair and Make Up Designer. It’s a process that allows people to think in a certain direction that works for us all.
Describe the storyline back at Downton Abbey and what challenges you faced sourcing the 1920s original film equipment?
The British Lion film company was quite a prolific film-making company in its day making silent movies and then ‘talkies’. One of the initial challenges was getting permission to use the brand name ‘British Lion’ but once that permission was given we were able to bring in experts with the original film kit. The actual camera was very noisy but that didn’t matter because until then the movies were all silent so background noise wasn’t an issue. However, when the ‘talkies’ arrived the camera was placed inside a box with an operator to limit the noise which was incredibly prohibitive because the camera couldn’t move. As a result, a lot of early ‘talkies’ were quite static because the camera couldn’t pan or track and the sound was very crude with just one big microphone.
Do you have a particular favourite Downton set?
Of all the sets, throughout the years as well as both movies, I think I am most proud of Mrs Patmore’s Kitchen and the Servant’s Hall because they’ve become iconic and we never thought for one second that the show would become the huge global success it has become.
What was the biggest challenge you faced mounting a film during the pandemic?
Ordinarily I would visit a location five or six times. With the French villa I only saw it once along with the producer and location manager and the director didn’t see it until we arrived in France to shoot there which is unheard of. Normally, when you find a location, you then return with the director, then go back with a bigger creative group, again with your team and then finally for the technical recce. We couldn’t do any of that during the pandemic so that was quite pressurised. I just had to hope everyone liked it.
It’s 1928. What was your vision for the second film?
What I really wanted to do in the second movie was to push the costume design towards the end of the decade and look at the emerging fashion of the 1930s and the trends that were soon to dominate the fashion world. In addition, Julian’s script allowed us to also delve into completely different worlds that we hadn’t looked at before on Downton; a film crew, a silent film and the French Riviera. The cast and crew of the silent film contrasted nicely with the Crawley family and we had some amazing new guest characters to costume. The film within the film was set in 1875, which meant a completely different look again which was glorious.
The film opens with a huge set piece wedding scene between Tom and Lucy – what did you want to create in Lucy’s wedding dress?
I really wanted Lucy’s wedding dress to feel fashion forward, fresh and relaxed; like she could gather up her skirts and really dance at her wedding reception. As such it had to be beautiful, of course, but also with a real sense of fun. I loved the idea of a low backed ivory satin bodice with dropped waist, long chiffon sleeves and layers of stiffened silk tulle spraying out forming asymmetric skirts and train, on fashion point for 1928. We appliquéd a vintage silver thread embroidered net on to the satin and I found a silk tulle veil that was a hand embroidered replica of a 1920s original. To accessorise the look; a diamond and pearl tiara and a beautiful diamond bow brooch that she wore just below her collarbone; both stunning originals provided by Bentley Skinner. I imagined Lady Bagshaw having passed on family heirloom jewellery to Lucy for her big day.
For the reception we removed the train and veil and swapped the tiara for a gorgeous diamanté Juliet Cap that was typically 1920s and that sat low on the forehead, framing Tuppence’s face, for that quintessential bridal 20s look. The huge challenge during filming was the weather because it rained on and off for the three days we filmed the wedding. My team performed miracles keeping the wedding dress and ivory satin shoes as clean and dry as possible so that Lucy always looked perfect. We had about four full fittings for the dress with Tuppence which was a luxury for how fast paced we work on Downton but essential for something so special and featured in the show. I love designing the wedding scenes because it feels like a tableau where I am able to compose the scene with every character in mind and look at all the colours and textures for both upstairs and downstairs, with it coming together to create a beautiful palette of spring and summer colours.
You were able to design for the film within the film. Can you describe in more detail the various different aspects involved in that design process and the elements of the costumes in the silent movie?
A film director wants to use Downton Abbey as a location for his movie and makes an offer to Lord Grantham and Lady Mary. The movie is a silent movie but it was just at the time when silent movies were becoming a thing of the past and ‘talkies’ were taking over. The film is called “The Gambler” and is set in 1875 which was an amazing opportunity to look at films and plays that were made in the 1920s but set in a different era. We looked at The Importance of Being Earnest which mirrored our dates perfectly. We also looked at films like Gone With The Wind which was made in 1939, and even My Fair Lady made in the 60s, both of which were still relevant to see what elements permeated through into the set period so that we could try to capture that lovely hybrid effect.
What we wanted to create was a 1920s pastiche of 1875 fashion, blending silhouette, shape and trends of the 1870s with 1920s fabrics, colour combinations and embellishments like beading, sequins, embroidery and silk flowers. We used 1920s fabrics mixed with 19th century silks. 1875 was at the height of the bustle but we augmented the proportions a bit to feel like a 20s take on that look, styling the dresses with long silk gloves and a mix of 19th and 20th century jewellery. It was a lot of fun to design and alongside Nosh’s amazing work with some incredibly styled wigs and makeup which in combination with the costumes added to the sense of a film that was being made in the 1920s, but set in a different period.
I also looked at how colour behaves in old black and white films because certain colours on the spectrum behave differently. We photographed fittings in colour and on a monochrome setting to give us the best indication of how the costumes may look on camera
Producer, Liz Trubridge said it was your idea to set the silent film in a different era; how did that transpire?
Over the years we have seen an impressively large strata of society evolving with the changing times as the series progressed and with the film’s evolution. The Downton family and guests that visited the house have showcased such a broad range of finery. This felt like an incredible opportunity to do something really different and visually arresting. Underpinning all this, in the back of my mind, was a nod back to the period when Violet would have been newly married when she first met Montmirail, wearing corsets and bustles as a young woman in the second half of the previous century. I loved the link between the two storylines when Julian suggested 1875 specifically. It was about creating little parallels and delving into a period of history that’s relevant to the film but also sumptuous, dramatic and gorgeous to look at. It gave us great contrast between Myrna in her clothing as a film star and her costumed look on camera. It’s so different to everything we have done before but at the same time it harks back slightly to the early series of a more formal, structured way of dressing and what people absolutely loved about the first series of Downton.
What was also wonderful, and a huge amount of fun, was dressing our below stairs characters in their finery which we have never done, but always wanted to; exploring colours, fabrics and embellishment. To be able to dress Baxter in cream silk and fine jewels for her big scene was perfect. Lesley Nicol said she had always wanted to wear a tiara and once we knew her character was stepping into the role of a supporting artist, it was an absolute pleasure to grant her that wish and delve in to the world of diamonds for Mrs Patmore!
In what other ways do you like to enhance or accentuate the costumes to complement the storylines?
In every scene there is a focus and I usually start with a key character and then design around them to create a focal point and create complement or contrast with the other characters depending on what the scene requires. For example, Maud’s mother of the bride wedding outfit was designed to complement Imelda Staunton and also to stand out on this special day. Everyone else was designed around that blue. Or Myrna’s arrival outfit being designed to have maximum impact in terms of colour and silhouette. Or one of Myrna’s evening looks designed to create drama the way she does and contrast directly with Lady Mary. I also wanted to look at colour in a slightly different way because of the new settings within the film and find a contrast between Downton and Riviera, as the script interchanges between the two. I knew I could use colour to enhance the different worlds and help transport the audience. My design DNA for this period is to use originals wherever I can because I believe it gives the piece an authenticity and enhances the visual impact of the clothing, often showcasing craftsmanship which couldn’t be recreated in a modern workroom. The film was another opportunity to source some of the world’s most beautiful vintage clothing, fabric, embellishments and accessories.
How have the men’s costumes moved on since the first film?
The menswear has moved on in a few small but significant ways. The trends for menswear evolved more slowly than with womenswear fashions. But this film afforded a few interesting opportunities to show what was happening societally. We introduced knitwear and the idea of separates to various upstairs characters which lent itself to a more relaxed vibe. We dressed Jack Barber in knitwear and trousers and waistcoats without suit jackets a lot. Barber has a relaxed confidence that balances the informality of his working wardrobe, often worn with rolled sleeves. In fact a lot of the film crew supporting artists sport an eclectic range of knitwear and separates which feels different to the classic three pieces suits we are used to on our upstairs gents. Bertie even wears a knitted tank when playing tennis which I love, a look straight out the pages of a magazine.
I also wanted to explore the idea of the double-breasted suit which was increasing in popularity and also worked well in France because it feels slightly more relaxed and was also cooler as it dispenses with the waistcoat. We tailored summer suits for Robert, Branson and Bertie and dressed Branson in a double-breasted two piece which felt current and fresh in a beautiful pale linen. For Montmirail it suited his character and contrasted nicely with Robert. Bertie’s black tie evening look is double-breasted and looks incredibly smart. Quite often the men’s suits are designed to create character points of difference but also pull scenes together by complementing the women’s dresses and that was especially true of the French costumes. I wanted to replicate a perfect warm cream vintage linen suit that suited Hugh Bonneville but didn’t quite fit so we had a bespoke suit tailored for him and we spent months sourcing the correct herringbone weave in the right weight to dye over and over until we hit the right tone. It looked amazing on Hugh and in turn Robert’s suiting worked perfectly with all of Cora’s costumes.
How exciting was it to design the costumes for the cast travelling to France?
Designing for France was a really wonderful and exciting new direction to take the costumes in for both the men and women. France signified a wonderful relaxation of sorts for the family and I wanted to reflect that, for the younger generation especially, in a way that was in sync with the fashionable vibes of the Riviera. It had just become fashionable for the aristocracy to holiday in the South of France during the summer months and so fashion had begun to reflect that with its relaxed cuts, cool colours, fabrics and silhouettes. The creamy, paler colours of the men’s suits tied together beautifully the brighter hues and bolder prints of the women’s costumes. We are also able to showcase leisure wear for Edith, Bertie, Lucy and Branson when they play tennis and when Branson and Lucy go swimming which was so much fun to do!
How did you go about creating the women’s looks for France?
With each character I tend to create a colour palette that’s unique to that them but complements the rest of the characters alongside the sets and production design. At Downton we have richer tones, darker colours and opulent dark wood. It feels elegant but traditional and very English. With the French palette I wanted to move away from what the characters would typically wear and so I looked at paler and brighter pigments, bolder prints and combinations of beautiful sorbet colours – pinks, blues, greens and yellows – often quite Neapolitan in flavour and in harmony with the beautiful décor of the French villa and the bright, saturated Mediterranean sunshine. I worked with original garments and bespoke makes using vintage fabrics or carefully sourced contemporary material. It was lovely shopping for the family’s holiday wardrobes- so refreshing and upbeat. I sourced some really special, original pieces that are worn in France. For example a yellow floral chiffon dress with matching jacket for Lucy, a bright Chinese embroidered jacket and a wedgewood blue cotton day dress with white beading for Cora. For Edith I found an incredible cream and mint patterned silk pyjama set for Lady Edith which came with matching slippers and little bag – an amazing find!
How did Lady Mary’s look contrast with the vibrancy of the French riviera fashion?
Lady Mary is always stylish, elegant and fashion forward and often quite striking. We have seen bold sartorial choices being made, especially where Mary has needed to demonstrate strength even if it is a veneer. This time Michelle (Dockery) and I wanted to make Lady Mary softer. In the last film we reflected Mary’s strength and in this one we reflect her softness and a certain vulnerability. I approached this mainly through colour and tone, but also through how tactile the fabrics that we used were. We still looked to find clean elongated lines, colour blocking and graphic patterns; never too pretty or fussy. She is still a professional woman, the custodian of the estate and the future of Downton Abbey so her costumes still need to have authority and a sense of self.
I designed her costumes using classic Lady Mary primary colours – navy blues and deep reds, monochromes and metallics. But then added in added some new sage greens, tawny reds, dusky pinks and delicate neutrals. Lady Mary has over twenty story days so lots of costumes with which to use colour and explore the trends that take us toward the end of the decade, notably longer hemlines paired with more fitted waists. Downton has always explored the fact that waists dropped then disappeared and hemlines began to rise and hit their shortest point in 1927. Then they began going back down again into that really longline 30s look, alongside finding the female form again; waisted day wear, bias cut evening wear etc. We have come from corsetry to dropping the waist and creating that straight, linear look to almost going full circle and finding the waist again. Where Edith strides forward in trousers in the Riviera, Mary maintains the fashion cutting edge back at Downton in elegant dresses with belted waistlines.
What were the challenges of trying to design and make costumes during the last two years and what impact did the global pandemic have on the way you and your team were able to do your jobs?
We all had to adapt and do our jobs in a very different way due to the pandemic. While I would usually shop at vintage fairs and markets and shop for fabric in person we had to alter how we sourced vintage and made purchases. I worked digitally a huge amount – on Etsy and Instagram amongst others – and maintained contact with a lot of the vintage traders I’ve worked with over the years.
It was a much harder way to work in many ways. When you can’t shop in person and are doing everything online you can’t see how fabric moves or how the colours change with the light or even the quality of the fabric or it’s condition which is tough on a film like Downton because the quality has to be so high for the big screen. Brexit also meant there were huge delays in receiving goods and added costs.
It was really difficult but the positive outcome of this new way of working was that I had to cast a wider net and ended up shopping internationally and I therefore discovered untapped resources and e-met some new wonderful collectors. As a result, I discovered many priceless gems that I wouldn’t have found if we hadn’t been in this position.
For example, one of Cora’s beaded evening gowns in the Riviera, which my team named the ‘Tutti Frutti’ because of its multi-coloured beading, really summed up the Riviera for me with it pinks, blues and yellows on sea green chiffon. I spotted it on Instagram and made contact with the seller who was based in New York and was selling pieces from her amazing personal collection. I went on to work with her on a number of pieces for the film.
Would the family have dressed in a particular way to travel overseas?
When the family head off to France they would all have been dressed in suitable travelling clothes for the journey ahead. The journey takes place over two days so we dressed them in different, lighter costumes for their arrival at the Villa in the south of France. We were presented with this lovely opportunity to dress Robert in his Grenadier Guards boating jacket with flannel trousers. We have never seen Robert in separates before and I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity. It is so smart and feels quintessentially English. He wears a midnight blue blazer with regimental brass buttons, Grenadier Guards regimental tie and flannel trousers in dark grey for the departure from Downton and a pale fawn for his arrival in France. What’s lovely is that when he meets the Marquis de Montmirail we’ve got the quintessentially English Earl meeting the quintessentially French Marquis.
What effect did you want to achieve for Myrna Dalgleish’s costumes?
With leading lady Myrna Dalgleish, we wanted her to arrive with maximum impact, and maintain that impact throughout the film. We looked at Hollywood stars like Greta Garbo,
Louise Brookes and Clara Bow. Myrna is the height of luxury and expensive taste but is glamour where Mary is class. We wanted to use a certain colour palette for Myrna that felt very different to Lady Mary and the rest of the family, and that worked with the bombshell platinum blonde hair that Nosh had designed for her. We looked at icy cool tones that set her apart from everybody else at Downton. Her arrival costume was an icy, eau-de-nil, asymmetric dress with a stunning velvet coat trimmed in repurposed vintage fur, teamed with original 1920s silver shoes. The exaggerated shape designed to heighten her boldness.
Everything about Myrna is bold and slightly brash right down to the jewellery she wears. When you see her next to the likes of Cora, Edith and Mary, her beauty clashes with theirs. Which is what we wanted to achieve. Myrna is stunning but she is not warm. We’re then able to use softer colours when Myrna softens a little at the end and dressed her in a peach
ensemble when she goes down to the kitchens to see the servants.
Do you have a favourite piece that you designed for a particular character this year or arethere too many gems to choose from?
That’s a really difficult question to answer but there are always some special pieces for each character that I love that little bit more. Robert’s Royal Yacht Squadron look for his outing on Montmirail’s yacht. I just loved it! The dress Cora wears to the French soiree. It’s a significant scene for Elizabeth and I wanted something really special for Elizabeth to wear. I am so lucky I am able to work with the legendary textile house Fortuny and I commissioned them to print some velvet for me for this evening gown. The print is one of Mariano Fortuny’s original designs. Mary wears so many incredible originals including a stunning heavily beaded Patou evening gown. But my favourite look was either a blush long sleeved pussy-bow blouse with a really unusual beaded waistcoat – it was like the updated version of her estate suit. Or the pale green dress with cream bib infil that she wears at the end of the film, we leave with a tantalising sense of where fashion is moving toward as we look to the 30s. Edith’s wide leg trouser looks are fashion heaven and were such a joy to design and establish. Lucy’s wedding look. I love every element of it from tiara, veil and dress to her train and bespoke satin and silver shoes.
ANNE ‘NOSH’ OLDHAM
Hair and Make Up Designer
Have there been any significant changes to the regular cast’s hair and make-up design since the last film?
We have only moved on in time by nine months so styles hadn’t changed that much in that short space of time. We still wanted to show that we had moved on a little so we did a lot of tweaking rather than any big changes but made subtle changes to Lady Mary and Cora’s styles. Lady Mary went from a really sharp bob to a much softer bob with a side parting and her hair is worn a little bit longer. We kept Cora’s hair long but changed the balance of the style with it being lower at the back than previously.
What changes did you introduce for the women’s make-up?
I changed the shape of the women’s brows a little and they have more defined lip shapes with a little more colour introduced. Nothing too dramatic; more a refresh of their looks whereas with the below stairs cast like Mrs Patmore and Mrs Hughes, it wouldn’t make sense to change their make-up looks. We did give Miss Baxter a new hair style in the shape of a lovely bob which goes right to the nape of the neck and is a very different look for her.
Were you able to do something different with the men in the cast?
We were able to have some fun with the guest male cast, Hugh Dancy, Dominic West and Alex McQueen and I was able to add these little pencil moustaches which we all enjoyed.
Dominic and Alex both wore little funny pencil moustaches with Alex’s curling up at the tips.
As a Hollywood actor Guy Dexter would have absolutely had a moustache – it was called the
Ronald Coleman – and he would be dressed in the latest fashion. Alex is an actor with brilliant comic timing so his comedic little moustache was the perfect find for him.
How much collaboration goes into creating individual looks?
We work closely with the producer, director costume designer and the actors themselves because they will have their own opinion on the character. More than that though, it’s really nice for the actor to leave the make-up bus feeling happy and comfortable with what we have created. Facial Hair makes more of an appearance this year than in any previous iterations of Downton. We had a lot of fun creating the 1875 look as seen through the lens of a 1920s film make up team resulting in lots of pencil moustaches and sideburns along with Valentino smoky eyes for Guy Dexter. Dominic West for example loved being a Hollywood heartthrob and he also really wore the look well.
How much fun was it to get to make up the below stairs cast with the 1875 look?
It was a complete joy. Lesley Nicol wanted everything thrown at her from mascara to tiaras and when it came to it, they were all so glamourous. It was just so exciting to let them really be the showpiece. From the very beginning Anna Robbins (Costume Designer) and I wanted the look to really stand-alone and be a dramatic contrast to the 1920s look of the above stairs cast. We were so glad the producers and Julian liked the idea.
Who was the most dramatic transformation?
They all looked gorgeous in their finery but for me the most dramatic transformation was Mrs Patmore who normally wears a pinafore and a mop cap with her curls struggling to be contained underneath. She’s had that same look for 11 years and even when she goes out and about she is usually dressed in the same sort of daywear and hat. I can’t remember how many hair pieces she had on but it was as many as my colleague Elaine could manage to pile on top of her head. We really went for it.
Describe the look you created for Myrna Dalgleish?
I really wanted Myrna to be slightly alien to everything Downton Abbey and she needed to contrast with the looks of Lady Mary, Lady Cora and Lady Edith. She needed to arrive at Downton but not necessarily fit in. She had to be super glamourous because she was after all one of the most celebrated silent movie stars beauties of the time. In my head I had an image of Jean Harlow with white bleached blond hair. Everyone else at Downton is natural and real but Myrna had to feel slightly unreal and from another world. Lady Mary is this great aristocratic beauty of her time but a natural beauty and because they had lots of scenes together we really wanted Myrna to be the opposite of Lady Mary but still a beauty in her own style.
What sort of looks did you create for France?
Creating the French looks was fun because again I was able to soften everyone a little for example Lucy Branson really looks relaxed and like she’s on holiday. Her hair was looser and her make-up was softened a little and we gave them a bit of a glow because this was the time when it was becoming fashionable for the younger set to having tans. There is a real relaxed feel about the family in France and even though they are there for a purpose they do look freer and loose with regard to their costumes and hair and make-up.
What do you think it is about Downton Abbey that really resonates with the audience; why do they love it so much?
I think a lot of the love for Downton Abbey is to do with nostalgia for a time gone by plus the characters have become so beloved by the audience mainly because of the TV series. People have invested in them and they love the family members and the downstairs characters equally. Now that they are on the big screen the audience already know the characters so they can concentrate on what’s going on in the moment.
PRINCIPLE DOWNTON ABBEY CAST
Lady Rosamund Painswick
Where does Lady Rosamund fit into the story of this film?
We first see Lady Rosamund and indeed all the family and servants, at the wedding of Tom and Lucy. It was a gorgeous affair however, what the audience won’t see is that we had the most awful weather that day and it’s a miracle we got anything in the can. Then following the wedding, the family receive a request from a film director who wants to use Downton Abbey as a location for his next movie. At the same time the Dowager receives a letter informing her that she has inherited a villa in the South of France which raises all sorts of questions.
How unusual would it have been for a film to be made at a country house such as Downton?
At that time in the 20s films were mostly made in studios and filmmakers were only beginning to look further afield for external locations. It would also have been unusual that a family such as ours would contemplate allowing a film company to take over their home. I wouldn’t let a film company into my home, but Downton does have a leaky roof and they did open their doors to the public during the television series, much to Carson’s horror.
How did it feel to be back at Downton Abbey?
I felt hugely privileged to be at work because it’s been so hard to be away from our tribe during the pandemic. When we did come back together, all masked up and socially distanced, it was just lovely to see everyone again. It’s been a really hard time for all our friends in the arts and theatre and so I was extremely grateful to be able to work on documentaries and on the film. My husband, children and I shot a short 15-minute film for the BBC called Treasure. My son shot the entire thing and we were directed via zoom. The downside was that I had to get up at 6.30am every morning to tidy the house and then had to be the caterer and feed the cast at lunchtime. That’s how I know I wouldn’t let a film crew into my house. I would be firmly in Lord Grantham’s camp.
What is it about Julian’s writing that really engages audiences?
I think Julian’s writing is very appealing to a mass audience. Downton has that Gosford Park,
Park magic and there’s something about telling tales of another time that people love. I think the audience will be really ready for it and hopefully we will all be back in cinemas watching it on the big screen. There is a lightness in the film and lots of humour as well as a real message of love. That’s what we all want and need.
Can you begin by setting up the story of the second film and how far we’ve moved on from the end of the first film?
We’re now in 1928, several months on from the end of the first film. It opens with the wedding of Tom and Lucy, whom we last saw dancing on the terrace in the moonlight. We soon learn that a film company want to use Downton as a location for a silent moving picture, which of course Robert finds alarming. Secondly, Violet has mysteriously inherited a beautiful villa in the South of France from an old acquaintance that she hasn’t seen, or spoken of, in decades.
How is Robert persuaded to let the film crew come to Downton?
The British Lion Picture Company table a financial offer that Edith and Mary find eyewatering and irresistible. Robert thinks it’s all rather distasteful but, having shown her father the state of the attics, where buckets catch the rain water that’s coming through holes in the roof, Mary persuades him to reconsider. Robert concedes that even though he is still Lord Grantham, it’s actually Mary who is running the house and she should do what she thinks is right to help the situation. As usual, it’s the women of Downton who are really in charge.
How will he cope with his home being invaded by a film crew?
Violet has decided to leave the French villa that she has inherited to Sybbie, the one great- grandchild who will otherwise benefit little from her position in the family. The French family, who owned the villa, have invited the Crawleys over to the South of France to view the property. The invitation conveniently coincides with the film crew’s arrival at Downton so Robert, Cora, Tom, Lucy, Edith and Bertie set sail for the South of France, leaving Mary in charge of the film crew.
What was it like to take Downton beyond the estate and to France?
We did travel to Inveraray Castle in Scotland for one Christmas special and to Alnwick Castle a couple of times but this was the first time the Crawleys have ventured on the abroad. This part of the story is a visual feast. Edith takes the opportunity to revisit her journalism, writing about the new summer vogue of the South of France becoming a summer and not just a winter destination. Traditionally, villas on the Cote d’Azur had been winter retreats because it was considered too hot in the summer months. Then the likes of Scott Fitzgerald and film stars of the era started to make it fashionable to holiday there in the summer. The main reason for the family’s visit, though, is to get acquainted with the Montmirail family, who were as shocked as Violet was to discover that one of their homes was to be left to a virtual stranger. Both the Crawleys and the Montmirails are keen to unravel the mystery behind the friendship between the Dowager Countess and the late Marquis and why he decided to leave his villa to her in his will.
Will we see Robert and the family relax a little bit more in France and how is that reflected in both costumes and storyline?
Robert swaps his cashmere and wool suits for travelling flannels and blazer. Then, once in the heat of the South of France, cooler, lightweight linen suits. Mr Carson, oof course, continues to dress formally in his heavy butler’s coat and suffers the consequences. Edith, Lucy, Cora and Maud begin to dress in beautifully light, colourful clothes that would look out of place at Downton. The costumes are exquisite. If you look at photographs from that era there’s something so utterly glamorous about the style and emerging fashions in the mid 1920s. Robert begins to relax into the style, wearing a boating cap, blazer and flannels when he and Cora take a trip on a motor launch, thoroughly enjoying themselves on the Riviera, the playground of the rich and famous. We also see the younger members of the family playing tennis, swimming in the sea and lounging by a swimming pool, which we would never see at Downton… too cold!
How did it feel coming back to the familiar world of Downton Abbey after the last few extraordinary years?
It felt very different to the first movie and while it was easy to slip back into the characters again, there was definitely an atmosphere of relief that we were back at work. We always hugely appreciate that the show and first film have been embraced by so many millions around the world and none of us take that for granted. The world has been in the most extraordinary place for the last two years and there were several moments when actually making the film seemed an impossibility. I feel quite a profound sense of gratitude that we were able to come back to work and how fortunate we were to work on a project that is beloved by so many. I’ve really appreciated this iteration of our show more than any of the others, because it’s meant so much to us and I know that it will mean a lot to audiences. Gareth (Neame) has said that Downton Abbey 2 is the tonic that our fans will be waiting for. The television show finished in 2015 before Brexit and the seismic shifts in American politics and when the world seemed a slightly calmer place. Downton has always been a world of escape and now to revisit that world will mean so much to so many as we emerge from the Pandemic. It’s a world of comfort and reassurance. Whatever crises the family and the people who work on the estate go through, there’s usually a resolution of optimism. That is something that has always been Julian’s trademark. I’ve said many times that Julian always writes from the point of view that people try to be good. While they may do bad things, the world they’re trying to navigate is one in which compassion, and tolerance survives. After what the world has been through I think we could all do with a big dollop of tolerance and compassion. It isn’t reinventing the wheel but the film is a celebration of all the things that audiences have loved about Downton for over 11 years now, as well as a celebration of all the characters that they love. It’s a real visual feast.
What was it like to work with director Simon Curtis again?
When Gareth phoned me to say he was hoping that Simon Curtis might direct the film I just couldn’t think of a better fit. I’ve worked with Simon in the past and aside from the fact that he’s married to my screen wife Elizabeth, to whom I’ve been married twice before on screen, I’ve always known him to be not only a fine director but a great leader on set: patient, enthusiastic and encouraging. His energy is so entertaining and he has a huge passion for characters, actors and story-telling. Having someone at the helm who has come from theatre and been a producer and director at the BBC for many years was hugely reassuring. His energy with the crew and cast alike was so delightful. He really wanted everyone to have fun with it and he went out of his way to ensure everyone was happy. He took great care and paid attention to everyone, no matter their job, which is great to see in a director. Add to that the fact he is married to Elizabeth, has been part of the Downton family since the beginning, knows the ins and outs of the show, he knows and loves the characters as much as anyone and he understands the dynamics of what makes the show work. He also was able to bring his own flavour to it without disrupting what’s there already. Above all of those things, Simon really appreciated that this was a special event for us and for the Downton fans and knowing he cherishes it as we all do made the experience all the more special. He is a generous soul and a smart director.
Where do we find Lady Edith at the beginning of the second film?
We are nine months on from the end of the first film and Edith has had her baby, Peter. We join her, along with the rest of the family and servants, at Tom and Lucy’s wedding. Back at Downton Abbey, Hollywood arrives in the form of a silent film and Edith is amused by it all. She also gets very excited by the opportunity to travel to France with her parents to uncover the mystery of the villa left to her grandmother in a will and it also piques her interest in writing an article about the new fashionable trend for the British aristocracy to holiday in the South of France during the summer months. Being the wife of an aristocrat is not enough for Edith and she’s quite keen to get back into the world of her magazine again. Being in France together also provides an opportunity for the audience to see how supportive Bertie is of Edith’s work and ambitions.
What takes the family to the South of France and what do they discover when they get there?
Granny has been left a property in the South of France; a beautiful villa on the Riviera. It was left to her by an old acquaintance and comes quite out of the blue. She in turn wants to leave it to Sybbie in her will so that her great grand-daughter has her own inheritance. Up until that point in history the South of France wasn’t fashionable as a holiday destination but the likes of Scott Fitzgerald and Coco Chanel had started keeping the hotels open in the summer months and so suddenly it became very chic to holiday there. Edith and Bertie invite themselves along to the meet the current owners. Edith has it in mind to combine the visit with work and write an article about the Riviera and she’s quite handy with a camera now too. Tom and Lucy, and in fact all the family, are naturally curious as to why the late Marquis chose to leave the property to Violet and she claims to have no idea why either.
How has Anna Robbins managed to elevate your costumes to a new high for this film?
The costumes are always so very chic and Edith’s have always been that little bit more modern, perhaps because she’s always had a forward-thinking attitude. The costumes
Anna designed for me for the South of France are probably my favourite costumes of all that I’ve ever worn on the show and first film. They’re amazing. Anna suggested a silk pyjama look for Edith which was so right for her holiday and it really suited the climate there. I felt so comfortable in them as well as the white high waisted palazzo pants which were all so much fun to wear. I also had a looser hair design which was totally in keeping with the holiday vibes of France and I got to wear some really fun headscarves too.
What was it like to work with Simon Curtis after knowing him for such a long time as part of the extended Downton family?
Simon really gets Downton in a way that I don’t know many directors coming in fresh would. He’s a real actor’s director; he’s very sensitive and we were all so grateful for that. Simon has been part of the Downton journey for so long and been through the whole thing with us so it was really wonderful to have someone with all of that knowledge take us through this film.
How do you think Julian has elevated this film from the first one?
What’s fun about the film is that you only have a short amount of time to revisit these characters, so the world of the Crawleys and the staff comes at you with a different energy. It feels to me that the world of movie making in the story is even more exciting than the family because it’s such a different departure from the norm for Downton. It’s great to see those new characters jar with the family and the servants and expose how bonkers the world of the aristocracy is. Of course, it has lots of what the audiences love about Downton in their favourite characters and the house. I hope it will feel like a real treat for the audience, which they all deserve after the horrible time everyone has had.
How does Mr Carson fit into the story of Downton Abbey: A New Era?
Carson is still in retirement, happily tending his vegetable patch, very successfully judging by what the prop department provided for me. Carson grew some extremely clean carrots and some celery that looked as if it might come straight from the greengrocers. Then out of the blue it transpires that a film is going to be made at Downton which Carson doesn’t approve of at all. He remembers with horror when the general public were allowed into the castle and that was a nightmare for him – a film company with actors coming into the castle is absolute horror for him.
How does he cope with the invasion of the film company?
In order to get him out of the way so he’s not causing trouble, Mrs Hughes and Lady Mary cook up a somewhat suspect plan that his Lordship needs Carson to go and help in the South of France. Of course, Carson is ideally equipped for this as he’s completely xenophobic, has no foreign languages and very few diplomatic skills hence he’s the perfect man for the job. So off he heads with his hot water bottle and thick woollen suits for the South of France.
Has he come out of retirement?
He’s doesn’t officially come out of retirement because he’s not working at the house anymore but he’s been asked to step in to help his Lordship manage the South of France trip, which is slightly confusing to Carson why he is needed and equally confusing to Lord Grantham but it gets him out of the way. Elsie (Mrs Hughes) and Lady Mary know he will just interfere in the filming.
Carson’s journey to the South of France isn’t without its discomforts. What does he have to endure?
We filmed the cross-channel ferry on the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh and thank goodness it was stationary because, like Carson, I’m not a good sailor so there would have been no acting required if we had been sailing. There’s a scene where Miss Baxter decides a nice cup of chicken soup would help Carson with his seasickness but that proves too much for him and sends him over the edge, thankfully not literally. Then they arrive at this wedding cake of a villa, which is a fantastic place overlooking the Mediterranean with stunning gardens and a wonderful view down to the sparkling blue sea, which was pretty exciting to arrive at in 2021 let alone to arrive there in 1928. It must have been miraculously foreign and exotic.
How does Carson cope with the French ways and the heat in particular?
He doesn’t cope with it at all. Carson takes England with him wherever he goes and he even takes his stone hot water bottle with him. He’s English and so formal and won’t conform to anybody else’s manners or will because he knows he’s right. He’s English, so he must be right. He stands there baking in his formal uniform at the dinner scenes outside on the terrace and believe me during those scenes there was no acting required because it was really hot. Like Carson I just stood there stoically, sweating.
When they arrive back at Downton what is the situation that takes everyone by surprise?
When we get back to the house, there’s a bit of a crisis with the film where they’ve suddenly got no supporting artists to help with a scene. The household servants are dragooned into playing parts in the film. True to form, Carson refuses to wear the fancy costumes of the 1870s, but he’ll wear a different bowtie, and that’s it. The rest of it is his own clothing. No silly sideboards or moustaches for him. The downstairs staff actually get to sit in the seats that they’ve been serving at for so many years. Carson comes round a bit because he’s told he’s playing a Lord so his ego is flattered and he rather gets into it and enjoys it in the end.
Describe the scene you have with your wife, Imelda Staunton playing Maud Bagshaw?
Carson is walking along a hot sea front in the South of France when he sees a hat shop. He’s desperate for a lighter, cooler hat than his bowler and Lady Bagshaw comes in and helps translate for him which was a fun, short but very exciting little scene. It’s the first scene we’ve had together in either film apart from when I held a chair out for her.
What’s happened since we last saw Miss Baxter?
Since the last film we find Daisy has married Andy and we are all present at the incredible wedding of Tom Branson and Lucy Smith which was set up at the end of the first film. It’s a very joyous, beautiful opening to the film. Baxter, also has romance in her heart and weddings on her mind but a certain someone hasn’t popped the question yet so Baxter remains unmarried. She may remain that way forever, who knows. Back at Downton a request comes in from a film director who wants to make his next movie at the house. Lord Grantham is against the idea until the Dowager suggests Mary takes her father to see the state of the roof and the repairs the house is in much need of. I love that sense of practicality and the show must go on, i.e. the house must go on and we do what we need to do in order to maintain the house.
How do the servants react to the news that a film is going to be made at Downton?
Everybody has an opinion on it and, apart from Mr Carson, they’re all excited about the movies coming, in particular Daisy and Anna. Mr Molesley is also beside himself with excitement about the movie people coming and we see that develop throughout the second film in a lovely and funny way.
What happens that sees Baxter heading off to France with the family?
Out of the blue a letter arrives for the Dowager that informs her she has inherited an incredible villa in the South of France. No one has ever heard mention of the family that, until now, owned the villa. It raises all sorts of questions. Baxter is one of the servants, along with Mr Bates and Carson who will travel to France with the family as they go to investigate futher. Baxter is quietly a huge adventurer at heart and she’s really happy to go to France. She is reluctant to leave Mr Molesley and I think that’s partly because she’s worried he might put his foot in the middle of the filmmaking and create havoc and she won’t be there to protect him. She would also love to share the experience of France with him and is quietly praying he doesn’t make a fool of himself back at home.
What does Baxter really think of Mr Molesley?
She knows him to be a deeply, thoughtful, sensitive, hugely intelligent man but he also can’t quite help himself sometimes and there’s an innocence to him that means he can get himself into all sorts of mishaps. We saw how he championed the servants of Downton when the King and Queen came to visit and that’s because he has a deep sense of justice.
How do her travelling companions feel about the trip to France?
For Mr Bates and Baxter, travelling to France is an exciting adventure; like travelling to the Moon which is how our historical advisor Alastair Bruce suggested we should compare the trip to. For Mr Carson though it’s probably terrifying. Carson doesn’t really know why he’s being taken along which is in fact to keep him from interfering with the filming taking place at the house. Mrs Hughes and Lady Mary want him offside so his Lordship agrees to take him along. For the characters it would have been an extraordinary trip. It was wonderful to film the group’s departure on the Royal Yacht Britannia which is moored in Edinburgh. That for me was a real highlight to be the first drama to film on the yacht and see all those beautiful intimate photographs of the Royal family on their holidays was a truly wonderful experience.
How has the relationship between Anna and Mr Bates evolved?
Bates and Anna’s relationship as a courtship evolved over a very long period of time and I think the audience really appreciated that slow burn of the first two series of the television show. It was a slow burn but it was romantic and old school. There was a lot of respect and warmth between them. I think the fans really bought into that and you can see that play out in this film. It’s all about the capturing of moments and that’s what we try to do throughout the show and the films. Our storylines take us in different directions and for the most part in this film Anna and Bates are apart. He travels to France with Lord Grantham while Anna stays at home at Downton to be immersed in the glamour of the film stars that are working at the house. We flirt with the notion that she might be quite taken with one of the movie stars but we laugh about it. They are very much together as a couple and we see that from the off at the opening wedding scenes with little Johnny Bates.
Can you set the scene for the film please?
The film starts off with this wonderful wedding scene which took place at a gorgeous estate in Suffolk. The whole scene was beautifully designed with gorgeous costumes and there was a church at the bottom of the garden where the ceremony took place. It was such a good atmosphere despite the inclement weather. It was lovely to be out on location with everyone again and we all just tuned into each other which is how it always is when we come back together again. It was great to be back on the job and with our new director Simon Curtis, who is part of the Downton family, being married to Elizabeth. It was a lovely uplifting start to the film.
Describe the storyline that brings Bates to the South of France?
The Dowager Countess receives a letter alerting her that she has inherited a villa in the South of France from a very old acquaintance. In a bid to escape the invasion of the film crew at Downton, Lord Grantham and some of the family head off to see the villa and attempt to unravel the mystery of why the Dowager received such a generous inheritance. As his Lordship’s valet, Bates tends to travel with Lord Grantham which is great as he gets to practice his French and explore with Miss Baxter and Mr Carson. France was so relaxed for Lord Grantham that he hardly required the services of Bates at all, but that said there were some lovely fun moments with Mr Carson getting to grips with the language and culture. There are a lot of moments of high comedy between us. I don’t speak French but I did watch a lot of French television when I was there. Plus we had two very lovely French/ Belgian actors join us for that part of the story – Jonathan Zaccai and Nathalie Baye.
What was it like to return to work after lockdown?
Initially I was in lockdown in Chicago which shut down two weeks before London did and that was a strange experience. Eventually I got back to Norfolk and did things like Zoom readings for BAFTA and play readings. People were incredibly creative and resourceful and there were some fantastic things going on amidst the pandemic. However, as we got into winter it seemed to be relentless with new wave after new wave and it was tough for everybody. It’s at times like that you really count your blessings. Coming back to something familiar like Downton and working with people that you love working with was one of those blessings.
Lady Mary Talbot
Where do we find Lady Mary at the beginning of the film and what’s happened to her since we last saw her?
It’s 1928 and we are nine months on from the last film and things are pretty much as they were for Mary. She’s still running the house and enjoying doing that and seems to have evolved over the last ten years of the show from someone who really didn’t see herself in that role as the head of the household and now she is. That has been quite an interesting transformation when I look back because she never wanted it in the first place but now she relishes it.
Where is she in her marriage and what does the immediate future hold for Mary?
Henry is away racing cars which we know from the series and the first film he has a deep love for so there is a hint of Mary feeling a bit vulnerable when he is away. She receives a phone call to Downton from a film producer asking if he can use the house as a location. Lord Grantham dismisses it but ever pragmatic Mary says ‘no we have to see what they have to offer’. She is always trying to find ways to fund the house and mend the roof and so Edith and Mary meet with the director, played by lovely Hugh Dancy who makes them, what we think is, a very good offer. Mary then becomes the captain of that ship running the house when the film crew move in and making sure all the behind the scenes runs smoothly.
How does she persuade her father that this is the right thing to do?
Mary takes him up to see the state of roof in the attic bedrooms where Albert is arranging buckets to catch the rain coming through it. It’s actually Violet who suggests Mary shows him the state of the attic and she persuades him that it will pay for this and other things that need fixing around the house. That’s where Mary is always trying to find ways to keep the house afloat. You do get the sense that she and Violet are a team. You also get the impression she confides in Violet a lot, which you don’t necessarily see but there’s an unspoken dialogue between them. Like in that moment when she says ‘Mary will you take your father up to see the attics’. Robert then acquiesces and tells Mary that she is in charge now and should just get on with it which she does.
What does the film crew arriving at Downton mean in terms of disruption to the house and servants?
Of course, it’s going to disrupt both the running of the house upstairs and below stairs but I thinking Mary is excited by the whole thing. As cool as she is on the outside I think she really is quite thrilled by it all on the inside. It would have been amazing for them all to see these silent movie stars in person. Myrna Dalgleish and Guy Dexter are very famous at this point and suddenly they walk into the midst of their house and world which is quite extraordinary. A lot of the rules go out the window because there is no reason for them to adhere to the rules of the house and the schedule of when the family eat. Myrna is a tornado who comes into the house and dictates when she wants to eat and so Mary is trying to manage that and inform her that we eat when the kitchens are ready and not before. Normally I spend a lot of my time working alongside Laura, Elizabeth and Hugh with all the family scenes we film and although there are some of these in this film, a lot of Mary’s story is with the new characters. It feels very different this time around. What is fun about this film is that the house is almost turned upside down because it’s full of equipment which reflects what is happening in real life. We have the vintage film equipment and crew being used to film actors along with our own film crew and all the kit that comes with that. There were times when it was really busy.
Who does Mary interact with most on the film?
Mary interacts mostly with the silent movie’s director, Jack Barber who is played by Hugh Dancy. Barber is an extremely charismatic handsome director whom Mary really likes and gets on well with. They have this great story thread going on where they film Jack is making comes up against financial issues because the silent movies aren’t making money anymore and there is an increasing industry move towards the introduction of the ‘talkies’. Jack suggests he takes Mary to the cinema to see one of Myrna’s films and it’s completely empty while the cinema down the road is a talking movie and the queue is round the block.
Have there been any big changes in Mary’s costumes this time around?
The costumes on Downton are gorgeous as they always are and Anna Robbins, the Costume Designer, has outdone herself again. I always love that process with Anna from the first fitting up until we start filming because she always has these incredible pieces that she finds. Normally she would be able to go to Paris and fly to various countries to find different pieces and she wasn’t able to do that during covid so most of it was bought online. I feel like even under the circumstances she has surpassed herself again. I have an original Missoni piece that I loved wearing and there is an original Jean Patou dress, (Parisian designer) that I loved wearing along with a beautiful Fortuny suit which is a nod to the 1930s even though we are in 1928. Some of the dresses I wear are a little longer in terms silhouette because Mary is always a step ahead when it comes to the latest fashions. She also has a new hair style as we move her forward and the structure bob is gone and her hair is much softer and elegant and all my own so it was nice to not wear a wig. I’ve really loved this period and it’s my favourite so far – I probably say that every time we talk about it. But it’s true. It’s a very beautiful period with much more colour for Mary, blues and pinks and things. My favourite evening dress was the Patou and my favourite day dress is a green dress which has a nod to Violet in a front panel that Anna designed especially for that purpose.
How did it feel to be able to come back to work after the last year we’ve all had?
I feel extremely lucky to have not only been able to come back to work during the pandemic which is just the most privileged position to find yourself in but also having worked on the tv show since the beginning I feel even more appreciative of being able to come back to places like Highclere to work. It’s added another layer of appreciation for what we all do because it’s been a terribly difficult year for people. Working on something like Downton in such beautiful surroundings, be with such a lovely crew who feel like family and to come back and work with your friends is just glorious. Coming back to something you know so well, to fall back into the swing of it all and work with people you love is the hugest privilege. Even though the covid protocols are very different it’s really lovely to have that feeling back again. It’s quite a big deal to get everyone back together and it’s been magic and we’ve been very lucky.
Where do find Mr Molesley as we revisit Downton Abbey?
Molesley is a local schoolteacher but in the first film he was able to find the time to come back to the house to help out as a footman when the King and Queen came to visit. Now that Hollywood has arrived at Downton he seems to be equally as fascinated by the movie business and is seen hanging around the set a lot. I actually worry for the futures of his pupils because he’s being very neglectful. Maybe it’s a school holiday!
Molesley has had quite a journey throughout the history of Downton Abbey hasn’t he?
He’s had a hell of a journey, actually and I’m not sure there’s another character in Downton who’s had a similarly eventful journey. He started off in series one as the butler to Matthew and Isobel Crawley – introducing them to the world of having servants which Matthew was particularly uncomfortable with. Then he became Matthew’s valet, and when Matthew married Lady Mary, he moved to Downton Abbey with him. When Matthew died he found himself out of work and with no prospects at Downton. There was no social care or unemployment benefits at that time so he found himself on hard times being helped out by his friends, the servants and in fact the Dowager too. She gave him some money. He eventually ended up back at Downton as a footman, then helped Daisy educate herself, before securing the job of schoolteacher. That’s where we find him now and he’s very happy teaching but now he’s got to sort out his personal life.
How does he come to be involved in the film?
We are often pleasantly surprised by the step changes that Julian comes up with for our characters, for example we learnt that Molesley is a devotee of the Royal Family in the first film. Now, in the second film, we learn that he is a great fan of film and going to the cinema and because he’s self-educated we can imagine that he would be fascinated by all the technology and the story-telling. It’s a relatively new phenomenon and, with the advent of talking films, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.
What’s the nature of the relationship between Molesley and Ms Baxter? It’s clear they have feelings for one another.
Theirs is a relationship of glacial movement and you get the sense that they’ve both been hurt in the past and have had missed opportunities. They are quite careful and respectful around each other, but they’re also very caring with each other. They just don’t want to expose themselves to hurt again and so they’re just taking it very easy. They’re not quite sure how each other feels though that became a little bit clearer at the end of the first film, where I think Baxter is more open to suggesting a future together.
What effect does the arrival of the film company have on the household?
It’s a bit like the arrival of the Royal Family at the house in the first film in that it throws everyone into chaos. Everything is upside down and the house is being run in a different way because they’ve got guests who aren’t necessarily appreciative of how hard the servants are working. Anna and Daisy have a bit of a tough time with the film’s leading lady and Lady Mary is left to look after the house herself. It’s organised chaos below stairs with everybody trying to get on with this new experience.
What are the circumstances that lead to Molesley becoming more involved in the making of the movie?
The studio calls Jack Barber to tell him they are shutting down the film and between him and Lady Mary they come up with a plan to turn the silent film into a “talkie” and that’s where Molesley comes in. He makes himself useful on the set by adding and writing the lines to the scenes and eventually that leads to him coming up with whole scenes which really helps out the director and ultimately the film.
Where do we pick up the story of Downton Abbey in the second film?
Andy and Daisy are finally married and living with Mr Mason. We find ourselves in 1928 and so a little time has passed since the last movie ended. There is also the prospect of a film coming to Downton which is a new event in the history of the house; a stand-alone moment which really works – much like how the visit of the King and Queen worked in the first movie. Hollywood comes to town.
As young newlyweds how do Daisy and Andy cope with living with Mr Mason?
It’s almost like Julian has written that underlying narrative in between the lines although it’s never overtly stated. However, if you are a newly married couple you don’t want to be living with a third party who happens to be Daisy’s father-in-law from her brief first wedding. Having said that Mr Mason was almost like a father figure to Andy in the television series and they had been really close in the past. However even with the people you are closest with if you just want to be alone with your new missus and kick start your life together it doesn’t really work to share that space with another person.
How does this play out for Andy and Daisy in the storyline?
There are a few moments where Mr Mason has interrupted some private moments between the couple so Andy and Daisy set out to fix Mr Mason’s love life. Andy is Daisy’s sidekick in the plan as she feels that Mr Mason and Mrs Patmore could be very happy together. They could be the Ross and Rachel of Downton.
How is Andy affected when the movie business comes to Downton?
Everyone is super excited about the film stars and crew arriving at Downton especially Daisy however Andy tries to keep his cool about it and appears on the surface to not be very interested in the movie stars coming to Downton. Practically for him it means loads of luggage come with him which means it’s harder for him to do his job. Underneath it all it’s hard for him to be caught up by all the glamour of it all. It’s such an unprecedented time for them all.
With the film cast and crew arriving at Downton who are the new cast members that inevitably join the core cast of Downton?
Dominic West joins as the big silent movie star of the era, Guy Dexter with Laura Haddock playing opposite him as Myrna Dalgleish. Jack Barber, the director of the film, is played by Hugh Dancy. We also have a soundman called Mr Stubbins played by the brilliant Alex McQueen so when his face popped up on the zoom readthrough we had I was so happy. There is a brilliant thing that Jill Trevellick (Casting Director), does every time which is to bring in these incredible guest stars and it was really exciting when Alex McQueen joined because I watch loads of his stuff. He is in some really interesting British comedy. So there are all these characters that star in the film within a film.
Given what everyone went through these last 18 months to two years of the pandemic how did you feel being able to return to work on the film?
I was lucky to work on a number of voice-over jobs but in terms of an acting job this was my first job to come back to which was a gift. I had a real sense of realisation of how lucky we all were to know half way through lockdown that we were coming back to work on this. To know I had employment coming down the line, which so many people did not have, was an absolute privilege. To know that Gareth, Liz, Carnival, Focus and NBCUniversal all wanted to make it work was just phenomenal and really very special indeed. I also think that this family film in many ways is a really important film to come back to the cinema with and will resonate with so many people out there. This is a film about a family and their servants that I hope people will connect with for many reasons not least of all because we’ve been kept apart from our families for the best part of a year. In many ways it is a joyful escape about positivity with this mighty ensemble cast of characters. No one is the same after this pandemic and on a personal level I’m just really grateful to be back with people and working with my mates again.
Where do we see Anna at the beginning of the second film?
We join Anna, Mr Bates, little Johnny with the rest of the Downton family and servants at the wedding of Mr Branson to Miss Lucy Smith who is Maud Bagshaw’s daughter. We’re just checking back in with everybody, with the family and the servants and see where everyone is nine months on. At the end of the first film we knew the Dowager’s health was deteriorating and so she’s moved back into Downton Abbey to be closer to the family. There is big news from France that means the family, and some of the servants, make the journey to the Riviera which has at its heart a mystery from the Dowager’s past. Oh yes, and Hollywood comes to Downton by way of a silent movie which sends the below stairs gang into a frenzy of excitement.
How old is little Johnny now?
Johnny is 3 years old and we get to see him at the wedding. He is actually played by Archie
Robbins, the son of our Costume Designer and one of our publicists and he was incredible.
Archie was a baby on the first movie and I hadn’t seen him since then so we spent some time together and had a little chat before the scene to explain that I was going to pretend to be his mum so that he felt okay and comfortable with me. He was so good and just let me hold him and do high fives. He even had a line in the film and said ‘goodbye’ every time we waved the happy couple off.
Can you set up the Hollywood movie scenario and outline the effect their arrival has on Anna in particular?
Lady Mary receives an offer from a film director who wants to use Downton as a location, and is offering a very handsome sum of money for the privilege. After a bit of a discussion they agree to let the director film his movie at the house, which for Anna is very exciting because she absolutely loves cinema. She is very much looking forward to the movie stars arriving, and both she and Daisy are super excited about Myrna Dalgleish’s arrival because she’s the epitome of Hollywood glamour whether or not she’s actually from Hollywood, which we discover not to be the case later in the movie.
Does the great Hollywood movie star live up to their expectations?
Myrna has done incredibly well for herself because Daisy and Anna know that she’s come from humble beginnings, just like them. Her father had a market stall at Borough Market and she was a Londoner, an East End girl, and it’s for that reason, the fact she has done well for herself, they hold her in the highest esteem. She’s a real role model for them because it was difficult for women in those times to excel in any area of business or really have a career. There weren’t very many opportunities for women. Imagine their disappointment when Myrna’s behaviour is dismissive and arrogant. She acts like a diva and is rude to the people around her which doesn’t impress Anna and Daisy – they don’t like that very much. However, events later in the film take a turn and we see Anna and Daisy coming to the rescue with some straight talking.
We don’t see much of Anna and Mr Bates together in this film – why is that?
Mr Bates heads off to the South of France with Lord Grantham, Mr Carson, Ms Baxter and the rest of the travelling party. The family are going to investigate the villa that was left to old Lady Grantham by an acquaintance from years before. A beautiful villa in the Riviera which the Dowager in turn is leaving to Sybbie in her will. A lovely, if surprising, gesture that ignites Branson’s socialist conscience and causes him to question the justice of it.
Describe the circumstances that lead to the servants being cast as extras in the film and what was it like to shoot those scenes?
When the director gets a call to say the studio have pulled the plug on the film he sends all his background artists away. When the movie gets back on track he finds himself without any extras, so cue the servants stepping in to help out. It was a lot of fun to dress up in the 1875 costumes and wear make-up, jewellery and tiaras. You have to think about it as a period movie being made in 1920 which is very different to a period drama being made in 2021 for example. The costumes are really over the top and very flamboyant which was great fun. We had big costumes with huge wigs and we got to sit at the dining room table which was a big change in circumstances for the servants.
What was it like to get back to work after the pandemic?
I didn’t work during the first lockdown but was lucky enough to go back to work during the second on a mini-series called Angela Black for ITV and Spectrum. By the third lockdown I was doing voice overs and audio books from home and then I came back immediately after that to work on Downton. I felt very fortunate that I was able to work through most of that time but I’m aware it wasn’t that way for a lot of my colleagues and friends in the industry.
Where do we find Bertie Pelham at the beginning of the film?
Bertie and Edith have a new baby Peter, who is at home with the Nanny while Edith and Bertie visit Downton Abbey. Bertie is in a much more settled place now and he has an estate Manager who is looking after Brancaster which is much bigger than Downton
What is Bertie’s storyline in the movie?
Bertie travels to France with Edith and the family to try to unravel the mystery of the inheritance bequeathed to Violet. Edith has decided to go back to work and the family are travelling to the South of France at a time when it’s become popular to holiday during the summer. She is writing an article for her magazine about the Riviera set and has a camera in tow. We see Bertie and Edith much more relaxed than we’ve ever seen them, playing tennis and spending time together.
How does the movie business coming to Downton affect the family and the staff?
It brings a touch of glamour to Downton with all the lights, cameras and beautiful movie stars that take over the house with their costumes and new-fangled technology. It’s a bit bewildering for the servants and family for different reasons. What is exciting is that you get to see these characters that you know, love and have seen for the last decade reacting in their own ways to this extraordinary situation they find themselves in.
The first movie was such an outstanding success, how will the second film elevate the success of the first.
The film is packed with lots of what the fans love about Downton Abbey and add into that mix the glamour and stardust of Hollywood and the French Riviera, what could be better. There will be lots of unexpected thrills along the way too.
What was the experience like of working with two of France’s most prominent actors?
It was great to work with Nathalie Baye and I loved her in Call My Agent which was a big hit everywhere. Jonathan Zaccaï I know from his work on The Bureau which is a brilliant piece of television. I have a degree in French so I was able to practice on the French crew who were all so welcoming.
Where do we find the Crawleys and their servants as we rejoin them for the second series and where does Barrow fit into this new era of Downton Abbey?
We up this film not long after the last one ends – about nine months later. Everyone is still at Downton and everything’s carrying on as normal. Then the family receive a phone call with a request for Downton to be used as a film location and while the younger members of the family like Lady Mary are all up for it, Lord Grantham thinks it’s a terrible idea. Thomas is the butler now having survived the Royal visit in the first film and life is good for him. Obviously, below stairs, there is great excitement that the movies are coming to Downton but Barrow doesn’t want the staff to get overexcited so he’s trying to rein them in and be professional. He’s nonchalant about the whole business, that is until leading man Guy Dexter arrives at the house.
What is it about Guy Dexter that particularly piques Barrow’s interest?
The glamour of the film crew arriving turns out to be quite intoxicating for all of the servants including Barrow. There’s the director Mr Barber, and the leading lady, Myrna Dalgleish and
the leading man, Guy Dexter. These people that we’ve only ever seen up on the screen and then Thomas strikes up a friendship with Guy Dexter that seems to come out of the blue.
Dexter is very approachable and really funny, friendly and open and Barrow feels drawn to him.
How much interaction do you have with the guest cast?
Dominic West plays matinee idol, Guy Dexter, who is the lead in The Gambler and he strikes up a friendship with Thomas. Then we have Laura Haddock playing the leading lady Myrna
Dalgleish, and then Hugh Dancy who plays the film’s director Jack Barber. Barrow stays behind at Downton when the family depart for France so most of his interaction is with these three guest actors which is a lot of fun. It’s always great to have new actors join the cast because they bring a fresh energy to the set and make sure we don’t rest on our laurels, especially when playing opposite an actor as good as Dominic West.
With the first film being such an outstanding success, how do you think the second film has been elevated to ensure it hits those heights again?
I think the second film will bring back everything that the audience loves about Downton; their favourite characters that they’ve grown to love over the years, the lavish sets and beautiful costumes, the poignancy, the relationships, heartache, mystery and laughter. People really love Downton for its simplicity. It harks back to a time when the world was a simpler place. I think it’s more of the same because the formula really works. It’s not setting out to break new cinematic ground but it doesn’t have to. It offers escapism, which people need now, more than ever.
What is it about Julian’s writing that continues to captivate audiences?
In Downton Abbey, Julian does what he does best. He gives every character something to get their teeth into. Everyone’s got something going on. Then, not content with two storylines running simultaneously, he throws in a film within a film to liven it all up and all the challenges that brings both to the set within the set and to our film crew and hats off to them for pulling it off.
What’s been happening in Tom Branson’s life since the end of the last film?
We are in 1928 and have moved on nine months from that lovely moment at the end of the last movie when Tom and Lucy were dancing on the balcony. it was quite symbolic of the fact that they both kind of belong to this world but in other ways still don’t. In that respect they were almost on their own mezzanine, between a servant’s life and the world of the aristocracy. When this movie opens that relationship has obviously progressed rather well because they are getting married. I think it’s a good sign of the ever-changing times of Downton Abbey which is always evolving that Branson has found love again and with someone who is his equal in every way. They have this lovely fantastic massive wedding where the audience get to see all their favourite characters.
Describe the wedding scenes and where they were filmed?
We shot the wedding at a beautiful house in a place called Sudbury which is now the Branson home and estate. There was a church on the grounds, which apparently was quite normal back then so you got married in your own church, which is very convenient. We shot it over three days and it was just fantastic to have that sense of such pure happiness and joy to open the film with. The only character missing from the wedding party was Violet, the Dowager Countess who, having given her blessing to this union, unfortunately couldn’t make it. However, Julian always writes these big set pieces so brilliantly and everyone has their own little scene within the wedding party. All the servants are there too because it wouldn’t be right for Branson to be married without them. That’s where he started out and I really like that touch.
How has Branson’s career moved on?
Now he has married, he has his own estate to run so he is no longer working at Downton and while we don’t really see him working on his estate in this film, we do sense that he has moved on with this life yet is still very much part of the Crawley family.
How do the Branson’s fit into the wider story of the film?
While Tom and Lucy are on honeymoon a letter arrives for Violet revealing that she has been left a beautiful villa in the South of France by an old acquaintance of hers. She in turns decides to leave the villa in her own will to my daughter and her granddaughter, Sybbie. As she sees it all her other grandchildren are well taken care off and will inherit their own estates except for Sybbie so she wants to ensure she has something that is her own. This comes as a shock to Violet, the family and mostly to Tom who has a lot of angst about that, because it goes against the grain for him and all that he stands for that purely because of her bloodline lovely things happen to his daughter.
Is that a bit of a double standard for Branson given that his life changed forever because of his marriage to Lady Sybil and he eventually accepted all that Downton had to offer?
He doesn’t see the French villa as similar to Downton or even his own estate because they are working estates and have value, give employment and provide food for the estate workers. To him the villa is like a folly in the South of France where you go to have parties. It doesn’t sit well with his socialist views, or what he feels. Branson has always been someone who wants to be practical and he could always find a way to see Downton work for that reason – it was a place of employment. When they started to build cottages and rent them he realised that wasn’t going to be as sustainable as farming the land. He always wants to see the land or house at least benefit other people and he has a bit of trouble figuring out how he’s going to do that with the villa in France. Lucy, however is a great sounding board for different ideas and is a voice of reason, when often times Branson can be a bit caught in his own ways.
How does Lucy persuade Tom that the house in France can work for them as a family?
Lucy’s reasoning is, that there are ways that it could be profitable, and it still does provide employment for the people in France that look after the villa. She is always conscious of what Lady Sybil would want for her daughter and is never afraid to talk about her with Sybbie and Tom. I think it’s ultimately Lucy’s suggestion that Lady Sybil would want her daughter to inherit the villa that brings Tom round to the idea.
What does this gesture also say about the relationship that has evolved between Branson and Violet over the years?
I think what it shows is how far they have come since the early days of Downton and that they’ve both made exceptions within their own views to accommodate the other person.
Branson always stood his ground and so did Violet, more than anyone, so I think there is a deep mutual respect between them. In the script he does actually say how grateful he is to her and remarks on what a great friend she has been to him over the years; this movie really highlights that they are actually friends.
We have watched the Crawley’s happiest and most tragic times unfold over the years. How does it feel to be part of this beloved family both on and off screen?
On my 40th birthday Simon Curtis hosted a small (socially distanced) dinner for me in Sudbury where we were filming the opening wedding scenes and the next day, he said how remarkable it was that we saw this family cast as a family and how lovely it was that we had all become a family outside of the movie and now had our own families – that really is a wonderful thought. After the last few years we’ve all had and in particular the isolation we’ve felt, it’s always like going back home when we come together on Downton.
What do you think the film will give audiences?
I think it’ll give audiences exactly what they love in that they want to see these characters again and again and again. They want to see them continue to adapt and develop and progress in their lives, during what are very changing times for the family and servants. It will pull on the heartstrings and give you what you probably don’t want as well as what you do want but then these moments are all part of life. I think that’s what Julian always does; he always has a very fair balance of the world as it was then, and as it is always.
Where does Mrs Hughes find herself at the beginning of this film?
We’ve moved on a little from the first movie and this film opens with an exciting big wedding between Mr Branson and Lucy Bagshaw. Mr Branson has found love again with lovely Lucy after losing his beloved Lady Sybil in the television series. The whole cast are present on their wedding day to witness their love for one another.
Where did the wedding take place?
We filmed the wedding in Suffolk at a fantastic location that I had filmed in 30 years ago when I played Lady Jane Felsham in Lovejoy. The location for the wedding was filmed at Lady Jane’s home. The property has been in the family for centuries and when I was there it was lived in by a delightful couple called Daphne and Michael Raymond who made us feel so very welcome. Their son Charlie is now the current resident of the house and lives there with his wife and three sons. I was quite unexpectedly emotional when I saw the house again because I’d spent a lot of time there. The marvellous thing about this location is that there is a church almost at the end of the garden which made it perfect for Tom and Lucy’s wedding venue. We had huge marquees outside on the lawns for the wedding guests.
What’s going on back at Downton Abbey?
At Downton Abbey Lady Mary gets a call from a film producer. Round about the time in history the silent movies were becoming talkies as the film industry developed and rather than being in studios as they had been more and more directors were looking at moving their productions out of the studio and onto locations which was very new back in those days. The Crawley family are asked by Mr Barber, the film’s director, if he can hire the house as a location which initially Lord Grantham is appalled by that suggestion. He is ushered up the stairs by Lady Mary to see the dripping water coming through the roof and soon changes his mind when he sees how much Barber is offering for the location.
Where are Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes in their relationship?
We see Mr Carson back up in and around the house but we don’t want him hanging about interfering with the film because he will just get in the way. Lady Mary works out that it would be much better if Carson accompanies Lord Grantham to France. I persuade Mr Carson that Lord Grantham needs him as neither Mr Bates or Miss Baxter will have the authority to represent the family in France and that it will need someone of Mr Carson’s stature and gravitas to take charge. He would be horrified at what’s happening back at Downton Abbey.
How do you think this film will elevate the experience of the first film for audiences?
We all like a happy ending and Downton always delivers every possible wave of human emotion through Julian’s stories. It will also deliver a glamorous location in the South of France which we’ve never seen before on Downton which will be lovely for the fans. There’s really something for everyone in this film?
What is happening in Cora’s world at this point in Downton Abbey?
The film opens at the wedding of Cora’s former son-in-law, Tom Branson to Lucy Smith and Tom is very much someone who has been part of the family since Lady Sybil, Cora’s youngest daughter died way back in series three of the television show. I think she’s thrilled for Tom and loves both him and Lucy. She’s very happy for all of them.
What’s happening back at Downton Abbey?
A phone call brings an opportunity for the family to make some money when a director called Jack Barber wants to make his film at the house. Cora is always up for some fun and she embraces the idea, thinking it will be an adventure. Lord Grantham, on the other hand, is much more cautious and a film being based at Downton is very much outside of his comfort zone and he is against the whole idea.
How is Lord Grantham persuaded to change his mind?
Violet and Mary are much more involved in the pragmatic matters concerning money and how the house is going to be run and Cora very much steps aside to allow Mary take over. Cora doesn’t feel the need to control things and when the discussion is happening about the movie business it’s Violet who suggests Mary takes her father up to look at the state of the attics. That seems to do the trick.
What are the circumstances that take the family on a trip to France?
We find out from Violet that she’s come into an inheritance which is an unusual and surprising development because it’s a villa in the South of France. She, in turn, wants to leave it to her granddaughter Sybbie, but nobody understands quite why she is the beneficiary of such a large gift. The family that previously owned the villa invite the Crawleys to visit to see the place for themselves. It was quite fashionable at the time to holiday in the South of France during the winter months but not the summer months until the late 20s when a whole cache of Americans like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and it was becoming an alluring holiday destination.
How will this film differ significantly from the first?
In some ways it will feel very different to what I think audiences expect from Downton Abbey particularly with the movie business taking over at Downton and the French storyline. Everything changes with the light in France and it’s really delightful to see our characters underneath a tropical tree, against the backdrop of the Mediterranean, basking in the sun and the younger couples playing tennis. It’s all rather glamourous but in a different locale with a different more relaxed vibe.
The costumes in Downton Abbey are always spectacular – how important is the relationship between you and the Costume Designer, Anna Scott Robbins?
Anna is an incredibly collaborative Costume Designer, who is rather unusual in that she thinks about the whole arc of the story for your character and doesn’t just think about the costumes but has a whole vision for the entire film. She really helps me do my job because the costumes empower me. She really is one of the best designers I have ever worked with.
Has Lady Cora’s look changed significantly from the last film to this one?
We have only jumped in time by nine months so there has been no significant step change to hemlines or fashion for Cora. The younger members of the cast are becoming more fashion forward with Lady Edith wearing palazzo pants and headscarves and the men wear beautiful linen suits and single-breasted jackets. My look for the South of France is perhaps a little lighter with less ornate hair styles.
It can often be challenging following a successful first film with a sequel – how do you think this film will build on the success of the first one?
This film has so much charm to it. The whole idea of a silent movie being made in the house and these magnificent Hollywood characters coming into the Downton world has turned out to be such a delightful idea. It really is like the invasion of the modern world and I think it’s just thrilling to see that play out especially in the hands of our guest artists who embody these characters so well. Even with the family heading off to France there is so much of what audiences love about Downton Abbey to keep everyone happy – lots of humour and the usual kind of antics both above and below the stairs. I’m really excited about that.
Cora has another more personal storyline running throughout the film?
As always Cora rolls with the punches but something else is happening in her world other than Cora being her usual sweet and good self all the time. I really appreciated having my own storyline underpinning the main plot lines which is something Julian does exceptionally well. He keeps little things bubbling all the time which makes it more interesting for the actors and the audience alike. Equally with Downton there has always been a sense of beginnings and endings throughout the television series and the first film. There’s a feeling of poignancy about the great happiness the show has brought to so many people and the fact we as a company of actors and some crew have all been together for so long. Julian’s writing touches upon that with echoes of beginnings and endings all the time and that’s what brings richness and depth.
What has it been like to work with your husband, the director Simon Curtis?
It was actually a real privilege to work with Simon again. We haven’t worked together for so long and I had forgotten what it was like to work with him in a professional capacity. It was incredible to see how much he’s grown in confidence and matured in that time. He’s a really great director and to see how happy, safe and comfortable he made everyone feel on set every day has been the most significant part of the experience for me. It’s made me really very proud of him.
What are Daisy’s personal circumstances at the beginning of the second film?
Daisy used to be Daisy Robinson, then Daisy Mason and now she is Daisy Parker and Daisy and Andy are happily married. After the mild dalliance she had with the plumber in the first film we didn’t know if they were going to make it but they got married between the films and off screen.
Where are they living now?
They are living with Mr Mason (Daisy’s former father-in-law) on his farm and that’s a bit of a plot point in the film for the couple. They are definitely getting under each other’s feet and on each other’s nerves. When I read the script I did wonder how this was going to work because Paul Copley is the loveliest man in the world and we love Mr Mason so much that we couldn’t bear that he would be annoying to live with but Paul has played it so well. You can see how it could happen. No one is behaving badly but they are just living in each other’s pockets so much it’s getting in the way. Being a young newly married couple Daisy and Andy want to play house and Mr Mason is saying things like “Don’t do this and don’t do that” and it’s getting to them even though they can’t be annoyed with him because he has done them a favour by offering them a home.
How do Daisy and Andy plan to tackle the situation?
Daisy comes up with a plan to perhaps try and rekindle the spark that Mr Mason had with Mrs Patmore and encourage a companionship between them. As actors we are obsessed with Mrs Patmore and Mr Mason and we created a whole backstory for them ourselves so it’s hard to remember what actually played out on screen. I think there was a little something going on between them without it ever being said. So now Daisy is trying to meddle to encourage something between them. She’s hopeful that her hard work ie meddling will pay off and it would after all be nice for Mrs P to have some company. The house is technically Daisy’s as Mr Mason said he’d leave it to her in his will but he just doesn’t have anywhere to go.
Aside from what is going on in Daisy’s personal life what else is happening in Downton Abbey that affects her?
Daisy is still doing her thing in the kitchen alongside Mrs Patmore. Then everything gets turned upside down at Downton with the arrival of the famous film stars and Daisy is so into it. Compared to the first film when Daisy was not excited about the visit of the King and Queen to Downton she’s beside herself about Myrna Dalgleish being at Downton so much so that she leaves everything in the kitchen and darts upstairs whenever she can to be close to her idol.
Why is she so taken with the movie stars?
She is so starstruck and excited that these magical film people that she has only seen on the big screen are going to be in front of her in eyes, in the place that she works. She’s super excited by Guy Dexter. He’s the heartthrob of the time. She definitely keeps Andy on his toes doesn’t she, if it’s not the plumber it’s Guy Dexter but they are in a good place.
How did it transpire that the below stairs cast got to play the movie’s supporting artists?
When the film’s supporting actors walk out because the director cannot raise the money to pay them the downstairs cast step in and got to play dress up. This is the era when the silent movies were transitioning to become ‘talkies’ and when the SA’s walk out someone suggests the Downton servants help out. This is the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to most of us. It was really good fun so we as actors got to play servants who were playing actors and we were all just as excited as our characters. It was so amazing seeing Joanne, Phyllis and Lesley all dressed up and wearing tiaras. I got a big, mad, silly dress and had my hair like a walnut whip. It was actually really weird sitting in the make-up chair and having a transformation that wasn’t Daisy but still was if you know what I mean. I’m so used to not working any make-up and Nosh (our make-up designer) wanted me to have the opposite of Daisy and have lots of make-up to really contrast with her usual look. You generally never see any of us wearing lipstick and eyeshadow and we had to get back in our corsets again. We all remembered the hell that was wearing a corset.
The first film was such an outstanding success – how do you feel the second film has elevated that?
I think for people that loved the first film they will love the second film even more. It’s got everything that people love about Downton but then add on top of that this big mad alien element that comes in and changes everything and makes everyone react in ways they never would have before. There is all the glamour, excitement and beauty of the film within our world which is the world that audiences love to see and that we really enjoyed playing.
Where does the second film pick up from the first?
At the end of the first film we see Tom and Lucy dancing on the Terrace outside the ball and we sense they are very much together or at least heading in the right direction. At the beginning of the second film we join them at their wedding and they are a very happy young couple. They both came from humble beginnings and I think they really understand each other in a way that perhaps the rest of the society they find themselves in doesn’t. That has bonded them together and they are now thinking about how to fit into a more upper-class context and where that sits in this new, progressive world.
What was Lucy’s wedding dress like?
Anna Robbins, the Costume Designer, designed the most gorgeous dress for me which was beaded and embellished on the top but very simple and fluted in the skirt which felt quite modern to wear. I wore a veil with a beautiful tiara for the wedding ceremony followed by a really cool diamante skullcap for the reception.
Describe the wedding itself?
It was a huge few days for production and we filmed it at a beautiful house in Suffolk that had its own church at the bottom of the garden. It was a huge day also for the Hair, Make-up and Costume teams because of all the supporting artists and regular cast that joined for those few days. There was so much to organise and add really bad weather to that mix and it was a real challenge. We had wind, rain and hail across the week but the sun just managed to peek out for those really important shots and it made me feel that actually it would be really stressful to organise a wedding.
What was it like to be part of the group that travelled to France?
The French story in the film brought a slightly new energy to Downton; something about the heat of France, a new location for Downton and the fact that two younger couples joined the group meant that there was a more relaxed feel to that part of the film. Anna designed lovely pastel colour palettes for the costumes which were stunning and the light of the Mediterranean is always so magical that it all came together beautifully. The men looked crisp in these beautiful linen suits that is a very different look to those worn at Downton.
What is it that brings Lucy to France?
Lucy’s step-daughter Sybbie is due to inherit a magnificent villa in the South of France in Old Lady Grantham’s will. It’s been left to Violet who in turn wants to pass it on to Sybbie. I think it’s really important for Tom that Sybbie feels included in the family especially with Lucy marrying her father. Conversely, it also goes against Tom’s principles; principles he’s spent so long upholding and defending, to accept a gift of this size that hasn’t been earned. With that in mind it was important for them both to travel to France to determine if it is the right thing for Sybbie.
How does Lucy help Branson come to the right decision?
Lucy is like an angel on his shoulder when he doubts his position in life. She also reminds him that it’s great to have your principles, but when those fortunate moments in life do come along then the best thing you can do is to use that privilege to help others. That helps Tom come to realise that he has found himself in a place where he can help others like him. She is a grounding force in his life; someone that he feels really understands him. She gets his struggle and helps him to see how to make the best of it.
Was it fun to be back at work particularly after the last few years?
I finished filming on Mank in March 2020 and then the country locked down so it was really Lovely to come back to work and it was especially nice that it was Downton we came back to because we were all really hoping to return to it. Imelda and I were newbies on the first film and because of Imelda’s connection to the cast, via Jim, she was already familiar with the all the cast but I really didn’t know anyone. It felt so good to come back to all these characters was like a huge hug back into the industry.
How has Lucy’s journey evolved through her style and position?
It was important to chart Lucy’s journey from being the lady’s maid to, suddenly, being the lady of her own house who marries into a position that feels comfortable for both her and Tom. They don’t want to suddenly start dressing like they are the epitome of high society but there is a certain look that comes with her new position in society. In terms of her physical look it has changed in subtle ways and is less about work attire and more that she has a choice so there is a bit more of her personal style coming through in what she wears. She is still young and in France we see her wearing floaty dresses in pastel colours which reflect her happiness and the beginning of her new life as a young married woman. The costumes are meticulously made, delicate and fragile yet made to last because of the craftsmanship that has gone into them. It’s just so clever and subtle the way Anna Robbin’s planned everything and I think that the costumes are all so beautiful. She’s very good at finding those little touches, like silk headscarves which suddenly pull a look together. You really feel like you’re in 1928. I feel very lucky to have worked with her.
Where do we find Mrs Patmore in Downton Abbey: A New Era?
Life is chugging along fairly normally for Beryl until a film director asks if he can shoot his latest film at Downton Abbey. At first the family is not quite sure what it’s all about but the younger members of the family realise that there is a lot to be gained from having the income the film would pay for the use of the house and so it sets everyone off in a bit of a state.
How does Mrs Patmore feel about it?
Mrs Patmore thinks the house is going to be full of strangers which in turn will mean more work for her and Daisy, not to mention the coming and going at all hours of the day and night. She believes it’s going to cause chaos and she’s not best pleased.
How does Mrs Patmore’s story evolve in this film?
Some of the staff go off to France with the family leaving a slightly depleted workforce back at the house to look after the film people, Lady Mary and the Dowager, who has moved into
Downton with her Lady’s Maid, Denker. The family later return to the house and arrive during the middle of filming which provides some great comedic moments. Mrs Patmore doesn’t have any big dinner scenes this year as in the previous film where she cooked for the King and Queen of England. She continues to run her B&B business on a small scale and she’s as usual at the heart of all the merriment in the servants’ quarters.
Will we see any developments where Mrs Patmore’s love life is concerned?
Mrs Patmore always seems to be on the brink of romance, or should I call it companionship with Mr Mason but then it fizzles out. They have been admiring each from a far for years but what’s lovely is that we see a little more of their friendship evolving in this film which is all rather lovely for her. Daisy and Andy have moved into the farm with Mr Mason and it’s all getting a bit cramped for the young couple. He’s obviously very fond of them both but it is a bit awkward since Daisy was married previously (albeit briefly) to Mr Mason’s son and so that’s a bit complicated and Andy isn’t too sure of his place in the house. Daisy, being Daisy, hatches a cunning plan to bring Mr Mason and Mrs Patmore together but whether or not that comes to play out I can’t possibly reveal. As we all know love happens at a snail’s pace in 1928.
How does Mrs Patmore come to be actually starring in the film?
Mr Barber has sent all his supporting actors away because the film has collapsed due to the emergence of ‘talking films’ which are taking over the industry. We are all gathered in the servants’ hall and he comes down to ask for our help. Somehow, he and Lady Mary have got the film back on track but he needs extra actors to fill in for his supporting artists and that’s where the staff come in. Daisy is beside herself and can’t believe she is going to be up on the big screen. It’s a mixture of excitement, fear and hilarity all at once and we all have to dress in 1875 costumes.
How much fun was it for you to dress up in the 1875 costumes, wigs and make-up?
Firstly, all the costumes were absolutely wonderful and we were all in a state of great excitement in the fittings we had. It was absolutely heaven for the wardrobe department too and they gave all the costumes different names. Mine was called the Champagne Truffle because it was the colour was champagne and I was like a kid in a candy store really. I remember saying very early on that I wanted to wear a tiara and they actually got me a tiara.
I also said I wanted a ringlet, and I got a fabulous ringlet that fell over my shoulder. On paper it seemed insane but in actuality it was so much fun. It was great to see Mr Mason dressed up as a gentleman and Mr Carson as a Lord. We also got to sit down at the grand dining table which was a first for the staff and walk down the main staircase which is something Mrs Patmore would never have done. It felt odd having make-up and a wig put on I must say when I was in the make-up truck and then having to act at acting if you know what I mean. The servants playing the supporting artists have to react to the two movie stars acting at one point and that was odd as well.
What will audiences love about this film?
I really hope the audiences feel confident to go back and sit in a cinema after the horrible time everyone has had. There is so much of what people love about Downton in this film, with all their favourite characters, comedy, the highs and lows that always makes Downton so relatable and it looks gorgeous. Stunning costumes, make up, sets and locations that will just make people happy.
What is it about Julian’s writing that is so engaging?
Just as good composers write for their instruments and know how the instruments work so does Julian for the characters in Downton. I never struggle or stumble learning my lines, which shows how easily and naturally the characters’ voices come to him.
How does Lord Merton feel about the movie business coming to Downton?
I like to think of Merton as a forward-looking peer and not at all a stick in the mud. With that in mind he would very much welcome the movies coming to Downton. He would think it especially marvellous to see all the servants in their finery and sitting at the dining table where the Crawleys normally sit.
How has Lord Merton’s relationship with Isobel moved on since we last met them?
They are both still very happy and have a wonderful relationship in their senior years. As a member of the Crawley family Isobel was always considered the poor relation but through her marriage to Lord Merton she has become part of the aristocracy.
What can the audience expect from the second film that’s slightly different from the first?
I think there’s something for everyone in the second film. It’s pure escapism at its best. Nothing is radically different from the first film because I don’t think audiences would appreciate that. What they love about the show is its familiarity, the characters they adore, the stories playing out above and below stairs. The film takes the audience through what’s happening in the lives of the Crawley family and their servants and is filled with all the emotions that make Downton Abbey the much-loved franchise it has become. There will be lots of laughs along the way too. It’s a huge comfort blanket that has often been referred to as a posh soap. I think it’s much more than that. It’s like a really good book that you get consumed by.
Lady Maud Bagshaw
What has happened since we last saw Lady Bagshaw in the first film?
Maud Bagshaw’s daughter Lucy has formed a relationship with young Tom Branson and the film opens with their wedding, which is glorious. Maud is very happy indeed to see her daughter marry into the household and we see that very much in those opening scenes.
What does it mean for Maud that Lucy is now formally in society?
Although Maud has the title of ‘Lady’, her daughter Lucy does not but neither does Mr Branson. They now stand to inherit Maud’s house and estate which will set them up for life which is the realisation of a conversation Maud has with Violet in the first film but at that point Lucy was Maud’s maid and no one knew she was her daughter. However, none of that matters anymore now that they are married and Maud will move to the Dowager’s house on the estate. Then there is this storyline that pops up that suggests Lucy may be the custodian with Tom of another property in France.
Can you describe that particular storyline?
I think what’s extraordinary in this film is that it’s got two beautifully cinematic storylines running through it. I also think the idea of a film of another era being made within a film is a stroke of absolutely glorious cinema.
What are the circumstances that sees Maud travelling to France with the family?
Violet has been left an extraordinarily beautiful property in the South of France, and Maud’s step grand-daughter Sybbie, stands to inherit it in Violet’s will. The family and Lucy and Tom are invited to visit the present owners and I’m not sure why Maud is invited l but I’m very grateful that she was. Branson has come from the ranks below stairs and here is now the father of a little girl who is set to become the owner of this stunning vast property in the South of France. Branson, as we know, is a man of principals and he doesn’t believe in being handed things without working for them so he takes some convincing.
Was it fun to spend time with your husband Jim Carter while filming in France?
It was really very nice to actually have a scene with Jim and it’s a really charming scene too. It was also lovely to be working away with him rather than one or other of us having to go away to work. It was a real treat and I couldn’t really believe that we had a week of quarantine together which was rather like a mini holiday. I did spend quite a lot of the time in the hotel room working but I could get a swim at the end of the day.
Who is Alfred and how does he fit into Downton Abbey?
I started off by being a supporting artist in series five of the television show playing a hall boy below stairs which is just about the lowest rank of servant possible. From that point I basically just worked my way up and returned for series six.
How did it transpire that you came to be involved in both films?
Liz (Trubridge), the producer got in touch and asked me to be in the first film. Then Julian gave me a few lines and I got to step up to being a footman and serve the Royal Family when they came to stay at Downton. Now it’s 1928 and Albert was promoted to junior Footman. He’s very excited by the arrival of the film crew and he get recruited by the director Jack Barber to be the clapper boy. He has a little side hustle when the family are away.
That’s not the only thing Albert gets up to when the family are away?
He has a schoolboy crush on the leading lady Myrna Dalgleish and he will stop at nothing to be in her presence. He’s really madly in love with her and can’t speak when he is in her presence. He is always looking for an opportunity to speak with her but when the moment comes nothing comes out. He struggles to get noticed by her however keep watching to the end and Albert may just have his moment in the sun. If my mum’s not crying, I’ll be upset.
Describe where we are when we return to Downton Abbey?
In terms of time, we are nine months on from the end of the first film and as ever with stately homes finances are rather tight for Downton. Isobel is still enjoying married life with Lord Merton and spends a lot of time visiting the Dowager at the house when she is invited. The family is growing with Lady Edith and Bertie having had a baby and the family looking forward to the wedding of Branson and Lucy, Lady Bagshaw’s daughter. However, these houses take a lot of money to repair and the family are desperate to find new ways of making the estate work harder.
How does it transpire that a film crew move into Downton?
A film director turns up at the house, Jack Barber and asks Lady Mary and Lord Grantham if they could possibly use it as a location for his movie. Filming on location is a new thing in the industry because traditionally the silent movies were all made on studio lots in England. In that time using a real location to make a film was an unusual element in the business. There are some people who are very much against it and others who are all for it. Isobel is one of the people who is rather pragmatic and sensible about things so she’s rather looking forward to it. It’s going to be set in 1875 so it will be rather exciting to see the costumes and actors come to the house. Violet is also very pragmatic about the house being used as a location because she realises that the house needs looking after and if you let your house be used in that way, despite the awkwardness that comes with it perhaps they will be able to afford a new roof which would have cost an enormous amount of money. Lord Grantham is persuaded to let the house be used as he’s going to be away anyway in France.
Where is Isobel’s relationship with the Dowager now? Have they reached a place of mutual respect and friendship?
When Isobel first started in Downton Abbey she was despised in both parts of the house. The servants thought she wasn’t well born enough to join the family and the family equally thought she wasn’t of interest as the mother of Matthew who was also rather despised to begin with. Then of course things changed and Matthew married Mary but then subsequently she suffered a terrible tragedy when her son died in a car accident. Isobel’s relationship with the Dowager has always been a prickly one because she came from a different strata of society – the upper middle classes and she wasn’t going to be bossed about by people who thought it was their right to do so. Isobel brought the real world into their world, not that their world wasn’t real….it was to them but that’s how life was in 1912 and now we are in 1928. Life changed entirely in the house and Isobel’s relationship with Lady Grantham changed too for the better and she began to see Isobel’s worth. Lady Grantham is a very strong personality, but an honest one and I think she appreciates Isobel for her honesty and for also telling her things she didn’t want to hear. Lady Grantham also told Isobel things she didn’t want to hear. There was a certain amount of rivalry to begin with but certainly they find each other very good company up to a point. They thoroughly enjoy their sparring ripostes with one another. They have also helped each other through events and things that have happened to them, great tragedies like the loss of children and grandchildren and so they have reached a level of understanding between them.
What is it about Downton that you think audiences really connect with?
I think there is a certain amount of escapism because it’s nothing like how we live now. Having said that I do believe that audiences actually connect with people’s difficulties and experiences because there are weddings, funerals, births, war, politics, depression, sadness, joy and all the things that make up the human condition. The audience wants to know what happens to these people and how the deal with them. It makes for very good storytelling.
This film is highly enjoyable and I think Julian has written it so that the audience will have a really good time.