Monday, March 2, 2015

Julian Fellowes on Twists in the ‘Downton Abbey’ Season Finale By Dave Itzkoff

 
The fifth season finale of “Downton Abbey” tugged at many heartstrings, and we’re not talking about Lord Grantham’s mistaken case of angina. (Stop reading here if you wish to avoid spoilers.)
 
Julian Fellowes, the force behind the twists and turns of the characters on “Downton Abbey,” discusses the Season 5 finale and the show’s future. ( Credit Austin Hargrave)
 
In one fell swoop, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) abandoned any thought of rekindling a past infatuation with the Russian Prince Kuragin, and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) closed the door on her engagement to Lord Merton. Love bloomed in the servants’ quarters, where the stately Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) at long last proposed to the kindly Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan).
These turns of fate, seen on Sunday’s installment of this PBS “Masterpiece” period drama, are only the latest to have been flung at the noble Crawleys and their household staff by Julian Fellowes, the creator and writer of “Downton Abbey.”
Speaking by telephone from his home in Dorset, England, Mr. Fellowes discussed the developments of the past season and what the future might hold for “Downton” and its characters. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
 
“I think in life there are people who are unlucky — the bread always falls with the butter side down.” JULIAN FELLOWES, the creator of “Downton Abbey,” far left, speaking of Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle), characters on the series. ( Credit Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television for Masterpiece)
 
Q. The season finale brought resolutions to many of the show’s potential romantic pairings. How do you decide who gets a happy ending and who doesn’t?
A. Happiness is quite a difficult concept when you have an ongoing drama. What you can’t do is have everything go right. Then you’re just left with a couple saying, “Did you have a good day, darling?” “Terrific, why don’t you sit down while I get dinner?”
Q. So we shouldn’t assume it will all go smoothly for Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson?
A. Well, you know, “Downton” is a bumpy path. [laughs]
Q. Were there larger points you were trying to make with these couplings?
A. With Violet, what she enjoyed from seeing Kuragin again was that sense of being loved, of being a desirable woman. It reminded her of her great passion for him when she was young, but also the nearness that she came to making a great mistake that would’ve wrecked everything. For Isobel and Lord Merton, they’re very well suited, but when people are in love with each other and the children of one of them are being impossible, very often they do not understand how important this is going to be to their relationship in the coming years.
Q. After several tumultuous seasons, there’s still no closure for Anna and Bates. Why do you torment them in particular?
A. I think in life there are people who are unlucky — the bread always falls with the butter side down. Edith is an example of that. Bates and Anna have that, with a key difference, which is that they have a very strong love with each other. Anna is one of the most admirable characters in the series. She’s come from a tough childhood, we know now, and yet she hasn’t allowed it to distort her. We live in this great excuse generation, where nothing’s ever your own fault and everything’s always because someone was terrible to you. I think that our lives are the result of our own choices, and when I see that in action I really admire it.
Q. Is Tom Branson, who decided to move to Boston, gone from the series for good?
A. Oh, no, I never answer those questions. [laughs]
Q. It can sometimes feel, week to week, that there are not many plot developments on “Downton Abbey,” and then there’s a tidal wave of them in the finale. Is this a deliberate strategy on your part?
A. It’s a reluctance on my part to allow a real — or realish — narrative to develop into a soap opera. A soap opera has many, many incidents. People are being shot and stabbed and knifed. They’re dying in childbirth, having abortions, having their houses broken into, being attacked by vandals. We do, on “Downton,” have extreme cases, but not very many of them. And we have a lot of reaction to them, because that seems to me truer to life. That’s what I would like to tell myself, anyway.
Q. This season, we saw Lady Rose’s Jewish suitor and his family contend with anti-Semitism. Was that plot inspired by real history?
A. There was, here, at that time, a kind of universal, upper-class assumption of superiority. People didn’t mind if you came to their house or you shot their pheasants, you ate their dinners or went to their daughter’s dances. But, my God, they didn’t want you to marry her. I felt it as a Catholic when I was young. One of my first girlfriends was from a fairly senior Jewish family. They were a very nice family — I’m still friendly, actually, with the girl and her brother. But her parents wanted a Jewish husband. And it’s a very strange feeling when you realize that people don’t like you because of what you are.
Q. Would Lady Cora — who we learned also has Jewish ancestry — have been able to avoid this?
A. There were Jews who came over in the 19th century, who did incredibly well and joined the upper classes. I talked, when I was doing this story, to quite a lot of Jewish historians. I have one particular friend who said that wasn’t that unusual. If you were happy for the children to be Episcopalian, then the marriage was fine. To a certain extent, that drawing-room anti-Semitism, if you can use the phrase, went on through the 1930s. But a lot of them, including relations of mine, were shocked out of it by the revelations at the end of the war [World War II]. Mind you, I would love to say to you it’s faded away. But I’m horrified by the rise of anti-Semitism that we’re witnessing today.
Q. Are you approaching your NBC drama, “The Gilded Age,” differently for an American audience?
A. I’m going to do the pilot this year. I’ve got a list of potential advisers, and I am a big, big fan of Edith Wharton and Henry James and that period of history after the Civil War — the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys and all of those people. As for adapting what I write for American audiences, American audiences have enjoyed “Downton.” I try and make TV shows that I’m going to want to watch. And when I’m reading it, I’m saying to myself: “Is this boring? Are you still enjoying this scene? Shouldn’t it be over by now?” [laughs] I can’t imagine my departing from that principle very far.
Q. Are you starting to think about how “Downton Abbey” might end?
A. It’s not really my decision. I don’t own “Downton Abbey” now. NBC Universal [which owns Carnival Films] owns “Downton Abbey.” So I could walk away, but I wouldn’t walk away. It’s too much my baby. It won’t go on forever — I’m not a believer in that. But I can’t immediately now tell you where the end will be.
Q. So the idea of continuing with these characters into post-World War II Britain ... ?
A. For me, that would be a different series. Maybe people would say, “Oh my God, that’s baby George, grown up!” But I don’t think it would be continuous, with Michelle Dockery with her hair covered with talcum powder.
 
© nytimes.com
 

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