After six years of televised heartbreak, suspense and ultimately bliss, Downton Abbey fans almost immediately wanted to know if there was going to be a movie in the works. No one knew this better than writer/creator Julian Fellowes, and for a little while, he didn’t even know that a film continuing the story of the Crawley family would happen in the first place.
As with any good idea though, it all started with an idea that would inspire it all. Fellowes described how the entire process began, as follows:
A long time I didn’t think the film would happen. It didn’t seem inevitable, I kept casting about for an idea. Then, a year and a half after the series, I read about a one-time olden days King George visit. It gave me the idea.
It’s strange that the man who crafted 52 episodes worth of intrigue, romance and humor could feel himself hit such a stumbling block. But then again, even by the time Downton Abbey had reached its end in 2015, it did feel like everything that could be done was already used up.
For Downton Abbey to have a cinematic journey, it needed an event big enough to put both the Crawleys, led by Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, as well as their downstairs staff, through their paces. And as he’d revealed to Page Six, all it took was a real life visit made by the royals in 1912 to inspire the film’s fictitious 1927 royal affair.
Which is interesting, as depending on when King George V visited Lord and Lady Grantham in that particular year, he’d not only have seen them in mourning for their lost relatives on the Titanic, but he’d also have been placed squarely in the first season of Downton Abbey. And how in the world do you continue your show when you already have a royal visit right out the gate?
Even with a great idea, the years between Downton Abbey’s film incarnation being first mentioned as a passing concern in 2016 to the film’s 2018 production window certainly presented challenges to the project’s prospects. Story was only the beginning of Julian Fellowes’ problems, as he wasn’t going to do the film if he couldn’t get the entire main cast back for the ride. Fellowes continued to explain his woes thusly:
You write notes, then redraft, then comes the casting process. The actors are all very successful now. Working everywhere. One’s on Broadway, one’s in a series, one’s making films, another’s on a London stage. I had to dance around to see who’s available.
In the end, everything worked out the way it needed to, and Downton Abbey is making its way to the big screen in its own time. With director Michael Engler’s film already open in international territories, the U.K. naturally being one of them, it’s set to make its US debut this Friday, after a one-night fan event gave domestic audiences their own chance to see the film last week.
Who knows? If Downton Abbey translates to the screen in a way that rekindles the love affair fans have had with the series, there might be more adventures with Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary, Laura Carmichael’s Lady Edith and, of course, Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, yet to come. For now, you can catch the film as it rolls out into wide release, starting with early shows Thursday night. And if you’re interested to see what initial critical reaction has been like for the film, you can see our roundup, as well as our own review of Downton Abbey, which are both available for your perusal.