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Warning: spoilers for Downton Abbey are in play. If you haven’t seen the film yet, please return once you’ve caught up.
Much of the talk surrounding Downton Abbey’s jump to the big screen has been centered around just how momentous of an occasion the film makes out of such an opportunity. Depending on who you talk to, the moment that truly signifies the cinematic nature of Julian Fellowes’ latest entry in the Crawley saga will vary.
For Allen Leech, the man who’s played loyal chauffeur turned family member, Thomas Branson, since the show’s beginning, there is one specific moment that stands out. Namely, it's his foot chase to stop a would-be assassin during the Royal Parade. And I learned his reason for that particular distinction during a recent interview:
It just shows that we were really committed to making sure that it felt like a movie, rather than another episode of the TV show. We really wanted it to step up, and that’s a perfect example of that. That never would have happened, even in a Christmas special or anything, to have the kind of scale of even that sequence that you talk about, and into the parade with the king. That was definitely a sign that we were upping our game.
As if the big action between Branson and Stephen Campbell Moore’s Major Chetwode, the man who attempted to shoot King George V, wasn’t already the most action the Downton Abbey series had seen, it was also part of the film’s most expensive sequence.
Director Michael Engler specified as much when describing what it took to get the parade sequence on film, including the “action-ish” sequence that saw Branson and the Major go head to head.
In a particularly interesting turn when it came to the way the scene turned out, Allen Leech actually revealed a key change between what was shot and what was seen in the film:
I mean, actually the weird thing is, they were action-ish in it, but they’ve edited it, because I had to run across and get in front of all those horses, in the same way that Stephen Campbell Moore did as well. They didn’t have me go through, and I said, ‘Michael, why didn’t have me go through?’, that was another part of my action sequence, and he went, ‘If I did that, then everyone knows you’re gonna get him.’
So rather than let the audience off the hook with a simple conclusion, Engler and the editing team on Downton Abbey drew out the suspense in a way that only a major motion picture could. It’s the same sort of thinking that allowed Robert James Collier’s Thomas Barrow to earn a happy ending in his own cinematic storyline, and in a similar fashion, we got to see Thomas Branson’s foot chase presented in a more exciting manner.
Those sorts of choices are just further evidence that the success of Downton Abbey’s silver screen adventure isn’t merely in response to nostalgia, but also because the film is good enough to recommend to even the most novice of viewers.
If you’re a die-hard fan, seeing Irish political firebrand Branson saving the monarchy is another layer of nuance given to the character. While he may not agree with their politics, Tom isn’t the sort of man to allow physical harm to come to his enemies; and seeing it reinforced in such a way is breathtaking. However, if you don’t know the history of Downton Abbey, and are heading in cold, it’s a pretty unexpected action sequence in a series that’s stereotypically defined by drawing room conversations and bittersweet romance.
Who knows what the future holds for Downton Abbey, as plans for a sequel aren’t in the air just yet. But should the fortunes of this film be enough to put that prospect into development, it’s going to be exciting to see how Allen Leech and the character of Thomas Branson are further developed by the experience. The film is in theaters now, awaiting your attendance.