“I’LL be dandy…”
It’s farewell to footman Jimmy (Ed Speleers) in this Sunday’s second episode of Downton Abbey series five (ITV, 9pm).
And hello to Richard E. Grant as art expert Simon Bricker.
I’ve now seen the first four episodes of the new series with plenty for Downton fans to look forward to in the weeks ahead.
Including Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) trip to Liverpool, the latest developments involving the late Mr Green and a surprising turn of events for Violet (Maggie Smith).
With all-time memorable Downton lines including: “One’s enough for now.”
Last week Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary.
But as you may already have guessed from the trailers, Mr Bricker also has an expert eye for a beautiful Countess.
It’s good to see Julian Fellowes writing more for Cora, with Elizabeth McGovern’s talents often under-employed.
As regular readers will know, I have covered Downton Abbey since the very start, interviewing the cast ahead of each series.
Which this year involved a total of 17 cast members back in August.
Some of those 20,000 words of interviews have already been used by national newspapers or are being held for future use.
So I am currently restricted as to what I can publish in my TV blog.
But here are some edited highlights from round table chats with both Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville.
With only mild spoilers as to what’s ahead.
And some advice from Hugh:
“When a man like Richard E. Grant comes over the horizon to look at your art work…you should check all your etchings.”
Elizabeth McGovern (Countess of Grantham, Cora):
Q: It’s good to explore Lord and Lady Grantham’s marriage?
“Oh it is. I wish we did that all the time. That would be my perfect show. We do a little of it. There is a sort of rockiness to the marriage, which I don’t think is untypical of any long term marriage.
“It was fun for me to play because not only is it exploring a long term marriage, slightly, but it’s also seeing another side to Cora’s character, which I really appreciated having the chance to play.
“She talks about herself, her own interests, as opposed to just reacting to everybody else. And that was the first time that had really happened in five years. You get to know where she comes from, a little bit, what she’s interested in. Slightly. And then the story moves on. But for that moment it was nice.”
Q: Cora has a more modern outlook compared to Robert?
“She gets quite annoyed with him because he’s such a stick in the mud and she comes from such a different place. So it sort of creates a wedge between them as well.”
Q: Art expert Simon Bricker?
“He’s a very seductive, other type of man that has so much in common with Cora in the way that Robert doesn’t. They both love art and are both fascinated by the history of the paintings. All stuff that Robert probably totally takes for granted. So I think that’s very seductive and a very heady thing for Cora.”
Q: You’ve been an American living in London for quite some time now?
“I’ve been here 21 years. And I actually haven’t even gone back to America all of that much in that time. But I, funnily enough, still feel very strongly connected to my identity as an American. I think that’s partly why I love doing this music that I do because it is very American in sound. And I think it’s sort of comforting to me.
“The day Starbucks arrived I got on my hands and my knees and I thanked God because that was a long time coming. All that’s happened. But I still feel I identify myself as being American and I’m not sure what that’s about. Maybe you never lose that. Because I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived in any other city.”
Q: Your band – Sadie And The Hotheads v acting?
“It’s just such a different world. It’s weird even for me. I can’t keep both in my head at once. So I tend to switch off totally from one and then switch off totally from another. But it’s nice also to have both going.”
Q: Downton’s huge success in America?
“I suspect that my friends who are actresses my age, who are American, are really envious because they don’t do shows like this in America. It’s not part of their culture. As much as I get frustrated because Cora is quite a passive character, you wouldn’t even have any characters that age that are in a mainstream TV show in America. They would be just so not interested. They don’t do that sort of period drama.”
Q: Lady Mary?
“I find her character so interesting because she’s right on the cusp of change and growth all the time. I love her story this year. She’s becoming an independent woman and exploring things for herself.”
Q: Aside from Cora and Robert, there are examinations of love in this fifth series?
“Well, there’s a thing that bubbles in different strands where people are touched by romantic love unexpectedly or the memory of romantic love comes back unexpectedly. And they sort of weave in and out. A bit like a Shakespeare play. There’s a repercussion of a romantic entanglement and it sort of very subtly works into the tapesty, the whole first beat of the season.”
Q: Working with Hugh Bonneville?
“He’s just lovely. I really love him. We’re just very comfortable. I feel very relaxed about saying whatever it is I need to say and he completely takes it in his stride. And I think he feels the same about me. There’s not a lot of heavy things to have to negotiate, which would be really exhausting if we had to do that for five years. We always had that shorthand. You can tell. He’s a very easy person to be around.”
Hugh Bonneville (Robert, Earl of Grantham):
“I’m very fond of Robert. He makes some mistakes here and there but he means well. We see in this series – I think he finds his feet, stands up for what he believes in.”
Q: The arrival of Richard E. Grant as art expert Simon Bricker?
“Well, put it this way, you’ve seen in episode one that they’ve (Robert & Cora) been married for 34 years and perhaps there’s an element of taking things for granted. And when a man like Richard E. Grant comes over the horizon to look at your art work…you should check all your etchings.” (laughs)
Q: Public reaction?
“The days of people asking if they can take your picture have gone, unfortunately. And that’s a sadness. I think everyone thinks they have the right for a selfie, whether you want to do it or not.
“I’ve been invited to someone’s wedding. Someone I had never met. I got an invitation to go to Florida. I was looking in the envelope for the air ticket but it wasn’t there. (laughs) And some Prince of somewhere was having a Downton-themed night and would I go along and stand around in my costume? No. So you do get a few odd things like that. But they’re all fairly good natured, I think.”
Q: Robert’s relationship with his daughters?
“I’m very protective of my girls. We all get on fantastically well and we hang out together off set as well as on. But I’m very protective of Michelle and Laura. Robert got it spectacularly wrong (with Mary) in the modern sense, on our perspective of how to cope with grief. And he completely cocooned her. Thought that was the most sensible way to get her through her grief. And, of course, it was just spectacularly inappropriate. But having come out of that mist and gloom, she’s back on the market. Robert wants her to be happy. And poor old Edith, still waiting for Michael Gregson to return from Germany. So he wants the best for his daughters.”
Q: The War Memorial story – Robert giving way to Mr Carson.
“It’s a fairly obvious point that Julian is making and he does it through the character of Violet who says, ‘In your father’s day he told the village what they thought.’ And now things are changing. Democracy is creeping into the estate. And obviously much more threatening is the potential of the Labour government to destroy houses and estates like Downton. That’s what Robert thinks is going to happen. And it’s all doom and gloom. And there was. There was a real sense that this strata of society was going to be smashed to bits. It didn’t happen as violently as that. There was no revolution. But the gradual dismantling of these estates through death duties and everything else was inevitable, really. Particularly after the Second World War. But family is everything for Robert.”
Q: The storyline about Russian refugees starting from episode three?
“I found that a really touching and delightful storyline that develops. It was great. You really felt the sense of this displaced community. It was almost Chekhovian with having all the Russians that came to visit the house and particularly to visit one of the characters. It brought the world at large – in the same way that the First World War had been such a major character, here you get a sense of the displaced people of Europe after the revolution, eking out their lives in a foreign country. Which unfortunately is horribly resonant today.”
Q: Working on The Monuments Men film. Were other cast already fans of Downton?
“I didn’t encourge them to watch it. What was interesting was, some of the crew, particularly the script supervisor, she was utterly obsessed. And because I was commuting back and forth between Downton and Monuments Men, she would literally pin me to the wall and demand to know what I’d been filming that week. I said, ‘I’m not going to tell you.’ Matt Damon’s wife is a great fan. They were going to watch it together, he said. But he came home one day and she’d watched eight episodes. And he said, ‘That’s annoying because I have to catch up.’ And she said, ‘Well I can tell you what happened.’ (laughs) So I don’t think he’s caught up. John Goodman watches it, I think. And I don’t think Bill Murray had even heard of it.”
Q: Do you watch Downton at home?
“I sit down and watch it live on a Sunday when it comes out because I won’t have seen it or heard it since the read through. We film obviously in isolation. I haven’t seen the downstairs scenes, what will have been going on with them. And sometimes you can lose track. Because we’re filming all out of sequence the whole time, you lose track of the thread of your own story. So it’s really lovely to sit down and watch it like anyone does. And to see what everyone else has been up to. I know what I’ve been up to but I don’t know about everyone else.”
Q: Downton’s filming schedule?
“Allen Leech (Tom Branson) is very good at keeping people’s spirits up because these are long punishing days for the crew. We work 11 day fortnights which, I think, is inhumane on a crew. We’ve got make-up starting at, say, half five in the morning and finishing at nine at night. So they’re pretty knackered. So to have someone with the energy and good nature of…well, I think everyone is pretty good natured, to be honest. But Allen’s the court jester.”
Q: A second series of W1A?
“We’re going to squeeze some more W1A in. We could only do four this year because of Downton. It had already bashed into Downton. So that was a shame. So we’re going to eke out a few more in January.”