Downton Abbey film set to steal The Crown's crown with new royal visitor
When the cast of Downton Abbey disappeared from television screens at the end of their final series, they promised it would take something exceptional to lure them back.
That something, it appears, could be coming in the form of a little Royal sparkle, as the Crawley family reunite for a new film under the monarch’s coat of arms.
Photographs from the set of the Downton Abbey film show Hugh Bonneville in character as Lord Grantham, appearing to be dressed in his uniform as the Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire.
To his left is a new addition to the cast played by Geraldine James, bearing a striking resemblance to Queen Mary.
Such a royal visitor is likely to be popular with fans of the period drama, with Netflix series The Crown, based on the true history of the Royal family, winning critical acclaim and viewers since Downton disappeared from Sunday nights.
The film, written by Lord Fellowes, is understood to be set in the late 1920s, with characters including Dame Maggie Smith appearing no older than they were when the television series finished at Christmas 2015.
Footage and still photographs from set in Lacock, Wiltshire, showed much-loved characters including Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery, Lady Edith, played by Laura Carmichael, and Cora, played by Elizabeth McGovern, returning to Downton.
New members of the cast include James, who has starred in Jewel in the Crown, Band of Gold and was nominated for a Tony for her work on stage, and Imelda Staunton, the Olivier Award-winning actress who is also married to Downton cast member Jim Carter.
Neither of the actress’s characters have yet been confirmed.
But observant fans noticed the Royal coat of arms mounted prominently over the head of James’ character, who is dressed in a fur wrap, hat and high-necked dress and offered a far more ornate and comfortable seat than her companions, the Earl and Countess of Grantham.
Her costume is reminiscent of the style of Queen Mary, the husband of George V and the Queen’s grandmother, remembered for her strict devotion to duty and the maintenance of standards, as well as her splendid fashion sense, jewellery and corsets.
The real Queen Mary was sometimes accompanied on public engagements by her daughter Mary, the Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood.
The creators have Downton Abbey have said little about the plot of the film, confirming only that it is in production and will be out in 2019.
The Countess of Carnarvon of Highclere Castle, the country estate which was transformed into the on-screen “Downton Abbey”, has hinted that filming will be returning to her stately home soon.
Sources working on Downton Abbey refused to confirm or deny whether the Royal family would feature in the film’s plot, while a spokesman did not return a request for comment.
A book produced to go along with the television series in 2014 spells out the context, stating: “While Lord Grantham is the Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire, Downton Abbey must always be prepared to host The Majesties the King and Queen or other members of the Royal Family if their duties call them to the county.”
The show has, of course, had links to real royalty: in 2015, the Duchess of Cambridge, a fan, visited the set at Ealing Studios to meet the cast.