Last night, I had the pleasure of going to Cadogan Hall for the ‘Downton Abbey: Behind the scenes with Julian Fellowes and company’ event. The evening offered an opportunity for die hard Downton fans to get under the skin of the cast and dig a little bit deeper into the writing and direction of the series. A few hundred people listened intently for an hour as writer Julian Fellowes, his niece Jessica Fellowes (author of The Chronicles of Downton Abbey), executive producer Gareth Neame and Allen Leech (Tom Branson) discussed all things Downton with The Times.
The venue wasn’t too cosy itself however the atmosphere felt intimate enough and relaxed, which was lovely as Julian, Jessica, Gareth and Allen all seemed to enjoy the evening’s discussions. It was also particularly enjoyable as the audience partook in a questions and answers session; squeezing as much information out of the Downtoners as possible knowing that they have to wait until Christmas Day to watch another episode.
When asked which episode has been each of their favourites, they all agreed that it was merely impossible to pinpoint one episode as Julian writes the script so captivatingly that the blend of mixing in the old or familiar with the new and unexpected. However, Gareth Neame mentioned that perhaps the most important scene from the entire series was the scene at the railway station in Season Two where Mary and Matthew say their goodbyes as he departs for war. Neame says that “it landed perfectly” as both Mary and Matthew capture what they are feeling and thinking without words.
Focusing on political and social issues around the First World War and progressing into the early 1920s, the characters each have to face and overcome their own obstacles and challenges which present themselves throughout all three of the series. For the women, and particularly shown through the Crawley sisters, they found a strong sense of purpose during the war, such as Sybil’s work as a nurse. After the war, there was a problem with the surplus of women, to which Edith is determined to find her voice and claim her stake. For Mary, she shows her strength of character, especially when in the presence of her parents.
When asked which daughter Cora (The Countess of Grantham) was most similar to, Julian feels that there is a little bit of all three daughters in Cora, however she has a personal struggle with the fact that she is a foreigner, and her daughters are not. Personally I feel that Cora sees herself or her desires in her daughter Sybil, which I feel is grieved for by Cora on Sybil’s death bed.
Allen Leech spoke of his enjoyment playing Catholic Irishman Tom Branson, who has strong political affiliations, saying “it was fantastic. Your character has a grip to it. It gives energy to Branson. It’s been really wonderful”. Upon discussing filming the emotional scene of Sybil’s death, to which involved a long day of filming, Leech mentioned “…as an actor it was really good to do. I was really tired at the end from crying constantly for 10 hours…” The scene was also the last scene for actress Jessica Brown Findlay who played Sybil and as a result was a naturally emotional day of filming.
Julian Fellows spoke of Maggie Smith’s performance as Violet Crawley (The Dowager Countess of Grantham), saying that she “understands the rhythm of comedy” as she captures the small moments where the script calls for comedic flare.
By the end of the evening, it was clear that the entire cast and crew thoroughly enjoy working together; there is no divide between those upstairs and those downstairs. From the venue of Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey, to the props, exquisite costumes, hair and makeup and script writing, fans were sitting at the edges of their seats to find out if Downton Abbey would be returning for a fourth season. Whilst Julian, Allen, Gareth and Jessica were all coy about an answer it looks to be likely!
After the Q&A session there was a book signing, for the new book ‘The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era’ written by Jessica Fellows and Matthew Sturgis and meet-and-greet, which put a smile on most fans faces!!
If you are a Downton Fan, be sure to watch the Christmas special episode on Christmas Day. If you missed Season 3, you can purchase this from Amazon (it also makes for a good Christmas present) or go grab yourself a copy of the new book.