From shocking twists to rising hemlines – secrets from Downton Abbey film set

The love affairs, tragedies and tiffs of the Downton Abbey toffs – and those below stairs – kept us glued to our TV screens for five years.

Now, four years after we waved goodbye to the Granthams, the Downton Abbey film is out on Friday.

Siobhan McNally uncovers the secrets of the eagerly awaited movie…


The year is 1927, and news of King George V and Queen Mary’s visit to Downton Abbey sends the household into a frenzy.

There have been many changes at Downton, which makes Lord Grantham and wife Cora wonder if it’s possible to host royalty on its pared-down, below-stairs staff.

When the monarch’s French chef – played by Philippe Spall – and his entourage attempt to take over, it becomes a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

True inspiration

Writer Julian Fellowes says the idea for the film came from a true story about the King and Queen Mary visiting South Yorkshire in 1912.

As well as tucking into lavish 13-course dinners, which included puddings served in sugar baskets that took four days to weave, the royal couple met miners and toured pit villages.

Julian explains: “After the First World War, the monarchy had to re-establish itself.

“At that time, much of European royalty had gone – the German Emperor, the Austrian Emperor, the Tsar of Russia.”

Friends reunited

Reuniting almost all the characters from the ITV series was almost a miracle in itself, and read-throughs were lengthy due to all the cast hugging.

Star Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) says: “The biggest testament to the film is that everyone turned up. We had hurdles getting them in the same place at the same time but there was a will to do it.”

Dame Maggie Smith (Violet) with Laura Carmichael (Edith) were the last to sign up.

Downton newcomers

Along with our old favourites, there’s also a sprinkling of new well-known faces joining the cast.

One of them, Imelda Staunton (who plays Lady Maud Bagshaw) is married to butler Carson’s Jim Carter in real life.

She says: “Jim and I got over-excited about getting in the car and driving to work.”

Simon Jones, Geraldine James, Kate Phillips, Tuppence Middleton, David Haig, Philippe Spall and Stephen Campbell Moore also join the cast.

Shocking behaviour

The TV series was known for its big reveals and the movie will be no different.

We will have to wait to see if a big name shuffles out of the big-screen drama permanently – but there is definitely a shock in store.

Julian Fellowes reveals: “Everyone was taken aback, especially at the read-through.”

Imelda Staunton adds: “You’re going along with the story then, pow.”

Allen Leech, who plays Tom Branson, has also warned fans to bring the hankies.

On location

The focus is on Downton Abbey, which is actually Highclere Castle in Berkshire, but two other Grade I-listed country piles make a grand entrance.

Harewood House near Leeds in West Yorkshire is used as the residence of Henry Lascelles and Princess Mary, the daughter of George V and Queen Mary.

But the grand ball scenes were filmed at Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham in South Yorkshire, which has the widest facade in Europe and boasts at least 365 rooms.

Soldiers on parade

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