Opening weekend of Downton Abbey saw it smash Brad Pitt and Sylvester Stallone’s filma, Ad Astra and Rambo: Last Blood out of the park reeling in USD$30 million (AUD$44.3m) playing in over 3000 venues worldwide.
“Everybody was so happy to be back together it was like a college reunion; very playful, very happy, but very professional.” said Director, Michael Engel. “There was a real sense of joy, and a sense that you’ve been a part of something that was iconic and historically unique, which is rare. Some people never get to experience that. Wherever you are in your career it starts to really hit you what the impact of Downton Abbey was and is on the world. I think people really relished the idea that they could come back together one more time and be part of that, and make more of it.”
So what did the cast say about reprising their TV roles for big screen? Whether you have seen the show or not, the leading ladies share their moments on coming back and share a bit about their characters.
MICHELLE DOCKERY – LADY MARY
“I play Lady Mary Talbot. At the end of the last series, after going through quite a difficult time and being quite unhappy and angry at the world, Mary finally found happiness with Henry Talbot. We left her in a very good place, moving on with her life and very much embracing her position within the house in partnership with Tom as Estate Manager. She’s sort of in a place where she’s very unsure of where everything is going with Downton. Of course the news that the King and Queen are coming to visit throws everything into turmoil so she’s quite stressed with all of the organising and really takes it upon herself to take charge. It’s quite funny seeing that dynamic going on with the above and below stairs. They’re still trying to keep the swan-like grace upstairs while the feet are paddling away underneath. She’s really involved below stairs in the film, which is really nice, so there’s a lot of her and Anna trying to organise everything. She’s very hands-on, which is always really interesting for me because Mary when we were first introduced to her in the first season was this almost reluctant young girl who didn’t really want all of this and was quite rebellious and it’s so interesting to see her fifteen years on, in the film, that she’s really at the helm and embracing this position that she’s born into. As we know, Mary is fiercely independent and I think the audience likes seeing her doing things for herself and she’s never really relied on a man to fix things for her. It makes her very modern for this period.”
“My first costume fitting for the film was quite emotional. I didn’t expect to feel the way that I did. It’s literally like stepping back into her shoes. The costumes are just incredible on the film. I never thought that Anna – our amazingly talented costume designer – could surpass herself, because the last season’s costumes were extraordinary but she’s just cranked it up another notch for the film and everybody looks incredible. What has certainly felt different is having more time to really get it right. On the television series we would shoot up to five scenes a day, so it was a real luxury to be able to do extra takes. It certainly feels on a much bigger, grander scale. Cinematically I think it’s going to look really beautiful and Ben Smithard, our director of photography, is so talented. “
LESLEY NICOL – MRS PATMORE
“At the end of the TV series Mrs Patmore had her B&B business on the side and there was a little chemistry between her and Mr Mason. In the film, she becomes part of the group below stairs rebellion to thwart a threat that comes their way via the Royal visit. Julian [Fellowes] gave everybody a journey and what’s become very obvious in the film is her relationship with Daisy, which has come a very long way. In the film it’s almost like a mother daughter relationship where Mrs Patmore has aged and Daisy has become stronger and is more protective of Mrs Patmore. It’s a complete reversal and it’s very realistic because that is what happens; it’s kind of sweet really.”
“I remember Hugh and Elizabeth went to America and came back, saying, “Guys, you’re not going to believe what’s going on over there. It’s insane. People are enthusiastic beyond your wildest dreams.” They had been to The White House and met the Obamas who were also fans and seen Hillary Clinton across a crowded room; she elbowed people out of the waywho ran through a crowded room so she could to speak to them. Those sort of things kept happening. Then we found out that the Clintons watched the show as a family, on a Sunday night together and we thought ‘isn’t this just mad?’ I heard Anthony Hopkins was a fan, that was a bit of a thrill.
“We often get asked why Downton was such a global phenomenon and I’d love to give you a clever witty answer. Julian’s answer is always, “If I knew the answer to that, I would write a string of Downton Abbeys!” The stories are great, Julian never wrote a bad script. I think it also might be something to do with the fact that it was a strong ensemble of actors who fit their characters very well and who all get on really well, I think that brings a sense of unity to it. All the departments are at the top of their game, Donal Woods, one of the best designers there is. The Art Department, the Make-Up, Wardrobe, they’re all top people. All of it was well looked after from the very beginning and maybe a combination of all of that makes it special.”
ELIZABETH MCGOVERN – CORA CRAWLEY
“It feels as though the ambition of the movie is to take a nostalgic look at all these characters that the fans have grown to love over the years, and to give them what we think they’ll enjoy. I think that’s basically what we’re trying to do in the movie. We had a lot more time in the day to shoot scenes so that was a luxury. There was more time to light the scenes resulting in beautiful shots.”
“The most singular thing about coming back to make the film is that it was so easy to slide right back into our relationships with an element of more fun and enjoyment. There was a feeling that we were all enjoying the opportunity to get together again and talk about the memories and replay the same roles that we played for so long over the years. I still get a thrill driving up the driveway to Highclere and experience once again that view and the way the house is situated. It’s this canvas of ever-changing colours, because as the seasons progress, you just never look at the same vista twice; it never ceases to amaze me.”
JOANNE FROGGATT – ANNA BATES
“Anna and Bates are in a really good place, Anna’s very happy. They’ve got past their traumas, of which there were many during the series, which made for great drama for me to play as an actress. They’ve got their cottage, their little boy, Johnnie who is thriving and they’re very happy in work, in life, in love. Anna has really come into her own. It feels like she’s in control of her life and is taking charge of all the situations that come up within Downton and within the house. She’s a brilliant support to Lady Mary, as always, and their friendship has grown deeper. Anna is almost mirroring downstairs, what Mary is doing upstairs. Mary has taken on the role of protector of Downton and the person that’s going to move it forward and Anna is her sidekick in that. Anna is her ally in a way.”
“Anna is relatable to people because she’s a good person. She’s kind, and strong-minded and has a strong set of morals. The love story with her and Mr. Bates really connected with people. That slow burn love story against all the odds, where everything was thrown at them and they overcame it all. I love that people connected with her in the way they did. It was lovely for me to go back to her for the movie.”
LAURA CARMICHAEL – LADY EDITH
“When the series ended we saw Edith married to Bertie. That was her big fairytale happy ending, so that’s where we’re picking up from really. She’s living in Brancaster with Bertie who’s now the Marquess of Hexham, which is super high up in the scale of lords and dukes and whatnots. They’re a very well-to-do couple now and having a really lovely time.”
“We do see through the film, the concerns that Edith has about her life, their responsibilities as a Marquess. When he’s asked to go away with the prince on a long tour it stirs up these feelings within Edith of what she wants her life to be like and the lack of control you have when you are responsible to your community. It’s an interesting time for them, for their relationship, and you see Edith feel a bit disgruntled and missing her old life at the newspaper.
A part of the show was very much the style; very smooth camera work upstairs and the frantic side downstairs. That was always the style but to see how they’ve upped it for the cinema is really magical. The locations are stunning and the costumes are stunning, so to really have that energy of making it all perfect has been very exciting.”
PENELOPE WILTON – ISOBEL MERTON
“When I started playing Isobel at the beginning of Downton she was the widow of Lord Grantham’s cousin and her son Matthew stood to inherit the Downton estate when Lord Grantham died. Sadly however Matthew died in a tragic road accident so Isobel is grandmother to the next male heir of Downton. She also met and married Lord Merton so she is now Lady Merton. Isobel is the one who always asks the awkward questions. She sometimes bites off more than she can chew, and she’s brought up by Violet rather quick. At the end of the last season, Isobel and Violet were celebrating at the wedding of Edith, who had just got married to Bertie. It was a happy ending at the end of the last series, and here we are a short time later.”
SOPHIE MCSHERA – DAISY
“We find Daisy in the film exactly where we’d expect to find her; in the kitchen with Mrs Patmore. She lives on the farm and is together with Andy (the footman) whom she is engaged to. In the film, Daisy is on almost the same journey as she always has been since the first season. She’s making discoveries about how she feels about the world, and how she feels about the house and the people in it, which she kind of seems to be always doing, and I love that about her.”
“I imagine a Royal visit puts a lot of pressure on upstairs as well as downstairs. From the downstairs point of view, it seems like a lot because they’ve got all the work to do. For Daisy, she is a bit baffled as to why everyone is so excited but, she’s probably secretly quite excited too. In terms of the kitchen, it’s a lot of work, having such fantastic guests.”
Video Footage Courtesy of: Universal Pictures
Red Carpet: Graeme Taylor / Adam Hiller Photography
Behind the Scenes: © 2019 Focus Features LLC. All rights reserved.