“She’s treated far more like a grown up now. I don’t think her opinions and the things she’s doing are quite so laughable any more – because she’s followed through with them. She’s not just a flippant teenager doing things to bait them. Her sisters in particular see her as much more worldly now. She can relate to them in many ways but I think they all relate to each other now because they’ve had a bit more life experience.”—Jessica on Sybil’s relationship with her sisters, Edith and Mary, in series three (x)
As we reported last week, Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery – who of course plays the role of Lady Mary – revealed to new! magazine that filming for her character’s wedding to Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) was carried out in top-secret mode so as not to spoil the scenes for viewers.
During that interview, Michelle revealed that she’d “felt like Kate Middleton” during filming and while wearing all the finery befitting of a bride at the time.
She said, “There was lots of security when we filmed those scenes.
“The place was swarming with paparazzi trying to get a glimpse – I felt a bit like Kate Middleton!
“We were trying to shield everything as we didn’t want people seeing the dress before the day…
“It’s a truly stunning dress and I’m sure people will make some comparisons with the royal wedding.
“As we arrived at the church and stepped out of the carriage the crowds were just amazing, with all these supporting artists cheering us on.”
During the interview, Michelle, and her co-stars Jessica Brown Findlayand Joanne Froggatt, also discussed their delight at having received nominations in this year’s Emmy Awards, which will be screened next month.
Michelle said, “I was watching the live [nominations] stream with one of the girls. We were all over the moon. I haven’t even planned my outfit yet.”
And Joanne, who plays maid Anna, added, “I think it will take me about a week to get ready!
“There will be lots of make-up and hair tests and ‘what am I going to wear?’ moments, so that will be really exciting.
“When I found out I was nominated [for Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series], I jumped up and down and cried a bit.
“I went a bit red in the face. It was amazing.”
And finally, Jessica Brown Findlay, who of course plays the rebellious Lady Sybil – who ran off to Ireland with Downton chauffeur Tom, who’s played by Allen Leech – revealed that she’s just glad she wasn’t axed from the period drama!
She said, “I did get a bit worried when Sybil left, and Allen was convinced he wasn’t coming back.
“We’ve never known how our story lines would pan out.”
And when asked if the rumours that she and Allen are dating, are true, Jessica said, “No, we’re just good friends and we laugh about it.
“He texted me when it was reported. Maybe it just came about because we have good chemistry on screen.”
A prosthetic pregnant belly proved the most entertaining prop for Jessica Brown Findlay while filming series three of Downton Abbey.
“Endless amusement!” she says. “Once I had my pregnant belly on Allen [Leech, who plays her husband Branson] kept trying to tell everyone that I hadn’t got it on - so they’d just think I was fat.”
Sybil’s impending baby is just one of several seismic changes to her life. Yet according to Brown Findlay, they’ve all been for the better:
“A lot has changed for Sybil but we find her incredibly happy and settled. She’s been able to find her identity. She’s spent these months in Ireland with Branson, she’s had the joy of work, she’s felt an independence and she’s completely accepted there. She’s just really content. I think she’s still hoping for some sort of reconciliation between her husband and her family, but in general it’s the happiest and most content we’ve seen her. And of course she’s pregnant – so she’s preparing for her own little family, too.”
In historical terms, however, the so-called Irish Question now looms large over Downton Abbey, and Sybil and Branson find themselves in the eye of the storm.
“A big concern is the Irish Problem: her involvement in that and what it will mean in terms of the freedoms they will or will not have to come back and forth to the house. She’s in a quite tricky position. She needs to come back because her family demands it but she also needs to not take too much of an English stance on Ireland. She’s caught between two worlds in a way.”
Inevitably it all leads to changes in her relationships with her two sisters, Edith and Mary: Sybil may be the youngest but she’s also the first of the three to be married and pregnant.
“She’s treated far more like a grown up now. I don’t think her opinions and the things she’s doing are quite so laughable any more – because she’s followed through with them. She’s not just a flippant teenager doing things to bait them. Her sisters in particular see her as much more worldly now. She can relate to them in many ways but I think they all relate to each other now because they’ve had a bit more life experience.”
It’s not as if Sybil has ever been at loggerheads with her siblings:
“Sybil’s always had the love of the two of them. She’s never really had trouble – it’s a different relationship to that between Edith and Mary, definitely. Sybil and Mary will have heated discussions but they’re quite similar in a way. They take things quite seriously. Sybil’s relationship with Edith is interesting because she sees a lot of herself in Edith – such as never feeling like she quite fits in. Neither Sybil nor Edith have quite fitted the mould of a lady in the way their parents expected.”
For Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey, her first major role, has kick-started a promising film career, including a lead role in last year’s Albatross, playing a tearaway teen with some – but not many- parallels with Lady Sybil.
“Just the fact I’ve been able to do this job means that when I go to an audition I’ve got something to talk about. It’s meant that a lot of people have been very positive towards me: they only ever have positive things to say about Downton Abbey. Of course, you don’t want to be known for just one role but undoubtedly it’s allowed me to go off and do other things which is really exciting.”
And if she could take one thing she’s sampled in the 1920s and transport it forward to the present day? “Easy: the amazing fancy dress parties. People held mad parties then.”
It’s back – and better than ever. Richard Barber heads upstairs (and downstairs) and talks to the stars about what we can expect as Downton Abbey opens its doors once more…
By Richard Barber
We are promised a marriage, a birth and the death of a leading character. Yes, Downton Abbey will be back on ITV1 in the middle of September with a 90-minute, scene-setting special followed by seven more hour-long episodes and a two-hour Christmas special. Hallelujah!
Speaking as one who has seen that first episode, I’m happy to report that Julian Fellowes’s multilayered slice of life above and below stairs is right back to the form of the first series shown in 2010. Gone is the (necessary) freneticism of Series 2, with its dramatic unfolding of the First World War replaced by the daily doings of a family trying to pick up the pieces, and of the loyal band of men and women who serve them.
Says Fellowes: ‘This series is like that moment after a crash when you feel your body to see how many bones are broken. I think society was going through that in 1919 and 1920. Just how much of the old life was coming back? Were people prepared to do those old jobs? How much more money were they going to want and so on?’
The answers keep on coming. No one is under greater strain than the Earl of Grantham (played by Hugh Bonneville), who must find a way of balancing the books when the family finances are threatened as never before, a dilemma that we see in unforgiving detail.
‘The entire nine episodes of this latest series take place over 18 months,’ says Bonneville, ‘so everything moves at a much slower pace. That gave Julian the scope to really explore the characters’ relationships. The outside world still impacts on Downton, but in a much more nuanced way than in the previous series when the impact of the First World War blew the emotions of the house apart.’
For Downton Abbey’s faithful butler, Mr Carson, these are testing times as he strives to play his part in replicating the social order that prevailed pre-war. But Jim Carter, who plays Carson, is in no doubt that Fellowes has pulled off a difficult balancing act.
‘I think this series is back to the best of the first one,’ says Carter, ‘with characters you now know and love able to tell their stories in grand, cinematic style. The march of time has slowed down a bit. Yes, we’re into the Roaring Twenties but they didn’t really start to roar until the middle of that decade. I’m not sure Downton ever roared at all. It’s why I’m really looking forward to Sundays, when I can sit down with my wife [actress Imelda Staunton] and my daughter and watch something of real quality.’
Like the rest of us, Carter and his family will be enthralled by the developing relationship between Lady Mary and her fiancé, Matthew Crawley. But will sparks continue to fly between the combustible couple?
‘In the first episodes,’ says Michelle Dockery who plays Lady Mary, ‘people loved to hate my character. Mary had this icy exterior and was vile to her sister, Edith. Then, after the incident with Pamuk, the Turkish diplomat who died in her bed, she began to soften.
‘In the second series, the country was at war and every time she saw Matthew could have been the last. In series three, Mary becomes a mature woman. She maintains that pragmatic side, which can be quite bossy at times, but she’s really grown up at last. That’s highlighted in her relationship with Edith. They look out for each other a little more now.’
For Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley), this series of Downton was the best yet. ‘I had the most fun,’ he says. ‘At one point, I had to get dressed up in flannels, stride out to the middle of Highclere Castle’s own cricket pitch and have an entire team of extras bowl at me. When I got out, I was able to stay in so we could do another take. I also loved driving a vintage AC car. That and cricket. What more could you ask for?’
Lady Mary’s youngest sister, Sybil, comes back home for a family visit with her Irish husband, former chauffeur, Tom Branson. ‘In this series,’ says Jessica Brown Findlay, who plays Sybil, ‘she is truly happy. The couple live in Ireland where Tom [Allen Leech] has become a journalist espousing the republican cause. She’s also pregnant, the first of the sisters to be so.’
But it’s not so easy for her screen husband. ‘Tom Branson is trying to find the right balance between his revolutionary ideals and the happiness of his wife,’ says Leech. ‘He strikes up a good relationship with Matthew, who’s the only one who truly understands what it’s like to marry into the family from the outside. But Branson is completely lost in the world he used to work in. No one below stairs wants him because they don’t know how to act with him. And certainly no one welcomes him upstairs, so he finds it very difficult.’
For middle sister, Lady Edith, the war was traumatic. ‘But it gave her independence and freedom,’ says Laura Carmichael, who plays Edith, ‘and it has given her new confidence. Also, she doesn’t want to be left on the shelf. She considers Sir Anthony Strallan [Robert Bathurst] marriage material, even if her father regards him as too old. She genuinely loves him and feels they’d be very happy together. Edith is determined to follow it through.’
One of the show’s most popular love matches between valet John Bates (Brendan Coyle), and ladies’ maid, Anna (Joanne Froggatt), is tested as never before while Bates is incarcerated for the murder of his first wife – something that his second wife (and the viewers at home) believe to be a miscarriage of justice. ‘We start with her coming to terms with the fact that Bates is in prison,’ says Joanne. ‘Anna’s attempting to carry on with her own job, trying to be strong, but she’s also trying to find out more information and see if she can gather any evidence to prove Bates’s innocence.’
The prison scenes were filmed at Lincoln Castle in a three-tiered preserved Victorian gaol set within the walls. ‘I really missed working with the gang,’ says Coyle, ‘because Anna is pretty much the only person from Downton who comes to see Bates. He no longer, of course, has his trusty stick; it was taken away from him as soon as he was incarcerated. But the limp became a reflex action, so I didn’t find it too hard to dip into it again without the stick to prompt me.’
Rob James-Collier is back as black-hearted Thomas. ‘The main development in this series,’ he explains, ‘is that Thomas and O’Brien turn on each other. He’s jealous that her nephew, Alfred, is made a footman with very little experience and, as we know by now, hell hath no fury like a footman scorned. The trouble is, O’Brien’s cleverer than him. He goes up against her and that’s his big mistake.’ But James-Collier isn’t complaining. ‘Those two at loggerheads has given us some of our best scenes.’
Siobhan Finneran returns as Sarah O’Brien: ‘I love her,’ she says. ‘She’s funny and witty and yes, she’s cruel, but a lot of the things she does are for the good of the house and the staff. She’s not backward in coming forward and I admire that quality in people. A contemporary O’Brien might be an acclaimed businesswoman or a great lawyer. She sees everything before anyone else. If Downton went on for another 50 years, she’d probably be running the country.’
Shirley MacLaine makes an entrance as Lady Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson
There’s a new kitchen maid, Ivy, played by Cara Theobold, and two new footmen, Alfred, and ladies’ man, Jimmy – Matt Milne and Ed Speleers respectively – but no new arrival is more keenly anticipated than Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine who joins the cast as Lady Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson.
Says Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Cora: ‘I was in LA for the Golden Globes in February when I first heard that Shirley was to be my on-screen mother. And she didn’t let any of us down. In fact, she kept all of us laughing.
‘What impressed me was that she was so excited to be on the show – and she knew every character. She was a complete enthusiast. She gave everyone a boost of energy.’
‘Martha is extremely outspoken,’ says Shirley. ‘Her basic role is to plead with Violet, the Dowager Countess [Maggie Smith] to wrest herself, if possible, away from tradition and to embrace change. But a gunfight at the OK Corral doesn’t happen between Maggie and me. We do a little sparring but it’s more sophisticated than that.
‘Martha is not just a crass, cranky American coming in there to call a spade a spade. She’s very smart and sensitive to what’s going on with her daughter’s children. Violet is a human being with complications and a past of some pain. Martha understands that.’
DOWNTON Abbey beauty Jessica Brown Findlay certainly did her homework finding out what it was like to be pregnant in the Twenties after discovering that her character Lady Sybil Crawley is expecting a baby.
Jessica, 22, who sports a prosthetic bump in the forthcoming series due to be screened this autumn, says:
“It was lovely and I really enjoyed playing pregnant. It was quite an interesting experience and all the dresses were incredibly comfy as the Twenties were a good time to be pregnant.
“I did quite a lot of historical research and I talked to a couple of members of my family who are midwives.
“We had a lady come in to give us talks about what it was like to give birth in those days.”
The next series will see Lady Sybil and husband Tom Branson – Downton’s former chauffeur played by Allen Leech – return home for the wedding of her sister Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley.
Jessica, left, adds:
“There are birth scenes and labour pains but I can’t say anymore as I don’t want to give away the storyline.”
'Downton Abbey' Series 3: Do Lady Sybil And New Husband Tom Branson Fit Back Into The Family?
Lady Sybil broke all of the aristocratic rules when she fell in love with the Crawley family chauffeur, Branson.
After running away from Downton and marrying beneath her class in Dublin, Lady Sybil is now expecting her first child, but will she and her outspoken new husband be accepted back into the family home?
“She doesn’t want to upset anyone but she can’t live a lie,” says Jessica Brown Findlay, who plays Lady Sybil.
“She has definitely softened… finding a new place within the household… she was very scared in series two but now she’s truly happy and has found her place in the world with someone that completely understands that.”
In the first episode, the couple are able to return to Downton for Lady Mary and Matthew’s wedding (thanks to some money sent by a kind mystery person), but is there any chance of them staying?
“They go back to Dublin, but they do come back,” hints Allen Leech who plays Branson - who we are now instructed to call Tom, he’s no longer the chauffeur, after all.
And the defiant Republican and journalist for rebel newspapers even begins to make an effort to fit in with his new upper-class family…
“Rather than accepting the rules of the house, Tom finds the fine line between revolutionary ideals and a happy wife and it’s something he wants to keep a balance on,” Leech explains.
“A lot has changed for Sybil but we find her incredibly happy and settled. She’s always been able to find her identity. She’s spent these months in Ireland with Branson, she’s had the joy of work, she’s felt independence and she’s completely accepted there. She’s just really content. I think she’s still hoping for some sort of reconciliation between her husband and her family, but in general it’s the happiest and most content we’ve seen her. And of course she’s pregnant so she’s preparing for her own little family too.”
Downton Abbey returns to our screens next month for a third series and its creator Julian Fellowes has promised yet another – but will series four feature Lady Sybil Crawley?
Lady Sybil, who married chauffeur Tom Branson in series two, is expecting a baby in the next instalments of the ITV costume drama.
But Jessica Brown Findlay, 22, who plays the Earl’s rebel daughter, heads to New York next month to star with Russell Crowe, Colin Farrell and Will Smith in Winter’s Tale – her first major film role – and may not return.
‘She’s trying to find a New York apartment and plans to stay there until at least December,’ says a source. ‘She’s keeping her cards close to her chest about her future on Downton.’
The Downton Abbey star earlier underwent a dramatic ethereal makeover to star on the cover of LOVE magazine last month.
The 22-year-old actress appeared dressed in an ethereal style sporting messy hair embellished with flowers, pale skin, smokey eyes and dark red lips.
Jessica smouldered on the cover dressed in a plunging crumpled dress with her incandescent skin glowing in the light.
The shoot, styled by LOVE Editor-in-chief Katie Grand, was a far cry from the primped and proper character Jessica famously portrays.
After the otherworldly look is also a far cry from her usual English rose style in real life.
Jessica is no stranger to sporting a dark and mysterious look and in February she appeared in a haunting series of snaps for Dominic Jones jewellery.
Brown Findlay started her career as a ballet dancer, training with the National Youth Ballet and the Associates of the Royal Ballet.