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The Gazette reports from the UK press preview of Downton Abbey series 3
WHILE the world’s international press were being shown around Downton Abbey’s inspiration and key location, Highclere Castle, this week, the UK media – including The Gazette – were in central London at the launch of series three.
A select coterie of representatives from the media gathered in the private screening room of The May Fair Hotel to watch episode one of the upcoming series of the hugely popular ITV1 costume drama, before speaking to the creator, producers, director and the cast.
All were buoyant from the recent news that Downton Abbey has just been nominated for 16 Emmy Awards, which, when combined with its total of 11 from last year, makes it the most nominated non-US
show in American awards history.
Also present were The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, the owners and residents of Highclere Castle, who series producer Gareth Neame referred to as “the most patient of hosts in the country".
Filming for series three, which opens in 1920, took place at the property earlier this year. The show’s creator, Julian Fellowes, a friend of the Earl and Countess, told The Gazette: “This was my third attempt to use Highclere so I saved the best for last. I couldn’t have found a more perfect house for the show and it’s a very important character all on its own.”
Speaking exclusively to The Gazette, Lord Carnarvon added: “We are as excited as ever about the new series – the plot looks great.
“We were doing some very big projects at the same time as the filming was going on so weren't there quite so much.
“We now have amazing tearooms out the back of the property which are full of Downton shots. We opened online ticket outlets this spring and have had fantastic responses from America, Australia and
countless other places.
“We wonder how they see it but we forget so many people can just buy it on DVD, even if it is not broadcast on television where they are.”
Lord Carvarvon also revealed that visitor numbers continue to increase, and that the long cycle of repairs and maintenance – costing £11million in total – is ongoing.
He continued: “We have had so much positive feedback about the house, the Egyptian exhibition and the gift shop.
“Downton is not quite the financial bonanza people believe, but we are catching up on a few generations-worth of essential repairs.
“The castle remains still central to the programme. Every time there's an ad break and it fades to that iconic image of the house, we still are thrilled.”
One of the show’s new stars, Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine – who plays the mother of the mistress of Downton, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) – revealed that she had been very impressed by
She said: “Now that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to shoot in such a hallowed place. I enjoyed very, very much the castle and grounds and the past and the hauntings and the energy. I'm very
much into that stuff.”
Series three of Downton Abbey begins on ITV1 in early autumn. In forthcoming editions of The Gazette, we’ll feature exclusive chats with the programme’s stars, including Dan Stevens (Matthew), Brendan Coyle (Bates), Shirley MacLaine and Ed Speleers (new footman Jimmy) and many more.
What's in store for fans...
AS usual, the makers understandably want to prevent surprises being spoiled, but we can reveal that, as the series begins in 1920, the family are preparing for the nuptials of Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary. Lady Sybil has not yet given birth to her child with Branson - the Irish chauffeur she eloped with, and married, in the last series.
A lot of the drama will concentrate on the 'Irish Question' and the partition of that country which took place in 1921.
O'Brien asks her mistress, Lady Grantham, to install her very tall nephew Alfred (Matt Milne) as a new footman, which causes a bit of upset downstairs. Thomas is still scheming, encouraging kitchen maid Daisy to go on strike! A new kitchen maid, Ivy Stuart (Cara Theobold), joins later in the series.
Shirley makes a fantastic entrance as Martha Levinson. And yes, Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess of Grantham still steals all the best lines - but Shirley's character definitely seems prepared to give her a run for her money!