As fans of “Downton Abbey” know, the Crawley family has weathered its share of momentous events over the years. So when it came time to conjure a storyline for the much-anticipated new film, the stakes had to be high.
“I wanted to have something where even Robert and Cora [Crawley] themselves would have to strive so that everyone is doing their best to make a success of it,” said “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes about the new movie.
“And with a family like that, on the whole, there are very few social events ... I mean, many that they would enjoy and be polite about, but not all that many that would make them nervous. And I felt a royal visit is about the only one.”
Fellowes stopped by “Downton Abbey: The Exhibition” at the Castle at Park Plaza, ahead of the premiere of the “Downton Abbey” film, which debuted Friday. Like the TV series, which ran from 2010 to 2015, the movie follows the Crawley family and their staff as they navigate both the British aristocracy and their everyday lives.
“Downton Abbey” stars Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), and Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) joined Fellowes in Boston and checked out the exhibition, which features facsimiles of the show’s sets.
The cast was excited when they learned of the royal visit plotline. Carmichael said she thought it was “perfect” and couldn’t wait to read the script prior to production.
“It feels like so much of the fascination with the world of ‘Downton’ is this idea of manners and status,” she said. “And so it sort of is all of that, which the film -- in terms of giving something to the audience that they recognize but feels bigger and bolder -- was perfect.”
“Imagine that time, or even any time, having a king and queen of anywhere is quite a big deal,” Nicol said over tea and water with Logan in the replica Downton kitchen. “But for these people, where honor and duty was a big deal, I mean, there’s nothing that could have been more important.”
When preparing the screenplay, Fellowes said that he looked for “a single central narrative that would involve everyone, and then all these subplots would come off it.” It was after reading about a royal visit that King and Queen paid to Yorkshire in 1912 that he discovered the main plot.
While there were a variety of challenges adapting a storyline from television to movie format, Fellowes said he was focused on maintaining the “intimacy of the show mixed with the grandeur and formality.”
The movie – which also stars Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, and Dame Maggie Smith – features the signature romance, political drama, and household scheming that the series is known for. But despite six seasons of trauma and frequent heartbreak, the film is fundamentally joyful.
“It sort of celebrates decency and loyalty and all those things that matter,” Nicol said, “...And these are the values that matter and are topical to the world we live in today.”
Carmichael added: “I think Julian does want the audience to have a lovely time and as obvious as that sounds, I think it’s rare to see something which is so hopeful and warm and believing that even the bad things will pass. You know that everyone is striving. I think that is very special.”