The Crawley’s are back — but with a twist.
“Downton Abbey,” the hit British TV series that ran for six seasons on PBS, is making its way onto the big screen for a second time. Rather than spawning a seventh season, writer and creator Julian Fellowes explained why he decided to transform the series into a film franchise.
“I think the cast particularly had enough of working from February to November, whereas a film is eight weeks out of their lives every two and a half years,” Fellowes told Variety on Sunday at the New York premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House.
He continued, “It’s a different commitment. They have these very successful careers and wanted to get back to them. That seems fair enough to me.”
While “Downton Abbey: A New Era” reunites the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, it switches up the scenery by heading outside the titular country estate. Half of the cast travels to the family’s newly-inherited villa in the South of France, which was mysteriously acquired by Lady Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith).
“I wanted to get at least some of them away from their comfort zone and play out something different,” Fellowes said. “With Robert and Cora, they were more in touch with their emotional side because they weren’t performing as the Earl and Countess of Grantham. It brought a certain honesty into the proceedings.”
Hugh Bonneville, who stars as Lord Grantham, teases a shocking revelation that leaves his character questioning his family lineage.
“He actually goes through some sort of existential crisis, and he and his wife, Cora, have to face some home truths,” Bonneville said. “It’s an interesting little journey, and somehow Julian Fellowes gives every character a little moment in the spotlight.”
Elizabeth McGovern, who stars alongside Bonneville as Lady Grantham, said that she believes the new film captures what “Downton Abbey” managed to achieve during its peak on television.
“It’s bigger and more ambitious in its visual scope, and there just happens to be such a clever script. In that sense, it’s like the best of the series,” she said. “The series was at its best when it had a real bubbling wit that was fresh and surprising. That’s come back again.”
Phyllis Logan, who plays the caring housekeeper Mrs. Hughes, praised the film for how it balanced the dramatic reveals with some comedic moments.
“It’s laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s very poignant and moving as well,” Logan said. “It’s just a lovely, feel-good film where you come out smiling with a tear in your eye at the same time. I think it’s it’s just a perfect antidote to what the world’s had to endure.”
Many of the cast members on the carpet also teased the possibility of a third theatrical chapter that would serve as a bookend to a film trilogy.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to make it a trio?” Logan asked.
She continued, “It’s like voting. Vote early with your feet by going to see this movie.”
Kevin Doyle, who plays footman Joseph Molesley, teased that he’d be happy to read another new chapter written by Fellowes.
“Julian always surprises us with the way he can come up with these extraordinary stories to bring us back together again,” Doyle said. “If there is going to be another episode, I look forward to reading it.”
When asked about completing the “Downton Abbey” trilogy, Fellowes said that the fans will say whether a third film should get made.
“Well, I wouldn’t tell you if I knew,” Fellowes said with a chuckle. “It’s the audience that tells you that.”