Julian Fellowes on the New “Downton Abbey” Film

Julian Fellowes is writer-producer of feel-good mega-hit “Downton Abbey,” the upstairs-downstairs drama that’s full of nostalgia for old-fashioned British grandeur. The award-winning TV series is now a film, with all the familiar characters returning to the big screen. Fellowes joins the program from New York to talk about what keeps pulling him – and us – back to this bygone era.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: So I want to ask you, what did you use as a kind of dramatic device to make the film somewhat different than the sceneries? You have a royal visit, right?

JULIAN FELLOWES, ACTOR: I use the royal visit because I wanted an event that would tie them all together, the family, the servants, the people living locally, all of it and pull them all together in one central storyline. We didn’t do that in the series. You know, we have upstairs, Mary’s heart would be breaking as she was trying out some new boyfriend. And downstairs, Daisy would be going out, buying a suitcase. They didn’t really connect. But I felt it was important to give the film a kind of unity and so that all the sub-clouts of which as is the Downton way, there are plenty, would all come off the central theme. And it seemed me that the royal visit would do that. I got the idea from reading a book about another Yorkshire house and it touched on the fact that the king and the queen made a visit to the country of Yorkshire in 1912. And as I was reading, I go, oh this is it because even for those who are oppose to the monarchy and the Republican, nevertheless, it will still put them on their toes. It will still all excite them, even if it only angers them so that everyone will be invested in this visit. And that’s why I went with it.

AMANPOUR: And so we’re talking late 1920s and it’s the visit to Downton of King George V and Queen Mary. And as such, you talked about characters a moment ago and beloved characters. Well, Lady Mary is one of them but also is the Lord of downstairs, and that is Carson, the chief butler who is now retired and Lady Mary goes in desperation to seek his help for this visit. We’re going to play this clip.


LADY: Carson.

CARSON: Lady, please come in. This is an honor.

LADY: I didn’t want to be a nuisance but I need your help, Carson. Barrow just isn’t up to the task.

CARSON: My Lady?

LADY: He won’t clean the silver or he won’t under clean it.


LADY: He says the page (inaudible) will choose which pieces to use.

CARSON: I see.

LADY: The truth is, he’s in a sort of trance. Wouldn’t you help me? I feel I’m pushing a rock uphill.

CARSON: I’ll be there in the morning, my Lady. Don’t you worry.

LADY: You’re a treasure, Carson. That’s all there is to say. I’ll see myself out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You never refuse her anything.


AMANPOUR: So Carson to the rescue again.

FELLOWES: Carson comes bang to save the day.

AMANPOUR: And save it well. Tell me about your cast of characters, including the animals and what you draw from real life.

FELLOWES: The royal visit is based on various royal visits. And it gave us a very filmmaker opportunity for a tremendous parade with the kings’ own guns and horses and so on. but also, a ball and great banquet and everything else.

About This Episode EXPAND

Jonathan Safran Foer speaks to Christiane Amanpour about his new book “We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast.” Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson joins the program to talk policy plans and what it will take for her party to beat Trump in 2020. Julian Fellowes discusses the new “Downton Abbey” film.