‘Downton Abbey’ Final Season: Behind the Scenes of That Bloody Dinner Table Moment

The threat of endings loomed large over the final season of “Downton Abbey,” and so when Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) interrupts a stately Downton dinner by spewing blood all over the table, fans were immediately worried for his fate. “The idea for having the scene from ‘Alien’ in the show came from Julian Fellowes,” says executive producer Gareth Neame. “He had spoken some time ago with a doctor and saw all this dramatic potential in the fact that (Grantham’s) ulcer could burst rather spectacularly.”

Adding to the challenge of the scene: filming in a real estate populated by priceless antiques. “That van Dyck painting alone is worth, I don’t know what, $25 million?” says executive producer Gareth Neame. “The idea of an actor sitting adjacent to it spitting a lot of fake blood out of his mouth was something that took a lot of care and planning.” Neame breaks down how the crew pulled it off through six key contributions.

Michael Engler, director
“Engler and his first assistant, Matt Carver, had to intricately break the scene down shot by shot, working out every detail and working out the most economical way to shoot the scene in the time available. Once Hugh Bonneville did one of these takes with the blood going everywhere, the whole thing had to be reset. He had to be changed, the room had to be reset and made good again. They shot everything on every angle before the blood, and then they put the blood in his mouth and redid everything again post the blood.”

Adam Gillham, director of photography
“We’ve shot hours and hours and hundreds of scenes in that dining room over the years. He obviously had to get it right because doing retakes was very problematic and time consuming. To be honest [the actors] hated doing them. You’ve got 12 people sitting around a table and everyone speaks to each other, you have to cover every (discussion). I had to keep saying to everyone on the team, ‘You may hate shooting these scenes but it’s great to have at least one of these in every episode.’”

“They shot everything on every angle before the blood, and then they put the blood in his mouth and redid everything again post the blood.”

Al Morrow, editor
“Al has been with the show for many many years. It was a very precise piece of editing, and very pre-planned by Michael Engler, but I can’t think of how many episodes he’s done across the years, he’s been on almost every season. He was quite a junior editor when we first brought him on, and he’s probably cut more episodes than anyone else.”

Anna Robbins, costume designer
“She’s very used to having all these men on the show in white tie and tails, but not so much to have several repeats of his clothing so they could have multiple takes. And sometimes on the day, the blood projectiled a little further than they were expecting. A lot of the blood was projected onto Elizabeth McGovern’s dress, and that was a real one-of-a-kind dress, it wasn’t something with repeats. The shock of [McGovern’s] reaction is quite real — it wasn’t planned, but maybe added to the reality of the situation.”

Aidan Farrell, colorist
“He’s graded every single episode, from beginning to end. In fact they decided they wanted the color of the blood to be slightly paler than the actual color of blood, so he could color time it to the right color for blood. If they used a dark red blood that’s a more real color he would have less control of it in the grading suite.”

John Lunn, composer
“I spot every episode with John Lunn and it’s done the same way we have from the beginning. Every cue is original. We definitely use leitmotifs but every cue is specifically written for each moment. There are times when the ‘Downton’ music can become incredibly dramatic, there are other times when John is marking the comedy, or the grandeur and the majesty of it all. Sometimes just as the story twists in these right angles, the music also had to suddenly come in and do something radically different.”

More TV


    Amazon Prime Video Reveals Three Spanish Originals, Drops Sergio Ramos Doc Trailer

    MADRID — Amazon Prime Video has announced a slate of three new Spanish original series set for 2020, which will strengthen the streamer’s domestic catalog in the country. It also shared the first trailer for its second Spanish soccer docu-series “El corazón de Sergio Ramos” (The Heart of Sergio Ramos). In “El Cid,” popular Spanish [...]

  • Maya Hawke'Once Upon a Time in

    Maya Hawke Reflects on Robin's 'Stranger Things' Coming Out Story

    Robin Buckley shocked viewers everywhere when she came out as a lesbian to Steve Harrington on the floor of a bathroom stall, but actress Maya Hawke says the twist wasn’t always set in stone. Hawke tells Variety that it wasn’t until episode four or five that she and the Duffer Brothers came to a final decision [...]

  • Love Island - Pictured: Kyra Green,

    TV Ratings: Is 'Love Island' Deserted?

    Two weeks have passed on “Love Island” and plenty of singles have coupled and uncoupled in their bid for love and a fat $100,000 pay check. However, there’s one couple that doesn’t seem to be hitting it off: CBS and “Love Island.” Ratings for the show have been far from paradisiacal, and with the network [...]

  • Jenny Wall Eryk Casemiro Nickelodeon

    Jenny Wall Named Nickelodeon CMO, Eryk Casemiro Named Senior VP of Nickelodeon Preschool

    Nickelodeon has hired two new executives, tapping Jenny Wall to become chief marketing officer and Eryk Casemiro to become senior vice president of Nickelodeon Preschool. Most recently CMO at Spotify-owned Gimlet Media, Wall will be responsible for all on- and off-air consumer marketing, brand creative and content launches across all of Nickelodeon’s platforms, including Nicktoons, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content