Although it’s been almost four years since the show was put to bed, Downton Abbey is returning for one last hurrah with a feature length film hitting cinemas on 13 September.
Ahead of the movie’s release, we sat down with Hugh Bonneville, who plays Robert Grantham, lord of the manor to discuss what it’s been like returning to the role and to Downton after four years away.
From watching Downton take to the big screen for the first time, to the uncomfortable costumes, Hugh Bonneville shared his experience of filming the new movie with us…
Tell us about your role…
I play Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, who’s the big daddy of the household. In the past, we’ve seen him trying to wrestle his daughters [Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery, and Edith Pelham, played by Laura Carmichael] into shape, deal with financial catastrophes and deal with various injuries - both upstairs and downstairs. And I think it’s safe to say that, as we enter the story of our movie, he’s in a fairly calm place for once.
Why do you think the world fell for Robert Crawley?
Well… I think most people relate to what it’s like to run a several thousand-acre estate, to have loads of Labradors, 200 staff and various Rolls Royces, so I think Robert Crawley is very relatable... Haha!
If you can wade through that exaggeration, I think you just see a dad who’s trying to keep his family together.
How has it been stepping back into Downton Abbey?
The most exciting aspect of coming back to this world is simply being back with the same group of people that I spent six very happy years with.
What’s been the hardest part of getting back into character?
I never look forward to putting on the white tie and tails and the razor blade-type collars that the gentlemen had to go through. How they thought they could have a nice, relaxed evening with that piece of steel down the front of their chest, I don’t know!
But it’s been fun getting back into those fabrics and the suits. They are rather beautiful and beautifully made.
What’s changed since the series ended?
I don’t think much has changed. We’ve nudged on in time a little, so Robert’s grandchildren are that little bit older. You can see that time has moved on, but nothing too drastic. The world hasn’t shifted on its axis, and that’s fine for a conservative like Robert.
How did the jump from TV to movie affect filming?
Ben Smithard, our Cinematographer, has really raised the game in terms of the look of the film. And Anna Robbins, our Costume Designer, again, has raised her game. Just to put those two together, the sheer beauty of it and the detail in their work that you’re going to see on the big screen is going to make a huge difference. There’s a very lush cinematic feel to it, and I think that’s going to be very exciting for our audience.
How did it feel to bring Downton to the big screen?
Bringing the world of Downton to a big screen was a no-brainer. When we were in Washington DC publicising season 6, Allen Leech [who plays Tom Branson] and I went to watch a screening with an audience of about 1500 people.
Normally, the screenings are quite small. To hear that many people belly-laughing together and being silent in a pin-drop moment, we turned to each other and said, “This could really work as a movie.”
We’ve been aware of what a huge impact the show’s had on people around the world, particularly families. We’ve had so many letters and messages from people saying, “it brought us together,” so there’s an appetite for it. I think it will be a great pleasure for audiences - those individual families - to come together as one big family and watch it in the movie theatre.
Downton Abbey the movie is in cinemas from 13 September.