Julian Fellows of Downton Abbey says misery is not a must in entertainment: NPR

Mary Louise Kelly of NPR talks to Downton Abbey executive producer Julian Fellows for the latest chapter in the history of the Crowley family, Downton Abbey: A New Era.


Downton Abbey is back.


KELLY: Six years after Downton Abbey appeared on television, almost three years after its first spin-off film, now comes Downton Abbey: A New Era. Here’s executive producer Julian Fellows, who created Downton Abbey and introduced the Crowley family to the world.

JULIAN FELLOUS: I connected everything at the end of Series 5. I connected everything at the end of Series 6. I connected everything at the end of the first film.

KELLY: So what else is left for Fellows to tie? Well, on the one hand, the beginning of this new era for Crowley.


Hugh Bonneville: (Like Robert Crowley) You’re moving forward. You’re a captain now.

KELLY: Also a family mystery involving Violet Crowley, played by Lady Maggie Smith.


MAGGEY SMITH: (Like Violet Crowley) I met a man years ago, and now I’ve got a villa in the South of France.

MICHEL DOCKER: (Like Mary Crowley) What?

KELLY: And Hollywood is coming to Downton.


JIM CARTER: (Like Mr. Carson) Moving picture in Downton.

SOFI MKSHERA: (Like Daisy Parker) Will there be famous movie stars?

KELLY: Julian Fellows told me that for grandiose old properties like Downton, modernity can be a challenge.

COMMUNICATORS: These houses, these families where they survive – and many survive to this day – they need to make adjustments. They need to learn to live differently. They have to give up certain things, and so on. And it is much harder for the older generations to give up the older way of life than for the younger ones. And I think that’s being restored in every generation of existence, that all of us end up being told how to work with our children’s computers.

KELLY: If we’re lucky, yes.

FELLOWES: And it’s kind of a different version of what they’ve been through, really.

KELLY: I read an interview you gave, in which you said – and I will quote – “if people watch a show I’ve written, had a great evening and enjoyed it, that’s enough for me.” Julian Fellows, I read this and thought, Lord, it’s amazing how unusual it is for someone to just say, “Look”; I’m not trying to make something terribly high, contradictory or provocative. I want people to go to the movies and – gasp – have fun.

COMMUNICATE: Yes – cry a little, laugh a little. Sometimes you hope that you have aroused a very interesting thought, which they will consider later, when, you know, they are sitting in the traffic waiting for the light to change. I mean, I feel like a strong part of the entertainment industry is having fun. In fact, I am not trying to provoke the French Revolution. You know, I just like to make people think about things, maybe change their attitude.

You know, with a character like Thomas, the footman in the beginning, he’s a pretty bad boy. And then, as the show continues, I hope you realize that it was very difficult to be gay at a time when it was illegal. And gradually you understand his reserve. You know, if a crunchy old colonel in the north feels a little more tolerant, then great.

KELLY: Because you raised him, Thomas Barrow, the butler who gets promoted to butler – he gets a clear plot. He is gay. This is something that the series explores. Without releasing plot twists, we said that this is a happy film. You try to bring people a little joy. And Barrow is fine. It ends better than well in this film, which is wonderful. I was wondering, do you think it is realistic for that era almost a century ago?

FELLOWES: I think it’s realistic, because people need to find a way to have a relationship that fulfills them. And, you know, women were allowed to live together without anyone questioning it …


FELLOWES: … Rule or not. But this was not actually allowed to men. They had to have a reason to live together. And I think they find their reason. And I think it’s plausible, yes. And I think a lot of things like that happened in the days much later than that, in fact, when it was still illegal.

KELLY: Downton has always been for the upper and lower floors, the aristocrats and the servants who serve them. And you pursue all their storylines with equal fervor. I was wondering, looking at how you think about making a movie, which is – it’s a lot of privilege. These are rich white people swinging around their fairytale houses and their fairytale clothes. And I was wondering, is it any different to do this now than it was more than a decade ago when you first chose Downton?

FELLOWSY: No, not really. I mean, we look at a certain way of life. It involves some privileged people. It involves more disadvantaged people. In my own head, among the servants, you get the different types. You get those who are resentful and unhappy like O’Brien. You get those who adore family and adore them and see them as a soap opera like Carson. You get those for whom this is a job that I’m pretty sure were in the vast majority, like Mrs. Hughes. And I think that’s a pretty true reflection of this society.

I think in the end, you know, when you’re going to make a movie, any TV show, and write a book, what you’re trying to do is tell a reasonably true story about a group of people. You know, I don’t – I mean, this modern thing, representing something that nothing is valid that isn’t miserable – I don’t agree with that. I think misery is good to investigate and dramatize and everything else, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

KELLY: Will Downton last forever? Will we turn him into Lord Grantham’s …


KELLY: … I don’t know – great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren running around the house?

FELLOWSY: I won’t go on forever. So I think it would be a real challenge to make Downton last forever. Whether it’s over or not, I couldn’t tell you.

You know, I mean, one of the other things is that during Downton’s life, the whole nature of show business, how you make movies, how they play, the platforms – it’s all different than it was 15 years ago – I want to to say quite different. Now, of course, people complain about it in one way. But I think it’s also constantly throwing up new opportunities, new chances, new ways of doing things. And, you know, I like that. I think that’s interesting. And I like being a part of it. So if “Downton” needs to be reborn in a different shape or size, then, you know, I hope I’m part of that.

KELLY: Well, may I say, I hope you’re not ready yet, because it was a lot of fun.

FELLOWES: Well, we’ll see – none of us are eternal.


KELLY: This is Downton creator Julian Fellows. Julian Fellows, thank you.

FELLOWSY: Thank you for accepting me. It was very kind of you.

KELLY: The new movie is Downton Abbey: A New Era. It’s coming out next week.


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