by director Michael Engler
A project like the Downton Abbey film is a tricky puzzle to solve at every level. I suppose because there’s never been anything like the television series it’s based on, in entertainment or even dramatic history: a long-running period-ensemble-drama, with some of the world’s great actors—known and unknown; and with a passionate, international following. Fans from all over the world feel a deeply personal connection to the characters, Upstairs and Downstairs equally.
The storytelling structure of a long-running series and that of a two-hour feature film are obviously quite different. On a series, some characters are featured more or less each week as certain stories bubble up while others simmer on a back burner. It’s a long, slow-cooking feast that has the time to develop in rich detail, 20 or more characters’ storylines over 11 hours each season.
A feature film, however, requires a single, unifying event: in this case, one story that engages all of our main characters within a complete arc. But since these characters’ lives are so familiar to fans by now, we also wanted to check back into the private struggles and joys each of them is facing since last we left them. It’s quite a tall order that I think Julian Fellowes has achieved masterfully.
And given that the film would go back to the same places, with most of the original cast that people were perfectly happy watching on television, we needed to be sure to give them a reason to go out of their way to see it in the cinema. The fans are so loyal I don’t think they’d blink an eye at going, but as filmmakers, we wanted to be sure the experience earned it. It had to be worthy of the large-scale screen and the enormous audio power of the cinema. The Royal Visit does all that. It sets a new high bar for everyone inside the world of Downton: both upstairs and down.
It also re-set the bar for all of the filmmakers who worked on it. As a television series, Downton Abbey was known for its cinematic style and scope, but the film needed to give people what they could never get at home—a large scale cinematic event that feels as much like a homecoming as it does an adventure.
I hope the passion we all feel for this world and these characters comes through on the screen. In front of the camera and behind it, Downton Abbey is a world like no other.