'Downton Abbey' producer calls film a 'warm hug' in 'turbulent times'

By Karen Butler
The "Downton Abbey" movie opens in U.S. theaters on Friday. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
1 of 3 | The "Downton Abbey" movie opens in U.S. theaters on Friday. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Downton Abbey producer Liz Trubridge hopes the film follow-up satisfies the period drama's die-hard fans and offers a bit of respite to people troubled by current events.

"It's a really warm hug," Trubridge told UPI in a phone interview Thursday, a day before the movie's scheduled U.S. release. "It feels like you're coming back to people you know, to see friends and spend some time with them. Dear Lord, at the moment, two hours of escape from the craziness is two hours well spent."


The biggest challenge in making the movie, she said, was meeting fans' expectations.

"We already had a very high bar and we knew that if we were going to bring that to the big screen, we would have to raise that even higher, but we have a really good team and they all rose to the challenge. It's now down to the fans to decide if we've succeeded," Trubridge said.


Transitioning from the small to big screen meant telling a story that was epic enough to justify a feature film's budget and run time, while also giving each member of its enormous cast worthy things to do and say.

Set in 1927, the critically acclaimed movie finds the wealthy Crawley family and their loyal servants bustling about the titular estate and preparing for a royal visit from Britain's King George V and his wife, Mary.

Returning from the series for the movie are Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Allen Leech, Penelope Wilton, Laura Carmichael, Brendan Coyle, Lesley Nicol, Tom Cullen, Kevin Doyle, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Sophie McShera and Joanne Froggatt.

"Over the years of making the television series, our historical adviser kept saying, 'I really do think we should have a visit by the king and queen,' but we never did it in the TV series, partly because it is a big, grand thing and it would have taken ... all our money. But we thought [for the film] it is a way of uniting all of the characters to a common theme," Trubridge said.

Coordinating the schedules of so many busy actors for a two-month production was an "enormous task," she said, adding, "It all worked out. We managed."


Amazingly, the filmmakers were able to get every actor they wanted for the movie.

"Nobody wanted to be left out," she said. "We're family that all get on with each other."

While another season of the series isn't likely, the cast and creative team enjoyed their recent reunion so much they expressed interest in coming back for a sequel if the fans turn out to support this film.

The celebrity affection Downton Abbey has attracted is flattering, Trubridge said.

British Prince William's wife, Kate Middleton, is a super-fan who visited the set of the show.

"We heard that Mick Jagger really loves it. When the series was going on, he used to rush back [from concerts] to watch Downton. We love that," Trubridge said. "That's the thing that is most exciting for us. It really has appeal to a much wider demographic than you would think."

One doesn't have to be a member of the upper-class -- or even British -- to connect to the denizens of Downton. In a cast this size, any character can remind you of yourself or someone you know, the producer noted.

"These are universal human stories, and I think people resonate with that," she said, pointing to how half the characters are wealthy aristocrats while the others are the maids, cooks and valets who look after them.


"I think there is a connectedness that happens," Trubridge said. "As human beings, that's what we want to feel is connected to other people. There is something that, despite the external differences in Downton, they all care about one another. They are all courteous to one another. It's something that, I think, is very reassuring in our turbulent times."

Ben Smithard, the film's cinematographer, told UPI in a separate interview Wednesday that he worked hard to balance sweeping shots that show off the opulence of the estate and capture the compelling, occasionally emotional, interactions between characters.

"Sometimes you can't have those big cinematic moments when you've got small, quiet, intimate scenes," Smithard said.

"You could still make that feel cinematic -- the shots are held a little bit longer than television where scenes are cut very quickly. ... When there is a quiet moment with Maggie or maybe one of the other characters, you can't start getting flashy with it because it just wouldn't work. You can't suddenly have a camera fly around Maggie Smith because you think it's interesting."

Fans no doubt will rejoice to see Downton stand-in Highclere Castle in all of its glory on the big screen. The production spent three weeks last fall at the site.


"The house is pretty spectacular," Smithard said. "You can shoot any angle and it looks great. ... It's a pretty special place."

Created by Julian Fellowes, the Emmy-winning series ended its six-season run in 2016. Fellowes wrote the film and Michael Engler directed it.

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