EXCLUSIVE interview with Hugh Bonneville

6 Mar

As a huge fan of Downton Abbey, I was thrilled to get the chance to natter with the Earl of Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville. Of course, I couldn’t keep what he said to myself, so please read on to find out what he thinks of Downton‘s huge success in the U.K. and the States.

Why do you think Downton Abbey has enjoyed such huge success?

“I’ve been involved in projects that have felt equally strong and confident and then they’ve not caught the public’s imagination, but something happened with this. I think it’s a combination of factors: superb writing, it was extremely well cast, the production values were ambitious, the attention to detail and an aspiration to authenticity was absolutely forefront in Julian’s mind – as it was in Gosford Park – which is what lifted that film above the ordinary. I think attention to detail is certainly one of the elements as to why this was successful.”

Did you always know you had a hit on your hands?

“When I first read the scripts, I thought this project was very different, very special. The scripts were pretty much immaculate when we came to the read-through and they changed very little after that. It’s a rare experience to go into shooting with everything feeling watertight in terms of story.”

Have you enjoyed the public’s reaction?

“I’ve had people come up to me in the past, saying ‘I love the film or the show’ or whatever. But I’ve never had people come up and grab me by the hand and say ‘Thank you for my Sunday nights’. It’s a very different feeling. Also, people have said they watch it as a family. That experience is all too rare these days. We on the production were all blown away by the reaction. Most of us watched the last episode together as it went out live and that was rather special, because we did enjoy making it and we’re really excited about doing it again.”

We’ve seen a revival of period dramas – Upstairs, Downstairs and South Riding have come along on the coattails of Downton and – of course- The King’s Speech has been hugely successful. Have we fallen back in love with the genre?

“It was an era of empire, where the cogs in the machinery of that empire worked and were in no doubt about how they worked.  Now, with hindsight, we might say that it’s a pretty crap system, where some are born into luxury and some are born into circumstances from which they feel they will never be able to pull themselves up, because they’ve been born into the wrong strata of society. With that to one side, it still was a system that had confidence in itself. I think we’re in a time now where we don’t know how society works; we aren’t confident as a nation, or as Europe, or indeed, as a globe. I know those sorts of pressures were there then, but they seem to be much more immediate to us now.

“I think the show wrongfooted those who thought this sort of drama had had its day, because it’s very character-led – bearing in mind in one episode the most exciting thing that happens is somebody loses a snuff box, so we’re talking about the minutiae of relationships.”

As the Earl of Grantham, you play a man living in a house full of women – would you say it replays your role as Mr Bennet in Lost In Austen?

“I don’t have daughters so I don’t know, but everyone tells me daughters are wilier than sons. Sons fall over, graze their knee, cry and it’s all over. Daughters sort of wheedle their way around the situation and lay traps for the grown ups. I don’t know if that’s a fair generalisation. I hadn’t even thought about the parallel with the Austen story, but of course it’s an encircled father trying to battle with all these women, and in Downton with the mother as well! So I think all fathers and daughters will recognise the dilemmas Robert Crawley faces.”

I’d like to add that Hugh is a very nice man and you can find out information about his work for medical charity Merlin here.

Please contact me at bonnetsandbustles[at]gmail.com if you wish to reproduce to any part of this EXCLUSIVE interview and credit any links to me. Thanks.


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