January 9, 2011

IT'S COMPLICATED:

'Downton Abbey' Creator Julian Fellowes' On His British Hit Coming To PBS ( Linda Holmes, 1/09/11, NPR)

Everything you need to know about Downton Abbey, which aired in the UK last year and begins its run on PBS on Sunday night's Masterpiece Classics, can be found in the early reaction of a maid at the titular estate to news of a major tragedy: "It's worse than a shame," she says. "It's a complication." That's what the series is about: that feelings and humanity are important and real, but they tend to take a back seat to avoiding "complications" — things that upset the order with which both the Crawley family and their servants live their lives. Sadness is bad, but chaos is worse.

On Sunday's All Things Considered, Guy Raz talks to Julian Fellowes, the Oscar-winning writer of Gosford Park, who created and wrote the series, which was a smash with audiences and critics both. It features, among others, Dame Maggie Smith, for whom Fellowes says he wrote the part of Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. (After all, if you're going to write the part of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, you might as well write it for Maggie Smith and aim high.)

In addition to Smith, the cast includes Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley, and Elizabeth McGovern as his American wife, Cora, from whom he got a lot of his money. Fellowes gives a wonderful and wry explanation of American heiresses and their significance at the time — just before World War I — when the story takes place. He points out that "in Europe, to get an heiress, you need everyone else in the family to die," which made European heiresses rare, whereas American heiresses could be created by any rich person dividing up wealth among children.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 9, 2011 8:55 AM
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