‘Downton Abbey,’ the upstairs/downstairs saga continues as a hit movie

Downton Abbey‘s Dowager Countess Violet (Maggie Smith) might ask, “What’s a weekend?” –however the resplendent Focus Features movie is celebrating a couple of great weekends at the boxoffice. The movie based on the beloved PBS/Masterpiece series was #1 at the boxoffice its opening weekend, and was #2 its 2nd weekend. It took just ten days for it to gross a total of $58 million domestic, and an estimated $107 million worldwide. That should keep the Downton estate going for a few more years.

The success is a credit to cultivated movie goers who like a sumptuous tale well told with great dialogue. There are no special effects, just the lords, ladies, cooks and butlers we loved from the Downton Abbey series. The movie continues the upstairs/downstairs stories as it follows the Crawleys, an upper-class British family, and the working-class servants who keep their estate running.

 The cast and creative team from the six seasons of PBS’ award-winning Masterpiece series came together for writer-creator Julian Fellowes and executive producer Gareth Neame to do the movie. Now they have to make good on Neame’s promise that if there was a good response they’d do another one.

 Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) said, “I think if you can persuade all your friends to go and see the movie, then maybe we’ll do another one.” Allen Leech (former chauffeur now estate manager Tom Branson) definitively stated they’d do another movie, “Absolutely. If the appetite is there.”

 Prior to the release of Downton Abbey, Focus Features held a press conference with Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, and Allen Leech. All wanted audiences to see the movie and walk away entertained. Bonneville said, “It is to escape from the hassles of our current world. It’s a pretty nice place to go. And you sort of know you’re going to be looked after, because I think the characters in Downton Abbey look out for each other in some way. I don’t think we need to apologize for that. It’s just pure escapism and a nice place to be for a couple of hours.”

  Almost four years after they said goodbye to the series, the cast reunited on set to film the movie. And Bonneville reported, “It was a small miracle that Gareth Neame, executive producer, had managed to get all of us around the table again. We all linked arms and decided to jump in together. Because if we hadn’t all done that, then it wouldn’t have happened. If four or five characters had said ‘I’m done with it.’ It’s a great testament to the audience as well, because it was the audience who drove the enthusiasm and the constant question, ‘Is there going to be a movie.’ If they hadn’t been asking that, then we wouldn’t have done it. And again, a testament that we were a good band of friends over the six years (of the series) that we didn’t end up punching each other, and we’re happy to spend another ten weeks together.”

 Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Grantham) revealed they all are envious of the sharp witty lines Julian Fellowes writes for Dame Maggie Smith. “Let’s not mince words, we all want Maggie’s lines,” she said, yet added that her favorite character was Thomas Barrow, the gay butler. “I like early Thomas Barrow. I think that it was a very complex character that acted in ways that weren’t always the best way to act, but you could see that it was coming from a place of pain and frustration and I always thought that was really interesting.”

Dame Penelope Wilton as Isobel and Dame Maggie Smith as Violet (all photos courtesy of Focus Features)

 Allen Leech noted his favorite character was “an unsung hero oftentimes in Downton, Isobel Crawley. Because as good as Maggie Smith is (as Violet), she can only be as good as who she is fighting against. And I think Dame Penelope Wilton (as Isobel) is a very worthy adversary for her. I think the people really enjoy Maggie because they enjoy Penelope as well.”

Among the highlights of the movie are the great zingers exchanged between Violet and Isobel during their tête-à-têtes– although Violet insists, “I never argue, I explain.”

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.