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‘Downton Abbey’: False Hopes Feed Heartbreak

Killing off a principal character was "a tremendous challenge"

When Julian Fellowes wrote the heartbreaking “Episode 4” of “Downton Abbey,” in which the aristocratic Crawley family’s beloved iconoclastic daughter Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) dies after giving birth, he knew it would be tough to direct.

“The script was full of false hope,” Fellowes says of the ep, Emmy-nominated for both writing and directing. “I wanted everyone to think she’s in trouble, then she’s not, then she is. There was the tremendous challenge of killing off the first of the principal characters.”

“Downton” directors get the script six weeks before shooting, review it with Fellowes and producers, work closely with actors, and must be sticklers for historical accuracy.

“The producers encourage the director to embellish the visual storytelling, to find images that support the words,” says “Episode 4” director Jeremy Webb.

One shot Webb used to enhance the “false hope” aspect went from a cozy-looking Downton at night to the ominous shadow of Sybil’s sister running to her parents’ room.

Once shooting begins, Fellowes rarely visits the set. “All I do is complain because someone changed my line,” he laughs.

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