So much for the stiff up­per lip

There’s plenty in store for the res­i­dents of Downton Abbey, write Dar­ren Dev­lyn and Colin Vick­ery

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BENE­DICT Cum­ber­batch, the star of pe­riod drama Pa­rade’s End, is renowned for his colour­ful lan­guage. But how dare he speak ill of ri­val se­ries Downton Abbey.

What he was quoted as say­ing about Downton is sim­ply not in keep­ing with ac­cepted stan­dards of what is right or proper in po­lite so­ci­ety.

Cum­ber­batch in­sists he was mis­quoted when de­scrib­ing Downton as ‘‘ f------ atro­cious’’ and say­ing sea­son two traded too heav­ily on sen­ti­ment.

Cum­ber­batch was at­tacked by Downton fans on so­cial me­dia. Even Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Craw­ley in Downton, jumped to his show’s de­fence and sug­gested Cum­ber­batch’s rib­aldry was un­called for.

‘‘ Hasn’t he got bet­ter stuff to think about? ... Downton Abbey is fan­tas­tic,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘ We’ve made a pe­riod drama that feels time­less. It’s char­ac­ter-led and the sto­ry­lines are coming back to the house­hold.’’

Said by some to be more cos­tume soap than pe­riod drama, Downton has this sea­son rat­tled the emo­tions of fans.

The world’s most pop­u­lar his­tor­i­cal drama has al­ready served up a wed­ding, a birth, and a death.

Just when you thought it was safe to put away the tis­sues, there’s more heartache on the way.

When film­ing be­gan on sea­son four two weeks ago, two reg­u­lar characters were miss­ing.

One is miss­ing be­cause the ac­tor in ques­tion sud­denly wanted out. The show’s cre­ator Ju­lian Fel­lowes re­acted by killing off the char­ac­ter.

The death episode screened in Bri­tain at the end of last year, with fans vent­ing out­rage on Twit­ter and Face­book. Some claimed the episode ‘‘ ru­ined their Christ­mas’’.

Fel­lowes re­minded view­ers that killing off characters in Christ­mas episodes is a Bri­tish tra­di­tion.

‘‘ Most of the soap op­eras use the Christ­mas spe­cial to kill huge quan­ti­ties of their characters. So they have trams coming off their rails, or cars slam­ming into each other or burn­ing build­ings. It’s a gen­eral clear-out,’’ Fel­lowes said.

One of the show’s great chal­lenges has been pro­tect­ing fans from story leaks. There are plot spoil­ers ga­lore on Face­book and Twit­ter and cast and crew have strict in­struc­tions on keep­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion in-house.

Michelle Dock­ery, who plays Lady Mary Craw­ley, wife of Matthew, says she had a lot more to worry about than the weather in shoot­ing her screen wed­ding.

‘‘ We were quite lucky with the weather, but the thing I re­mem­ber the most is the se­cu­rity that we had to have on that day,’’ Dock­ery says.

‘‘ There were pa­parazzi try-

It does not all be­come rosy and easy. It was never go­ing to be happy ever af­ter

ing to catch a glimpse of the dress and any­thing to do with the wed­ding and that was what I felt the most ner­vous about dur­ing the day, rather than the ac­tual wed­ding. I had to wear some­thing over my head when we were driv­ing up in the car­riage. Be­tween takes they had to cover up the car­riage with um­brel­las. I ac­tu­ally wore a big blan­ket over my head.’’

The stars of Downton have also been told to de­stroy scripts af­ter mem­o­ris­ing their lines to avoid leaks.

Amy Nut­tall (house­maid Ethel Parks) adds: ‘‘ We’re all un­der very strict in­struc­tions to keep the scripts safe. We have to shred or burn them as soon as we have mem­o­rised them. We can’t just throw them in the bin in case they end up in the wrong hands.’’

Friends pester Dock­ery for coming plot de­tail, but not her par­ents.

‘‘ It has been a long time since peo­ple have had the rit­ual of set­tling down once a week to watch (a show such as Downton),’’ she says. ‘‘ They like to see it hap­pen with­out know­ing what’s next. My mum and dad have to watch Downton on a Sun­day at 9pm (Bri­tish times­lot) so that they can talk about it with ev­ery­one the next day. I think there is that kind of feel­ing with the show that peo­ple want to see it as it airs. I did that last year, I watched it ev­ery sin­gle week with the rest of the world.’’

Dock­ery is open in her en­thu­si­asm for the show and feels blessed its writ­ers have kept find­ing new av­enues of act­ing for her to ex­plore.

‘‘ It does not all be­come rosy and easy (for Mary and Matthew). They still come up against is­sues, things that they don’t agree on. It was never go­ing to be happy ever af­ter. It is great for me and Dan to play those mo­ments where they dis­agree on things.

‘‘ What drives Mary is con­tin­u­ing fam­ily tra­di­tions. Ul­ti­mately, she wants to have a fam­ily and to save the house. There is fi­nan­cial trou­ble and she knows that Matthew is the one who can save them. She wants to stay in the house.’’

Downton is filmed at High­clere Cas­tle, a grand es­tate in New­bury. Film­ing of the Craw­leys’ home life pri­mar­ily takes place in five rooms— the li­brary, din­ing room, mu­sic room, saloon, and draw­ing room. Scenes of the down­stairs life at Downton, such as the kitchens and staff quar­ters, are filmed on sets at Eal­ing Stu­dios in Lon­don.

Apart from Downton, Dock­ery is shoot­ing the TV adap­ta­tion of the Wil­liam Boyd novel, Rest­less. It also stars Char­lotte Ram­pling and Ru­fus Sewell.

‘‘ I’mre­ally ex­cited. I play Char­lotte’s daugh­ter and she is an ac­tress that I look up to — she has had such an amaz­ing ca­reer.’’ Downton Abbey, Chan­nel 7, Sun­day, 8.40pm

Mar­ried life: for Michelle Dock­ery and (above) with co-star Dan Stevens.

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