‘Downton’ steals some of ‘Mildred’s’ thunder

Longform race became a 'David and Goliath' evening

Kate Winslet didn’t try to hide her surprise.

“I didn’t think we were going to win anything,” she said onstage in claiming her trophy for HBO’s “Mildred Pierce.”

Winslet won in the lead longform actress heat (making her one of the few performers to have an Oscar, Emmy and Grammy), and Guy Pearce took supporting longform actor.

The lush Todd Haynes-directed mini was hardly an underdog on Sunday — it led all Emmy nominees this year with 21 noms — but it was upstaged in the final Emmy tally by Julian Fellowes’ “Downton Abbey,” which took home four wins, including the top mini/movie prize.

The pre-WWI-era upstairs-downstairs drama, which originally aired on ITV in the U.K. and on PBS’ “Masterpiece,” had great reviews but a relatively low profile in the biz until it earned its best mini Emmy nom, along with 10 other bids, in July. After more industryites began screening “Downton,” buzz for the series began to grow.

“It is a David and Goliath (situation) because as you know HBO has tremendous marketing and advertising muscle behind it,” said Rebecca Eaton, “Masterpiece” exec producer. “When a program like ‘Downton’ wins, it’s on its merits.”

“Downton” also won for writing and director for a mini or movie (for Fellowes and Brian Percival, respectively) and for supporting actress in a movie/mini (Maggie Smith).

Pearce expressed his disappointment for Haynes losing out in the longform directing category, noting that the helmer “is such a wonderful director with such a wonderful voice.” Winslet also had nothing but kind words for Haynes: “Todd was certainly very much there for me as a partner in making Mildred Pierce such a woman of magnitude and vulnerability.”

Although “Downton” was nommed in the longform category, it is a continuing series. The second season coincidentally bowed in the U.K. on Sunday, and will hit PBS in January. “Downton” technically hails from the NBCUniversal family, as it was produced by the Britain’s Carnival Films shingle, which NBCU bought in 2008 as part of a push to expand its international production operations.

The coincidence of the timing of “Downton’s” Emmy triumph was not lost on Fellowes, who won a screenwriting Oscar a decade ago for “Gosford Park.” He noted his good fortune in awards races by thanking “the American industry” in accepting his writing award for “Downton.”

“Ten years ago, you kickstarted my second career with an Oscar,” Fellowes said. “Tonight you have nurtured it.”

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