STACK chats with the cast of Downton Abbey: A New Era, the highly anticipated big screen sequel to the 2019 motion picture.
Love is in the air at Downton Abbey, and also the French Riviera, in Downton Abbey: A New Era – possibly the most romantic take on the upstairs-downstairs antics of the aristocratic family, beloved for 12 years on both small and big screens.
Beginning with the wedding of former chauffeur Branson to governess Lucy Smith, Downton Abbey: A New Era goes on to affirm several existing relationships as well as revealing a long-hidden past love and hinting at a future romance which was never thought possible.
Directed by Simon Curtis from a script by award-winning Downton creator Julian Fellowes, everybody involved hopes this nostalgic confection will tempt audiences back into the cinemas for a feast of romance and beauty.
Set in 1928, its no secret that in this new iteration, Downton Abbey, groaning beneath the weight of debts and disrepair, opens its doors to a film crew from the silent era, ushering in new characters – Laura Haddock and Dominic West as impossibly glamorous movie stars and Hugh Dancy as the film’s director, Jack Barber.
With her husband overseas, Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary becomes very involved in this movie – perhaps a little too involved.
“Sometimes it’s about how much subtext you play and finding a balance of, is there a little flirtation there? How far do we go? But Julian writes it so brilliantly, so it’s all there in the script,” teases Dockery.
Even Dame Maggie Smith’s ever acerbic dowager, Violet Crawley, gets a little romantic action in this new film, although to say more that would be a plot spoiler…
The onscreen sense of romance even played out off-screen, Dockery recalling the interactions between the film’s director Simon Curtis, real-life husband of Elizabeth McGovern’s Lady Cora Crawley.
“There were some lovely moments where, every now and then, when Elizabeth would go ‘Darling. I mean, Simon…’ I just loved catching her in those moments,” she says.
If the last Downton film saw Lady Sibyl’s Irish widowed husband and former chauffeur Tom Branson (Allen Leech) finally enjoying love again with Tuppence Middleton’s Lucy Smith then, at the outset of this new film, we join them at their wedding.
“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,” explains Middleton. “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,”
“It felt justified actually, I think Tom finally got his just rewards really because he’s been kind of sad and so helpful to other people to find happiness, and so it’s lucky that Tom finally did,” adds Leech.
Discussing his long-brewing romance with Raquel Cassidy’s Baxter, Kevin Doyle (Mr Molesley) says, “Their relationship is sort of glacial in its progress. I think they are two very careful people. I get the impression that they may have both been hurt in the past, so that sort of explains how slow their progress is. You get the impression there are very small incremental steps towards some kind of fulfillment.”
Cassidy can’t help but laugh at Doyle’s characterisation of their torturous draw-out courtship. “I don’t think Miss Baxter gets that impression. I think she thinks those incremental steps are going backwards half the time.
“In terms of their relationship, she has to wait for Mr Molesley to make the move because she is still a woman of her time and also he would capsize if she were to say, ‘Go on Joseph, let’s do this. I don’t care what you have to offer but let’s do it.’ He would literally melt in front of her eyes, so she has to be mindful of that and wait. And in the meantime, she’s awash with love. She loves every wedding, and she loves him and can love him from a distance – if that’s her plight.”
As long-suffering Barrow, Robert James Collier hints at his own possible happy ending when the cast talks to STACK.
Ask what he predicts for Barrow, the actor says, “Happiness hopefully. You never know what life throws at you, but this is definitely the most stable we’ve seen Thomas and he develops a relationship with someone and, for once, he’s not guarded. You never know if he’ll stay happy for long, but hopefully he will.”
Filmed during the pandemic, all the cast involved in the South of France storyline breathed a huge sigh of relief when they were given the go-ahead to film in France – after Scotland’s unforgiving Isle of Skye had been touted as an alternative location.
“Apparently Scotland was a very high contender to double for France. Unfortunately, we ended up going to France and we didn’t get to use the Isle of Skye,” jokes Leech.
The cast hopes that audiences will be surprised by these new twists of fate for Downton’s occupants both upstairs and downstairs.
“As usual, Julian surprises us with new facets to these characters,” says Doyle. “It’s a delightful, lovely storyline. I’m always amazed at how Julian is able to give every one of the 20 odd characters such a rich storyline within two hours. It’s a hell of a skill. He’s always managed to do that over the series, but that’s over ten episodes normally a year, to be able to do that over two hours is extraordinary,” he adds.
Dockery agrees, “I think the timing is good. I think that Downton has always been a sort of escapism for audiences and it’s such an uplifting film.”
• Downton Abbey: A New Era is in cinemas from April 28