Any experience in the world can inspire a creator like Julian Fellowes to start a legacy like Downton Abbey. With the world of upcoming movies seeing A New Era currently in UK cinemas, and on the way to domestic theaters in late May, a lot of reflection on the past has been mixed in with looking towards the future. With Fellowes not being immune to that strategy, he recently revealed the teenage experience that led him to eventually start the beloved TV series that kicked things off.
During his fireside chat with Downton star Hugh Bonneville, Julian Fellowes recounted a vacation he’d gone on as a teenager, which would set the scene. Through the interview released by Focus Features, Fellowes credited the following experience as the thematic foundation for the Downton estate:
While he might not have known at that point that Maggie Smith would be key to Downton Abbey‘s success, the basic framework wedged itself into Julian Fellowes’ mind pretty early. Merely experiencing the flash of activity between both halves of that “grand house” left an impression that would not only shape Downton, but could probably also be chalked up to another project he shepherded some years prior.
That would be the 2001 film Gosford Park, a murder mystery that also saw the focus shifting between the upstairs and downstairs characters involved. Fellowes would even win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay at 2002’s Oscars, with the Robert Altman-directed movie being up for seven awards that year.
Perhaps the telling sign that signaled the future is the fact that Julian Fellowes wrote a sharp-witted Dowager Countess into Gosford Park, and as luck would have it, she was also played by Dame Maggie Smith. Try watching this scene and not imagining Violet Grantham delivering a similar blow, though perhaps with a little less acid:
Downton Abbey and Gosford Park both seem to owe a debt to Julian Fellowes’ experience as a teenager. It shows even more now that the Downton Abbey series, and its latest film entry, are firmly established in what to expect. This was even noted in our official review for A New Era, which acknowledges that the fan service is stronger than ever. But again, it wasn’t like Fellowes had an immediate lightbulb moment that set him to a pen and paper. Further explaining himself, Fellowes rounded off this part of the story with these remarks:
The realm of the ordinary has definitely changed, both in reality and in the universe that Downton Abbey: A New Era calls home. Much as the title and the film’s trailers have suggested, the times are changing for the Downton family on both sides of the societal coin. If Julian Fellowes’ story is any indication, and if Downton fans keep returning, maybe the ultimate end will see the Grantham family’s heirs traced into the swinging ’60s.
Downton Abbey: A New Era hits US theaters on May 20th, with UK audiences already enjoying the next chapter in Julian Fellowes’ cinematic expansion. That leaves plenty of room for American audiences to catch up with the entire legacy that came before, or selected highlights, through the world of streaming. Peacock subscribers are in luck, as that platform is the home for all things Downton, past and present.