Category: Downton Abbey

'Downton Abbey' star: Season wasn't entirely 'to my taste' either

 

"Downton Abbey" star Elizabeth McGovern said the second season of the British costume drama contained many soap-opera elements, and that she's looking forward to a third season with quieter moments in the Yorkshire estate
After garnering huge buzz in its first season, Julian Fellowes' "Downton Abbey" alienated some critics and fans during its second season. Skeptics pointed to a barrage of soapy plot lines and implausible events (Matthew Crawley's post-war trauma, anyone?)

Surprisingly, at least one of the show's stars also feels ambivalent about what went down recently in Grantham-land.

Elizabeth McGovern, who plays the countess Cora Crawley in the costume drama, says she wasn't entirely pleased with the recent direction of the series about the aristocracy in turmoil, which wrapped up its most recent stateside run on PBS this past February.

"There is a slightly different tone to the second season, partly because the show had to deal with this huge elephant which is the First World War, and in some ways 'Downton Abbey' wasn't set up for that," McGovern told Show Tracker. "What's made the show successful and different is that attention to character detail and that's what the audience likes. ... Writers [in the second season] had to do a lot of glossing over the domestic life, and some of the small moments between characters that characterized the first season."

Then, acknowledging that fans felt a little fatigue at all the fast-moving events, McGovern said, "I was feeling that a little myself. It's kind of a taste thing, and the show in the first season was more to my taste than the show in the second season."

Speaking to promote her Tribeca Film Festival costume drama "Cheerful Weather for the Wedding" (more on that shortly), McGovern said  that "Downton Abbey's" third season will return to the character-oriented roots, as the series picks up after the Great War in 1920. The new season has been shooting in England this spring.

McGovern waved aside reports that new BAFTA nominee Maggie Smith, who plays the scheming Violet Crawley, could be off the show anytime soon. "You're going to see a lot of her in the third season, a real collision of worlds between Maggie and Shirley MacLaine," McGovern said, alluding to the Oscar winner's new part as Cora Crawley's mother.

Born in Illinois, McGovern had a successful run as a film and theater actress in the U.S. before moving to Britain and becoming a television star. She says she is as confounded as anyone by the stateside success of "Downton," which attracted more than 5 million American viewers for its finale.

But she does have a few theories about its success -- namely, that it's a reaction to much of what's on American basic cable.

"Maybe it's an escape from what I perceive as the nastiness of a lot of television that's just trying to be cutting edge, the things very prevalent on TV today with everyone trying to outshock each other," she said. "There's a nastiness that's happened. I think there's something about 'Downton Abbey' that people find it to be relieving -- essentially that these characters are quite nice."

She paused. "And the lack of texting and mobile phones. I think people find that to be a real relief too."

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Photo: Elizabeth McGovern and Jim Carter in "Downton Abbey." Credit: PBS

Maggie Smith grabs BAFTA nomination for 'Downton Abbey'

Maggie Smith

"Downton Abbey" may be a phenomenon in the U.S., but that doesn't necessarily translate into awards back in its native Britain. The series, currently shooting its third season, picked up just one British Academy of Film and Television Arts nomination on Tuesday, but it's one that counts: Maggie Smith, who plays the dowager countess, was nominated for supporting actress.

It's Smith's fourth BAFTA TV nomination, but she's never won. (She has won five BAFTAs for her film work, however). The fact that she's the only member of the cast to get a nomination underlines something "Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca Eaton told PBS supporters in Florida earlier this month (as reported by the Orlando Sentinel): "Maggie Smith is a handful, it's true. She's very difficult. She knows her worth, and she's tricky on the set, but she delivers when the time comes."

The question of whether Smith will continue with "Abbey" has been on the minds of the show's fans, who continually hear reports that Smith may or may not be departing. Carnival Film and Television, which co-produces the series, has said there's "no truth" to reports that the actress is leaving during the show's third season.

Even though the awards were for British shows, one American series did land a nomination. ABC's "Modern Family" was nominated for international series, alongside "The Killing II" (the original Danish series, not the AMC remake), "Borgen," another Danish series, and "The Slap" from Australia.

Several members of the "Sherlock" cast, which also aired on PBS, were nominated, including Benedict Cumberbatch for leading actor and Andrew Scott and Martin Freeman for supporting actor.

The awards will be handed out Sunday, May 27. The complete list of BAFTA TV nominees is available here.

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Photo: Maggie Smith, left, Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville in "Downton Abbey." Credit: Nick Briggs / PBS.

'No truth' to reports of Maggie Smith leaving 'Downton Abbey'

Downton AbbeyHow much longer will the Dowager Countess of Grantham be hanging around Downton Abbey?

That's the question prompted by a report in Britain's Daily Mail that Dame Maggie Smith wants out of "Downton Abbey" after its third season. According to the report, Smith asked series creator Julian Fellowes to write her acid-tongued character out of the series so she could return to her career on stage and screen.

However, a representative for Carnival Film and Television Limited, co-producers of the hit PBS series says, "Series 3 is currently filming with Maggie along with the other cast. We do not comment on future story lines, however there is no truth in the story that Maggie is leaving the show."

What is assured is that someone will get written out of the show during the now-filming season. "Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca Eaton was recently speaking to PBS supporters in Florida and revealed that the new season of "Downtown Abbey," taking place in the 1920s, would feature a birth and a death. "Somebody pretty key in the cast, unfortunately is not going to make it," she said according to the Orlando Sentinel.

She also addressed the status of Smith herself, whose on-set behavior doesn't sound too far off from that of the Dowager Countess herself. According to Eaton, "Maggie Smith is a handful, it's true. She's very difficult. She knows her worth, and she's tricky on the set, but she delivers when the time comes."

The new season, which will air in the U.S. in January 2013, will also feature Shirley MacLaine as the American mother of Lady Cora (played by Elizabeth McGovern).

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Photo: Maggie Smith on "Downton Abbey." Credit: PBS

'Downton Abbey' season 3: Lady Mary's marriage and money troubles?

Maggie Smith

When "Downton Abbey" returns to PBS in January 2013, viewers can expect to see Lady Mary's wedding to Matthew Crawley and a lesson in the power for the pound and the penny.

That was just a taste of the upcoming season of PBS' monster hit, set during the early 20th century in England. "Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca Eaton was recently in Florida and gave a sneak preview of the new season to supporters of WUCF, the new PBS affiliate in Orlando.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the new season opens with the Crawleys waiting for the arrival of Lady Cora's mother, played by Shirley MacLaine, in the hopes she'll provide a cash infusion into the family coffers.

Of course, the Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith, detests feeling needy to an uncouth American. There will be some decidely testy scenes between Smith and MacLaine in the upcoming season, but according to Eaton, that may not be too far from real life.

"Maggie Smith is a handful, it's true," Eaton said. "She's very difficult. She knows her worth, and she's tricky on the set, but she delivers when the time comes."

The third season will be set during the Roaring 20s and is expected to be a ratings bonanza for PBS, which saw huge ratings for the show's second season finale in February, with 5.4 million viewers.

Eaton has also said that a prominent character on the show will die in the new season: "Somebody will be born, and somebody will die, somebody pretty key in the cast, unfortunately is not going to make it. It's the 1920s now."

Who's going to kick the bucket? No word, but the British press reported that two actors, Smith and Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley, were reportedly holding out from signing contracts for Season 4.

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Photo: Maggie Smith in "Downtown Abbey." Credit: Nick Briggs / PBS

'Downton Abbey' season finale draws crowd for PBS

Downton Abbey

"Downton Abbey" keeps expanding.

The PBS hit about the decline of the British aristocracy circa 1912 wrapped up its second season with a two-hour finale Sunday that drew 5.4 million total viewers, according to Nielsen.

That was up 28% over last month's season premiere and gave PBS its best numbers since the premiere of Ken Burns' "National Parks" series in 2009.

Overall, season 2 of "Downton" more than doubled PBS' typical prime-time average. And it drew a much younger audience: women aged 18 to 34 rocketed 251% over the 2010-11 average for the "Masterpiece" banner under which the show airs.

" 'Downton Abbey' has become a cultural phenomenon," Rebecca Eaton, the executive producer for "Masterpiece" at Boston station WGBH-TV, said in a statement.

What did you think of the season?

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-- Scott Collins

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Photo: Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery in "Downton Abbey." The show's second season drew big numbers for PBS. Credit: Associated Press

'Downton Abbey' recap: It was LUST, Matthew!

Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey

By the time the two-hour grand finale of "Downton Abbey" Season 2 is over, the only one who doesn't know about the dead Turk in Lady Mary's bed is the yellow Lab Isis. And that's because she was too busy being dognapped to get the news.

The secret slips out because Lady Mary is so darn miserable with Sir Richard. He's so serious! And controlling! "The awful truth is," she tells Matthew, "he's starting to get on my nerves." Hint: if your serious, controlling fiance is bugging you, don't go talking to your ex about it -- the fiance won't take it well.

Lord Grantham nobly asks his wife why Lady Mary is sticking with Sir Richard if he's so un-fun, and Lady Grantham spills the dead-lover beans. Luckily, we don't have to hear the story over and over again: Instead, we see that the news is being passed along.

PHOTOS: Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey

Lord Grantham confronts Lady Mary, and she is both relieved and ashamed. This gives Michelle Dockery a chance to do what she does really well, which is act two conflicting emotions all but simultaneously. It gives Lord Grantham a chance to say what may be the best line of the night. They'll deal with the scandal, he says, and she should go visit her grandmother in America, maybe meet a man who truly loves her: "Find a cowboy!" (OK, maybe that's not quite a good a line as "It was lust, Matthew!" More about that after the jump).

All in all, Lord Grantham takes the news of Mary's dead lover cover-up way better than the fact that chaste Sybil wanted to marry the chauffeur. Go figure.

We hear, by the way, that Sybil and Tom have gotten married in Ireland. And she's pregnant! Lady Grantham is happy; Lord Grantham says, "So that's it then. No return. She's crossed the Rubicon." His wife interrupts to remind him that all happened when they got married, while also deftly sparing him from piling on another tired cliche.

This is the thing about "Downton Abbey": Sometimes it is just not good. Sometimes the lines are limp; some of the roles are miscast (Sorry, chauffeur Tom); sometimes the plot veers, in classic soap-opera style, from the obvious to the ridiculous. And yet: it's still hard to give up, and easy to forgive. Look at that lovely house! Those lovely dresses! Maggie Smith! And Lady Mary and Matthew -- will they ever get together? 

Can we understand its flaws and love it anyway? Could this be, perhaps, the theme of this very episode?

The Crawley family and guests do country-estate holiday things: play charades, go on a hunt, hold a servants' ball. The servants are in less high spirits, because Mr. Bates has been found guilty of murder.

Continue reading »

'Downton Abbey' recap: Goodbye, cruel world

Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey"


The Grim Reaper came calling at Downton Abbey this week. But before getting into who shuffled off this mortal coil — that and other spoilers are after the jump — some other catching up.

Mrs. Hughes continues to bring food to Ethel, the former housemaid turned single mom, and conspires to bring her to the attention of the baby's grandparents. As usual, Ethel oversteps her bounds and bursts into the formal dining room, interrupting the aristocracy's dinner while displaying her plump baby. Grandfather is as scornful and dismissive as his son but later relents, offering to take the baby from her. Ethel can't bear to give him up, so it'll be back to the hovel for her.

Meanwhile, Daisy makes a cake, which finally gives her something to do other than make squinchy faces over how she didn't love poor dead William. But then she gets a friendly letter from William's father: yep, more squinchy faces.

Sir Richard offers to pay Anna to spy on Lady Mary for him. Not only does she say no, but she tells Mr. Carson, who decides he cannot work for the man after all and tells Lady Mary why. She's mad, and feeling increasingly trapped.

Anna and Mr. Bates continue their romance. Mr. Bates fears that his wife's death — a suicide — may lead police back to him. Could his wife have framed him (dum dum dum) from the grave? Anna puts her foot down and says he must marry her. He does. They spend a night in a fancy Downton bedroom together.

The same can't be said for Lady Sybil and her chauffeur Tom ... but I'm skipping ahead.

The malevolent, ambitious Thomas has plans for postwar black-market profiteering, but they go awry when it turns out the rationed supplies he's bought were mostly garbage. Thomas has been had, and he's broke, and so he hangs around Downton trying to be simperingly useful. He gets his chance.

Continue reading »

Late Night: Michelle Dockery says men are 'terrified' of her

"Downton Abbey" star Michelle Dockery tells David Letterman that men are terrified of sleeping with her

Can it really be you, Lady Mary?

Dressed in her 21st century finest, "Downton Abbey" star Michelle Dockery paid a visit to "Late Show" Thursday night, in what is a sure indication of the British drama's smashing stateside success.  

Dockery explained to host David Letterman that although she plays a posh character on TV, she's actually from Essex -- which is a little like the New Jersey of Britain. "I come from a very working-class background, so my family would have been downstairs in the past, as opposed to upstairs. People are often quite surprised to hear that, that I'm not actually posh," she said.

"Well, you look plenty posh to me," Letterman replied flirtatiously. To prove her modest origins, Dockery even affected (or perhaps reverted to?) an Essex accent. (She's lucky the Dowager Countess wasn't in earshot.)

It's unclear whether Letterman is genuinely a "Downton Abbey" fan, but, if not, he's pretty good at faking it, interrogating Dockery about her character's thwarted romance with Cousin Matthew. 

"Of course, I can't tell you what happens. It's forever will-they-won't-they," Dockery said. "On Twitter, apparently we've been called the Ross and Rachel of period drama."

Letterman claimed that he'd "never seen such bad behavior from a group of people living in the same house" as on "Downton Abbey," and (minor spoiler alert) asked Dockery about Lady Mary's infamous dalliance with Mr. Pamuk. "And what about the time you're having sex with the guy and he drops dead?"

"Men are terrified of me now," she joked.

"Has anything like that ever happened to you?" Letterman wondered, prompting a big laugh from the audience. Dockery said it hadn't. 

There was more sex talk ahead. "You've got some big problems ahead of you on this show. The one guy who's been wounded and you can't, I mean ... what?" he asked, a roundabout reference to Matthew's impotence. 

Displaying some naughty British wit, Dockery answered, "You'll have to wait and see ... if anything arises."

 

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Photo: Michelle Dockery stars in "Downton Abbey." Credit: Carnival Films / Masterpiece

'Downton Abbey' recap: The aftermath of war

Downtonabbey_elizabethmcgovern
Red, red, red. Red dresses, red dressing rooms, an insane red suit worn by Maggie Smith, red rising to the cheeks of an angry Lady Mary convinced that the story being told by a new soldier convalescing at Downton Abbey is not true. But you'll have to wait -- there's more about that after the jump.

Because first, the other big news: the war is over! Lord Grantham interrupts the servants' dinner to make the announcement. Wine flows! Toasts! Happiness all around. Later, everyone gathers to mark the end of the war with a solemn ceremony. Mr. Carson compliments him on it, and it's a sad moment, because Mr. Carson has agreed to depart Downton for the new estate that Sir Richard Carlisle is buying for himself and Lady Mary.

In case you're ever in this situation, you should know that poaching servants is considered bad form.

Although we're told the estate is massive, all we see of it is a deluxe balcony around what appears to be a center atrium or stairway. The series doesn't shoot on many locations, and it may well be part of Downton's real counterpart, Highclere Castle, where most of the series is filmed. This seems to have crept into the dialog, when Lady Mary dryly remarks that the estate has a better stairway than Downton's. That may be all we ever see of it, because Lady Mary is busy deepening her relationship with Matthew, by tending to him without being overly tender. She wheels him around, puts up with his whining, jokes with him with a deliciously dark humor.

Their closeness has got Sir Richard in cahoots with Lady Grantham. Cora seems so sweet, so smiley, so whispery, doesn't she? But that Elizabeth McGovern can be just as slyly manipulative as anyone else at Downton. Sir Richard thinks it's time to put a wedge between Mary and Matthew -- a Lavinia-shaped wedge -- and Lady Grantham agrees.

Why on earth Lavinia would go anywhere with Sir Richard is anyone's guess. Doesn't she hate him? But maybe her love for Matthew is too strong; maybe she regrets leaving. She shows up, and guess what? She's wearing red (well, reddish-brown).

Lady Grantham also orchestrates, with the help of the Dowager Countess, the distraction of Cousin Isobel to other urgent social matters so that Downton can be returned to its peaceful state as a private residence. I would tell you the details, but I was too distracted by Maggie Smith's gravity-defying hats.

Beware, after the jump there be spoilers.

Continue reading »

'SNL' knows that even macho dudes love 'Downton Abbey' [video]

Downton abbey saturday night live spike skit
We already know that "Downton Abbey" has won over a far wider audience than the usual PBS "Masterpiece" fare. But this weekend, a "Saturday Night Live" skit mocked Downton-mania by imagining a crossover between fans of Lord Grantham and the cars, tattoos and extreme sports-loving young male Spike TV viewer.

The spoof  "Downton" ad featured the Spike narrator explaining the premise for dudes: "They've got three daughters named Hot, Way Hot and The Other One." He goes on to describe the beloved, sharp-tongued dowager played by Maggie Smith as an "old lady who looks like a chicken. We hated her at first but then we got high and she made us crack up."

What about the servants? They're "a bunch of tuxedo'd people who live in the basement and their lives suck!" All too true -- though as critic Mary McNamara pointed out this weekend, the show doesn't paint a realistic portrait of the era's class relations.

If "Downton" fans are smart, they'll start campaigning for Maggie Smith to host "SNL" sometime soon. It worked with Betty White.

The video is below, complete with some late-night language:

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Caption: Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey." Credit: PBS.

 

'Downton Abbey' recap: Oh no, Matthew!

Matthewcrawley_lavinia
Rats lurk, the landscape is barren and the British soldiers ready themselves for a charge against the Germans. Not just any soldiers: it’s the troops led by Matthew Crawley with his faithful assistant William, the former footman. There is much stiff-upper-lipping, and then the quixotic race across a muddy field as the men are shot and bombarded. A few Germans are taken prisoner, but what does that matter when Matthew (and William) are down?

Back at Downton, not one but two ladies feel the cold hand of fate clutching at their men. In the kitchen, Daisy starts (maybe she loves William after all?) and upstairs, a teacup slips from the hand of Lady Mary, who feels a chill.

Actual news takes longer to travel, however, and it’s the middle of the night when Molesley shows up with a telegram meant for Isobel, who herself is off in France aiding the Red Cross. With the entire family standing around in their robes, Lord Grantham tells them that Matthew has been seriously injured and is on his way to the hospital in the village.

Then the camera pulls around and we see the Downton staff waiting behind a threshold, as if held by an invisible force field. “What about William? Is he all right?” Daisy asks. The telegram doesn’t say. It’s the most painful illustration of class difference in the series so far. The Lords and Ladies learn terrible news first, while their servants have to wait before they can even ask, huddled around a corner.

But just when the injustice of the class system starts to rankle, along comes Maggie Smith to make us embrace the elite imperiousness of a Dowager Countess.

After the jump: Maggie Smith’s best lines of the episode, and spoilers galore.

Continue reading »

'Downton Abbey' star Jessica Brown-Findlay talks war, romance

Lady Sybil
On the wildly popular PBS costume drama "Downton Abbey," Jessica Brown-Findlay plays Lady Sybil Crawley, the free-spirited youngest daughter of a British earl. This season unfolds against the backdrop of World War I, and there are many changes afoot at Downton Abbey. The sprawling family home has been converted into a convalescent home for wounded officers, and idealistic Sybil has discovered a new sense of purpose through work as a nurse. She may have also found love with Branson, her family's hot-headed Irish chauffeur.

Speaking with the same posh, velvety diction as Lady Sybil, Brown-Findlay opened up about her character's forbidden romance, why she would love to play Edith, and her starring role in the indie film "Albatross," now in limited release. 

The second season of "Downton Abbey" has quite a different feel, doesn't it?There's a weight to the second series because of the war and how much it changed everyone's lives. Everyone has to kind of roll with the punches far more than they did before. Before it was just a set of rules, and everyone just got on with that. 

Sybil really appears torn about Branson. 

There are many things she needs to take into consideration with that because obviously that kind of pairing, if she was to do that, she'd have to give up a lot in her life so it's a big arc. She struggles with that hugely whilst also just desperately trying to help with the war effort. For me it was far more challenging emotionally to do, which is great. 

Did you expect that their romance would develop as it has? 

I never read it like that in the first series. It was so funny because we hold hands for about three seconds. The amount of YouTube videos made up of this one moment. People are obsessed with them, and they hardly spoke three words to each other! It was quite surprising to me. The way that she is, she doesn't see people in terms of categories or where they are. I think she's rather embarrassed by her status. Maybe in fact it's a very good pairing. 

Did you do any particular research or training to prepare for this season?

I went to the Imperial War Museum. They've got letters and notebooks and diaries of young women who went off and trained as VAD [Voluntary Aid Dispatchment] nurses. I read so many of them. I learned to do hospital bed corners. I really wanted to do it justice. It was a huge sacrifice that these women did make. No one had seen people so injured and so changed. They didn't just have to deal with physical changes from war, they also had to try and nurse and heal the mind. That was a new thing at the time, that shell shock. It's quite a dark and terrifying prospect. I was really adamant to try and have that in my head. 

Continue reading »
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