For six seasons, “Downton Abbey” was one of the most popular series on television. The story of an aristocratic family and their bountiful staff of maids and valets captured the hearts of a worldwide audience.
Almost immediately after the series ended in 2015, creator Julian Fellowes began promising a feature film that would reunite all our favorite characters on the big screen. “Downton Abbey,” the feature film, hit theaters last weekend where it earned $31 million at the box office and became the largest opener for its studio, Focus Features.
At a press conference on opening day, stars Hugh Bonneville (“Robert Crawley”), Elizabeth McGovern (“Cora Crawley”), and Allen Leech (“Tom Branson”) talked about the thrill of bringing their characters to life for theaters.
When asked what he hopes fans would take away from the cinematic experience, Bonneville said:
“It is to escape from the hassles of our current world. It’s pretty nice and it’s a nice place to go. And you sort of know you’re going to be looked after, because I think the characters in ‘Downton Abbey’ look out for each other in some way, shape, or form. And I don’t think we need to apologize for that. It’s just pure escapism. And so it’s a nice place to be for a couple of hours.”
Leech talked about his hesitation to revisit his character after four years away:
“I think when we read the script, we all had a certain level of trepidation going in. As you say, can you go back and you revisit it and can you be as precise as you were originally? And the funny thing is, the minute you start reading the script and then when you start getting into your costume, you realize actually that it’s almost muscle memory. That it’s just sitting below the surface, because you play these characters for so long. And even when you weren’t playing them, you were probably talking about them. And then suddenly you had a little break and you got to go back. So it was a really happy discovery for me that it didn’t take a huge amount to get back to being Tom Branson at all.”
McGovern expanded on this by talking about the level of comfort she felt in reuniting with her onscreen alter-ego:
“It’s a luxury in some ways, because the fact that you don’t have to think about all those things that you think about when you’re just creating the character to begin with. How do they talk? How do they walk? How do they sit? And since it’s so deeply in our bones, you can just play it. You can just be it. And perhaps go to a deeper more confident place for that reason. So it’s a luxury because it doesn’t happen very often that you get a chance to revisit a character that has just settled in your bones for years without you even thinking about it.”
For Bonneville, the biggest challenge in bringing the film to life was arranging everyone’s schedule. “It was a small miracle that Gareth Neymar, executive producer, had managed to get all of us around the table again,” he said. Then he continued, “But I do remember looking around the table at this big square, this big old square table that was erected around the studio. And basically having sort of a wry grin on my face. Sort of I can’t believe that we’re here again.”
“Something just occurred to me this minute actually that I haven’t thought of before, of course, because that question has come up quite a bit. But I feel like we all quietly grew in confidence a little bit in the best way. Like when somebody is quietly more confident, they’re just more fun and more relaxed. I feel like across the board, you could apply that to every member of the cast. Maybe because of the experience of the show or the opportunities that it had brought people. And I think that pervaded the atmosphere when we were making the movie. There was a kind of quiet, peaceful confidence that wasn’t brash or arrogant. It was just kind of there.”
As for whether this is truly the end of “Downton Abbey,” Bonneville said:
“I think realistically, it’s certainly the end for us in terms of the TV show. Of course there could be, because let’s not forget that the central character is the house. And the house is still standing and will be standing in another 100 years. So absolutely. And knowing a little bit of the history of Lord and Lady Carnavron’s family, the current earl who lives there, his grandfather was quite a character. And if those walls could talk in the 1960s, that was one heck of a party house. So some fascinating shenanigans would have gone on over the years. So of course, I think they absolutely could do spinoffs in that way. In terms of our section of the history, I think if you can just persuade all your friends to go and see the movie, then maybe we’ll do another one.”
Leech agreed. “Yeah. Absolutely. If the appetite is there.”
“Downton Abbey” is distributed by Focus Features and is now in theaters.