Hugh Bonneville on "herding cats" and the new Downton movie

Hugh Bonneville
Hugh Bonneville

Three years ago Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville said getting the cast together once again for a film would be “like herding cats”.

But the cats were duly herded… and the big-screen version of the massively-successful TV series is on the horizon.

Downton Abbey – in which Hugh played Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham – first hit the television screens on September 26 2010. The final episode of the sixth and last series aired on November 8 2015.

Now it transfers to cinemas for Downton Abbey the movie – and is released this week (September 13)

The television series followed the lives of the Crawley family and the servants who worked for them at the turn of the 20th century in an Edwardian English country house.

By the end of its run, it had gained three Golden Globe Awards, 15 Primetime Emmy Awards, 69 Emmy nominations in total, making it the most nominated non-US television show in the history of the Emmys.

It also gained a Guinness World Record for the highest critically rated TV show along the way.

As Hugh, who lives near Midhurst, says: “The fact is that we all wanted to do it. The film had been talked about ever since we finished the series, and there had been incarnations of scripts and stories that had not quite landed or people had been tied up elsewhere.

“But when it came to it, (executive producers) Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame patiently got everyone together and gradually reeled everyone into their net and put them all back at Highclere (where the series was filmed).

“It was great. When we got to the read-through, we were all thinking ‘Can it really have been three years ago or whatever?’ because really it just felt like yesterday. Everyone had gone off and done different things but here we all were, back in the same room with a script that really engaged.”

So what is the difference between television and film?

“The direct comparison is quite quantifiable. The main difference really is the sense of the story arc. Julian had to create a finite story within the structure of a 100-minute film, but also it was the sense of scale.

“With a film, you are working towards a 70-foot screen.

“There is a much greater sense of opening up.

“We have got a great big parade scene which is going to look epic on the big screen. We could have done it for television, but it would have had to have been much, much smaller scale. With the film, we had something like 90 horses.”

But one continuity which cast and crew enjoyed from the TV series was that the weather for the film, just as it had been for the television version, proved generally kind.

And it simply felt right.

Hugh recalls the launch of the final TV series in America, in Washington DC in a university theatre.

“Usually you would be watching with your family or a group of friends, but we were watching this episode in the theatre with 200 people there, laughing when it was funny or pin-drop silence when it wasn’t.

“And I remember thinking ‘This could really work as a film.’ That shared experience which connects us all as audience members and that engagement with a piece of entertainment, we had that, and I hope that never leaves us.”

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