Last spring, trumpets blared that the much anticipated Downton Abbey movie was a go. Since then, nada. What gives?
“We are working on getting the script right and then we’ve got to figure out how to get the (cast) together. Because as you know, people go on and do other things. But we’re hopeful to make a movie sometime next year.”
Thus was spoken NBC Universal president Michael Edelstein last spring, at the opening of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, an international tour of props and costumes. The press in the UK and the US went wild. Downton Abbey, the most popular UK export series to PBS since the original 1970s Poldark, has a devoted fan following, and rumors of a movie have been swirling ever since it went off the air.
But while outlets raced to get their headlines of "Downton Movie Confirmed!" up before lunchtime, a smaller voice down the red carpet of the same event piped up. Laura Carmichael, who played the mostly ignored Crawley sister Edith, made a remark that, in life-imitates-art fashion, was also ignored. “Well, tell my agent, because we’re still waiting to know. We’re hoping that will happen soon.”
Now, Edith dislike aside, chances of their being a Downton movie without Lady Mary's younger sister are practically nil. So if her agent hasn't heard about it... what was Edelstein talking about? Was he just fantasizing out loud?
She wasn't the only actor who looked askance at the news. "Oh, well, you’ve got confirmation before us. We have no idea if that’s happening,” said Sophie McShera, who played kitchen maid Daisy. And yet! The Sun, a major UK tabloid, insists they have confirmation that a budget for said movie has been greenlit, and the financing is there. Their money quote, released just this week: “It would take something big to stop the project from happening now.” Oh really? Then why do actors continue to insist they have no information?
Part of the reason for The Sun's running this article now is damage control on the part of ITV and NBC. Because only a few days ago, Joanne Froggatt, making the press rounds for her latest project Liar, threw more cold water on the idea. Speaking to the RadioTimes, she sighed that "There has been a lot of goodwill from all of us... but."
"Logistically it’s a bit of a minefield. It’s very difficult to get all 22 actors together. But if we can, everyone would like to do it.”
Personally, Froggatt said she already has an offer for her next project (though she can't reveal what it is.) And from the sounds of it, she'd much prefer to take it rather than hold her schedule open for a movie that cannot herd all their cats into the same place at the same time. Some of those cats are easier than others. Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan, for instance, are mostly BBC and ITV players, and are more likely to find the time to do a movie, especially if it's one that ITV would very much like to make happen.
But while nobody has Dan Stevens-in-Disney-films-and-Marvel-TV-shows level of success since the end of Downton (seriously, the best thing that happened to that man's career was a car crash), several of them are doing quite well for themselves.
Michelle Dockery, who played Lady Mary until the end, has multiple TV shows going on both sides of the pond (Good Behavior, Godless). Hugh Bonneville has an Oscar bait movie called The Rock Pile in preproduction for next year. And Brendon Coyle is busy filming both a brand new TV series Requiem and a movie about Mary Queen of Scots.
And that's even not taking Maggie Smith into account, who, from all reports has had quite enough of Downton Abbey, thank you very much. She called the very idea of a movie "overkill." But then again, if Downton time jumped far enough - The Sun speculates frantically that a script could focus on the 1929 market crash, or a run up to WWII, the same way the original series was a run up to WWI - Fellowes could easily have her already passed away.
With few details, and fewer commitments from anyone, the fanfare surrounding the idea of a coming Downton movie seems to still be far too premature for anyone to be counting their chickens. Not that it couldn't still happen, mind you. Where there's a will, and money, there's usually a way. But the current pronouncements of impending filming seem to be a little more based on the hopes of executives to bank on a known title, than the reality of actors and and producers on the ground.