The Television Critics Assn. summer confab has just begun, yet it might have already peaked with Saturday night’s delicious “Downton Abbey” panel.
Critics, by nature, are a group that’s hard to impress and gushing is, oh, so unprofessional, yet the sesh in the intimate Beverly Hills Ballroom in the BevHilton was nothing less than a lovefest for the PBS series that has turned a nation that a few centuries ago revolted against the British into a collective group that rushing over the Pond to tour the actual Downton estate.
On a panel led by creator Julian Fellowes and who was joined by actors Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley aka Lord Grantham), Joanne Froggatt (Anna), Brendan Coyle (John Bates), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley) and newcomer Shirley MacLaine (Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson), the back and forth was infectious.
Before the conversation started, clips were shown of the upcoming third season, which begins Jan. 6. While state secrets have been more guarded than what happens next at Downton, the scenes did reveal that there are bumps on the road to matrimony for Matthew and Lady Mary, the loss of fortune is hitting hard and Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley will have her hands full when MacLaine’s Levinson arrives from the States.
In painting an overview of what’s to come, Fellowes said, “This season is about the recovery from the war,” and whether aristocracy is still relevant in a nation that both mourns and is quickly changing.
Coyle chatted about everything, from how Bates got his limp (the actor put a brace on his knee and something in his show to figure out how, exactly, the limp should feel like) and that when playing the Facebook game of “What ‘Downton’ character are you?” he readily confessed that he’s Lady Mary.
MacLaine added that she never watched the show before being cast and got schooled on the goings-on of the series by her Malibu hairdressers. And asked if she and Smith had ever worked together, she said they were lovers in a previous life.
Froggatt, who is getting married in October (sadly, not to Coyle; what a darling couple), said she learned of her Emmy nomination while at the post office during a lunch break in shooting last week and then came back to set for a scene with Coyle with redder ears and more a proud glow.
Bonneville said he knew the series was a sensation when a 10-year-old friend of his young son came up to him and said, “You know, I don’t like that Thomas!”
The actor ended the night in hysterical fashion, when, in the midst of answering a question, undid his tie, unbuttoned his dress shirt to show off his undershirt that read, “Free Bates.”
At a post-conference dessert reception, Coyle was one of the star attractions, chatting up his many admirers before walking back to his room upstairs in the hotel. Without the limp.