‘Downton Abbey’ fans in the US – eagerly awaiting the broadcast of Season 3 in January – will be delighted to learn that a special program on this extraordinarily popular television series will be screened by PBS on Sunday, November 25.
In this one-off special, ‘Downton Abbey Revisited’, hosted by Angela Lansbury, PBS invites viewers to relive some of the finest moments of Seasons 1 and 2. It also features a look at some of the behind-the-scenes activity, interviews with the creators of the series, and with some of the stars. Of particular interest will be a few sneak preview clips of Season 3.
Academy Award®-winning writer, Julian Fellowes, and Executive Producer, Gareth Neame, give a fascinating insight into the origins of the series and of their vision to remain faithful to the traditions of the Edwardian era, whilst drawing together, in a contemporary style, the individual yet intertwining stories of the many characters around which the series is based. Well aware of the anticipation of US audiences in the run-up to Season 3, Fellowes has to choose his words carefully when talking about it. “If I say too much, they’ll cut my hands off!” he laughs.
Hugh Bonneville talks about the relationship of his character – Robert, the Earl of Grantham – with his screen mother, the rather starchy Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, a role which has already won Dame Maggie Smith (a national treasure, says Angela Lansbury) a Primetime Emmy® Award.
Elizabeth McGovern, as Lady Cora, Countess of Grantham, describes her three beautiful, wealthy, but squabbling daughters as being “bored out of their skull …. with all their energy being turned into this sibling rivalry and fighting and bitterness and jealousy”.
We hear how young ladies such as the Crawley girls had to dress two or three times each day, depending on the activities which had been arranged for them, and Laura Carmichael – Lady Edith – describes how, even if only the family were sitting down to dinner, the daughters were expected to put on their finest evening gowns, complete with jewels, and to have their hair immaculately dressed.
Dan Stevens (Cousin Matthew) and Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) give us a delightful insight into their stormy relationship – described by Dan as “the electricity that’s been sparking around and building up over the course of the series” – from its most unlikely beginnings to the proposal of marriage with which Season 2 ended.
Jessica Brown-Finlay and Allen Leech – playing Lady Sybil and Branson, the chauffeur – laugh about the frustrations of portraying two young lovers whose relationship develops at an almost unbearably slow pace.
From the cast of the “downstairs” characters, we hear from Jim Carter – Carson, the Butler – about the flurry of activity which characterizes life downstairs, and which is necessary to give the atmosphere of calm and serenity so important to life upstairs. Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt talk about the slow-burning, but burgeoning relationship between their characters – John Bates, Lord Grantham’s valet, and Anna Smith, the head housemaid.
Sophie McShera tells how her character, Daisy, the scullery maid – right at the bottom of the pile – was given the most soul-destroying jobs, and Siobhan Finneran who plays O’Brien, personal maid to Lady Grantham, expresses her delight at the “really really bad hairdo …. with sideburns” that she was given, to enhance her devious and scheming character. She does reveal, however, that the cast is like a family, and that a wonderful spirit exists amongst its members. “Most of the cast are good fun and enjoy having a bit of a giggle,” she says, likening the camaraderie shared to that of a stage company.
A fascinating preview of Season 3 introduces us to a new character to the series, Martha Levinson – the American mother of the Countess of Grantham. Martha is played by Shirley MacLaine, and Joanne Froggatt says that watching the two legends (Shirley MacLaine and Dame Maggie Smith) exchange their barbed comments was “like watching history being made”. The ill-disguised friction between these two characters is likely to be a highlight of the new season.
The country estate which is Downtown Abbey is itself far more than the stately home of an ancient and aristocratic family. It’s also a magnificent representation of a classic family drama – portraying the ancient blood ties of the Crawleys themselves, their relationships with their servants, the servants’ relationships with one another, and the preoccupation of everyone upstairs and down with the operation of the estate, its reputation and its well-being.
‘Downton Abbey’ has been as popular with critics as with viewers – Season 2 was the most popular PBS MASTERPIECE drama on record. It was watched by more than 17 million viewers on the PBS television channel, and another million watched online.
It has won a Golden Globe® Award for the Best Mini-series or Television Film, and a Primetime Emmy® Award for Outstanding Mini-series. It was recognized by Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed English-language television series of 2011, and became the international television series to receive the largest number of nominations in the history of Primetime Emmy® Awards – 27 in total.
As the most watched television series on both ITV (in the UK) and PBS (in the US) it has become the most successful British costume drama series since the 1981 television serial of ‘Brideshead Revisited’.
‘Downtown Abbey Revisited’ premieres on Sunday, November 25, from 8:00-9:30 pm ET, followed by an encore performance from 9:30-11:00 pm ET on PBS. Please check your local listings for broadcast times.
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