Pour the teas and stiffen your upper lip, Downton Abbey is coming back! The production team for PBS’ Emmy-winning series recently announced a new big screen movie will start filming later this summer, with a screenplay by creator Julian Fellowes.
The Edwardian period drama followed the aristocratic Crawely family and their servants for six seasons, ending in March 2016. Now key players, including Dame Maggie Smith, (as the acerbic dowager countess), Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley), Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates) and many others, are set to return.
“When the series drew to a close, it was our dream to bring the millions of global fans a movie,” producer Gareth Neame has said. Allen Leech, who played chauffeur turned son-in-law to Lord and Lady Grantham, exclusively told Closer Weekly (in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now!) that the cast “100 percent [wanted] to come back in an epic kind of film.”
For fans who can’t wait for the movie’s release next year, we’ve uncovered some secrets of the posh and poignant drama. “We are like a family now,” Michelle Dockery, who played Lady Mary, said of her co-stars. “It’s wonderful for us to reunite.” In fact, during the two years the actors were working on other projects, they still kept in touch. “We are all having a little reunion dinner in a few weeks, just a private thing with 25 of us,” Joanne told Closer last November.
And producer Neame never stopped working on Downton. “I still live and breathe the show every day because they are still licensing it around the world,” he has said, and now he’s producing the movie. “For me, it hasn’t really gone away.”
The movie’s story is being kept secret, but Fellowes has revealed his own family, in which his parents came from different classes, influenced his original ideas for Downton Abbey. “My mother hadn’t been presented, she wasn’t a [debutante],” he explained. “My great aunts thought she had ‘caught’ [my father] and they never changed. They eventually tolerated her because she had been delivered of four healthy sons, so she had done her dynastic duty.”
When Neame approached Fellowes about writing a period series, the Gosford Park Oscar winner agreed. Fellowes had read about American heiresses who married into the peerage in the late 1800s. “We all know about those lovely American debs running down the gangplank into the arms of a marquis,” Fellowes said, “but what was it like 20 years later when they were sitting in some freezing house in Staffordshire longing to be back in Rhode Island? In that sense Cora Grantham was born.”
While the lords and ladies have the most elegant clothing, most of the servants wear simple outfits. But Joanne has said wearing Anna’s servant garb has its advantages: “The first season I was like, ‘Aw. I would love to wear the pretty dresses.’ And then I quite quickly realized that I would have to spend a lot less time in costume fittings and I could have a sleep at lunchtime without getting creases.”
Sarah Cooper, COO of NBC Universal International Studios, said the costumes, particularly for middle Crawley daughter Lady Edith (Lauren Carmichael), were important. “By the end [of the series], she was this beautiful, confident aristocrats, and that confidence was really reflected in the costumes.”
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Did you know the costumes on #DowntonAbbey are a mix of vintage, repurposed and new fashions? Join Style Expert @annechertoff of Beaumont Etiquette for a talk on the costumes of Downton Abbey and learn the history of fashion from the early 1900s. On today at the #DowntonExhibition from 3pm to 5pm in Lady Mary's Bedroom. #DowntonNYC
Despite the temptations, the cast generally didn’t take anything from the elaborate Downton sets when the series ended — and it’s a good thing, since many of the rented props and costumes have been touring the country with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition (now open in NYC through Sept. 3). The interactive exhibit includes several sets, including Mary’s bedroom where the props truly came in handy.
“There is a little glass dish with hair grips in it, and we would actually use it,” Michelle revealed. “If there was a piece of hair out of position, rather than have to rummage through her bag, the hairstylist would put the grips in the little glass dish, and they are still there.” Allen, meanwhile, tried to hold on to Branson’s watch and cuff links, “but I got caught out on that one,” he admitted.
Not all the cupboards in Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen opened but Lesley Nicol, who played the feisty cook, has said, “There is a cupboard in the corner that we used to put our phones in and our drinks and crossword puzzles!” She and Sophie McShera (kitchen maid Daisy) had one prop they didn’t want to go without.
“Lesley and I used to fight over the tea towel because if you had the tea towel, you didn’t have to really be cooking,” Sophie revealed. “It was a security blanket,” added Lesley. “If you didn’t quite know what you were doing, you go, ‘I left the tea towel!’” But the kitchen is truly Lesley’s domain. The long table where the servants eat was built to fit her height. Said Lesley, “It was designed especially low because I am short!”
The Downton Legacy may not end with the movie. “Who knows,” teased Neame. “There could be spin-offs, a stage musical.” Allen has his own ideas: “Downton Abbey theme park! There’s a ride called the Dowager Countess, it just insults you for an hour.”
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