Ever so gentry does it
The much-acclaimed English series begins its second season
JULIAN Fellowes knows how to make himself at home in English country estates, both upstairs and down. The writer won an Academy Award for the Robert Altman-directed Gosford Park (2001), about murder and secrets among the gentry and servants at a stately home.
His TV series Downton Abbey, starring another magnificent mansion and its inhabitants, has been a hit in his native UK as well as the US and Australia.
The second season of Downton Abbey debuts on the Seven Network on Sunday.
The imposing Highclere Castle in Berkshire, England, is the stand-in for Downton Abbey.
World War I, which descended at the end of the first season, will figure prominently in the sequel and may move the drama off the estate at times, said Fellowes, the series writer and an executive producer.
‘‘We will go away from Downton a little but I never believe a series should lose touch with its base,’’ he says. ‘‘It (the new season) will be how the war affects Downton, how Downton can contribute to the war and politics.’’
The series stars Hugh Bonneville as good-hearted Lord Grantham, who is determined to keep his vast estate and family legacy intact for future generations. Elizabeth Mcgovern plays his American wife, who brought her fortune to the marriage, with Dame Maggie Smith as her imperious motherin-law. Romantic sparks are provided by the estate’s three daughters and by the servants. Bonneville, Mcgovern and Smith are among the cast members returning for the next season.
Fellowes says the drama has an inherently contemporary sensibility.
‘‘Quite deliberately, actually, we chose to place it in a period that is recognisably part of the modern world. It’s not Jane Austen – people don’t get into carriages and light candles,’’ he says.
British society appeared superficially serene but faced upheaval, including the push for women’s suffrage and political and economic transformation. The parallel to modern life resonated with UK viewers, Fellowes says.
‘‘People are aware of a sense of living in a period of great change. Politicians over the last 20, 30 years have been telling us things that are not true, making wars we don’t believe in, doing things that are damaging economically,’’ he says.
Unlike the era of Downton Abbey, however, Fellowes sees a worrisome social disconnect today.
‘‘The difference between the haves and have-nots then and now is that there was much more interdependence between the classes. The danger of our society is the haves have very little to do with the have-nots, and vice versa.’’
Sundays, 8.30pm, Seven, Prime7
Michelle Dockery, Dan Stevens Zoe Boyle star in