As invasions go, it’s not exactly Hannibal’s elephant ride over the Alps, but why let perspective get in the way of a decent hyperbolic headline? For the intents and purposes of the next few hundred words, the cast of ITV’s Downton Abbey are, as we speak, exacting an Ocean’s Eleven-style plan to scale the Hollywood sign, commando-roll into studio lots, and bring Angelenos under their thrall. Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery are doing preparatory lunges. Dame Maggie Smith is polishing her grappling hook.
Of course, some of Downton’s stars were just that before they rocked up to the Abbey. Hugh Bonneville’s was a familiar face, and aforementioned hook-polisher Smith has been a member of UK acting aristocracy for so long they’ve given her a legitimate title. For the others though, a role in Downton Abbey has opened the door to opportunities far and wide (and the programme itself even landed a cameo of sorts in Iron Man 3). Here, then, are the Yorkshire lords, ladies and scullery maids currently making inroads in the movies.
Seeing Michelle Dockery’s porcelain face atop a body wrapped in anything that doesn’t require at least two maids and a silver-handled corset-pull to get on in the morning is a disquieting experience for Downton viewers. So perfect is the combination of Dockery’s doll-ish beauty, aristo vowels and period costume that the sight of her in jeans is as unsettling as it used to be to bump into your teacher at Tesco. It’s a question of context. Imagine Lady Mary Crawley in a shell suit; it’d be like putting Michelangelo’s David in jeggings.
Casting directors must agree, because Dockery is rarely seen in modern dress on screen. From Fingersmith to Hogfather, Turn of the Screw, Cranford, The Hollow Crown, and Anna Karenina, Dockery’s TV roles have kept her firmly in corsets and bonnets territory. It was a shock then, to see her in poly-mix nylon as an air stewardess in the trailer for forthcoming Liam Neeson action thriller, Non-Stop. From House of Wax and Orphan director Jaume Collet-Sera, Non-Stop sees air marshal Neeson framed as a murderous hijacker thirty thousand feet over the Atlantic. It’s a proper Neeson thriller, complete with ludicrous plot and a body count to match, and it marks Dockery’s first big silly Hollywood movie.
What would the Dowager Countess say? “Do you think I might have a drink? Oh I am sorry. I thought you were a waitress.”
Jessica Brown Findlay
Jessica Brown Findlay was very much the Robbie Williams of the Downton crowd, in that she was young, cheeky, and the first to go solo, not that she got fat, started hanging around Oasis and almost married an All Saint. Leaving the role of Lady Sybil behind in series three, the actress gave winning performances in UK film Albatross and Channel Four’s Black Mirror, but has since gone on to bigger, shinier projects.
Word has it that Brown Findlay was well into the running for the role of Sharon Carter in Marvel’s Captain America: Winter Soldier, before the part went to Canadian Emily VanCamp. Two of Findlay Brown’s forthcoming roles see her join the likes of Russell Crowe, Colin Farrell and Will Smith (2014’s Winter’s Tale), as well as UK stars Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy (2015’s Frankenstein, in which she plays “a trapeze artist/love interest” to Radcliffe’s Igor, something that tells us that Max Landis’ version of Mary Shelley’s novel is not sticking too closely to the original…).
What would the Dowager Countess say? “Sybil, stop constructing that young man and come and make a four at bridge.”
Lovely Dan Stevens (the prefix has been attached in a court of law; we’re legally obliged to use it) was the second original cast member to leave Downton, and has kept himself busy since. His first non-Cousin Matthew film role – romantic period drama Summer In February – didn’t take him a world away from the dashing chap role he was so well-suited to in Downton Abbey, but his second, Julian Assange drama The Fifth Estate, in which he played Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz, at least took place in this century.
Lovely Dan Stevens’ next release, 2014’s A Walk Among the Tombstones (coincidentally, also starring Liam Neeson) takes him even further from Cousin Matthew’s image, playing as he does a drug dealer who hires Neeson’s character to retrieve his kidnapped wife. Liam Neeson is good at doing that.
Then it’s back to tweed jackets and driving gloves for Lovely Dan Stevens in the role of Uncle James in Swallows and Amazons adaptation, but not before he’s lent his voice to bio-computer TIM (the UK’s answer to HAL) in the US remake of The Tomorrow People. Consider the invasion well and truly underway.
What would the Dowager Countess say? “Things are different in America. They live in Wig Wams.”
UK indie horror is about as far as you can get from the hi-spec, glossy, comfort-blanket world of Downton Abbey, which might be why Allen Leech (revolutionary former chauffeur Tom Branson) went there for one of his first film roles. Jeremy Lovering’s In Fear, in which Leech stars alongside Iain de Caestecker and Alice Englert on a weekend break that goes badly wrong, is due out in the UK in November.
That film, and The Sweeney (about which – being kind, the less said the better) hardly represent a Hollywood campaign for Leech, but his forthcoming role alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in Alan Turing life story The Imitation Game is slightly closer to the mark. You can also see Leech opposite John Cusack and Elijah Wood in music drama, Grand Piano.
What would the Dowager Countess say? “What is a weekend?”
A newcomer to Downton Abbey, Lily James (Lady Rose) is joining co-star Sophie McShera (Daisy) in Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 live-action version of Disney’s Cinderella. James is to play the titular role opposite Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden (Robb Stark) as Prince Charming.
McShera is to be joined by The Borgias’ Holliday Grainger as Drizella and Anastasia respectively, otherwise known as ‘the ugly sisters’, though Mrs Patmore would never countenance such a slight on her assistant.
What would the Dowager Countess say? “We’ll have to take her abroad. In these moments, you can usually find an Italian who’s not too picky.”
Lord Grantham’s latest role is perhaps the most Hollywood of them all. Bonneville is starring in George Clooney’s WWII action comedy drama, The Monuments Men, the US release of which has been pushed back to next February (reportedly, to separate it from this year’s strong Oscar contenders Twelve Years a Slave and Gravity).
Add to that the avuncular role of Mr Brown in the new Paddington Bear film, and the (potentially dead-in-the-water) part of the titular captain in 3D steampunk adventure The Return of Captain Nemo, and Bonneville is well and truly in the vanguard of Downton’s battle for Hollywood.
What would the Dowager Countess say? “Why do you always have to pretend to be nicer than the rest of us?”
– Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) is to play Henrietta in 2014’s Madame Bovary starring Mia Wasikowska.
– Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates) recently appeared alongside James McAvoy in Irvine Welsh adaptation, Filth.
– Jeremy Swift (the Dowager Countess’ butler, Spratt) is rumoured to be appearing in The Wachowski Brothers’ Jupiter Ascending.
– Siobhan Finnerhan (Miss O’Brien) appeared in UK indie, The Selfish Giant, directed by Clio Barnard, and currently picking up a truck-load of awards and commendations.
– Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Cora), when she’s not singing brilliant country songs about cows can be seen in Julian Fellowes’ next screenplay, The Chaperone, from My Week With Marilyn‘s Simon Curtis.
– MyAnna Buring (housemaid turned lady’s maid Edna) already had a string of wonderful TV and film roles behind her before joining Downton Abbey, most recognisably in the final two instalments of The Twilight Saga.
– Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley) has enjoyed and is enjoying an illustrious career on the big and small screens, from roles in 1981’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman to 2005’s Shaun of the Dead and a great deal between and since.
– Dame Maggie Smith, it goes without saying, has been a cinema stalwart since 1969’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and before. Smith was most recently seen in the Harry Potter series and grey pound dramas The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Dustin Hoffman-directed Quartet.
– Julian Fellowes (Downton creator and writer), himself no stranger to being in front of the camera, wrote the screenplay for the latest Romeo and Juliet starring Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld.
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