The ‘Downton Abbey’ Trailer Is Here, and We Take a Catholic Look Back

‘Downton Abbey’/Focus Features

The full trailer for the much-anticipated Downton Abbey movie has just been released, and it contains royalty, surprises and lots of familiar faces.

Set to be released on Sept. 20, the movie picks up the story of the aristocratic Crawley family, led by the current Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, who was host of a documentary on Jesus last year) and his American wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). Their daughters Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Edith (Laura Carmichael) are on hand, along with the extended family.

Created and written by Catholic Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey aired on ITV in Britain and on PBS’ Masterpiece in the U.S. (the last episode aired in the U.S. in May 2016). It was a highbrow soap opera that dealt with family, class, sex, race, religion (a bit), war and the changing world of the early 20th Century.

As the trailer shows, it’s now 1927, and King George V and Queen Mary (Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother) are coming to visit the elegant Yorkshire estate of Downton Abbey. The family and servants prepare for a royal luncheon, a parade, a dinner and no doubt lots of romance, conflict and surprises.

FTP’s producer-at-large, Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a 2016 graduate of USC’s film school, has been rewatching the Downton Abbey series, so I shot him a few questions:

Based on the trailer, what are your hopes for the Downton Abbey movie?

The trailer mentions 1927 as the year the movie takes place, so right after the events covered in the final episode of the TV series. My selfish hope for the movie is that it only covers a year or so in its temporal time, thus leaving the possibility of sequels.

Julian Fellowes, who created and writes Downton Abbey, also wrote the movie Gosford Park. Other than the superficial similarity that they are both upstairs/downstairs stories about English nobility and their servants, what other themes do they share in common?

The central theme of Gosford Park I found to be mercy. The perpetrator of the murder is revealed, but the victim by all accounts was a wicked person (Michael Gambon) whom neither the upstairs nor downstairs would miss. The housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren), declares to the maidservant (Kelly Macdonald) that she could reveal the culprit to the constable, but “what purpose would it possibly serve?” The maidservant then becomes the next messenger of this theme of mercy when she uses this same line with the Countess of Trencham (Maggie Smith, who plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton).

Fellowes is a Catholic, which is not always an easy thing to be in Britian. What are the main ways you think that has influenced Downton Abbey?

Julian Fellowes, the show runner and Catholic himself, created a priest-like character in terms of the butler, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter). The butler treats the upper-class family and lower-class servants with equal dignity, knowing both classes irrespective of wealth (or lack thereof) nevertheless undergo their own joys, triumphs and sorrows. He responds to them with the appropriate candor. Especially, with the downstairs community, he balances pastoral application of the house rules without ever compromising them. The butler is the model of truth in charity.

Some have accused Downton Abbey of having an overly rosy, even nostalgic, attitude toward the largely bygone era of servant and master. How do you see this, from a Catholic perspective?

Every time and space will display some version of servant and master. Just because these formal divisions have been dissolved doesn’t mean they don’t exist in some unofficial (cultural elitism) illegal (sex slavery/trade) or existential (so-called sexual revolution) form. I would say Downton Abbey is not so much nostalgic as it is frank with a past that was honest with the reality of the formal class divisions of its day. Catholicism, after all is telling the truth of something. I don’t always see the same introspection of our current secular culture sold as a liberating one, but whose reality is often a bag of hot air.

As a filmmaker, what do you think Downton Abbey did best?

The period nature of the show requires a literal and figurative chastity to be observed. Downton Abbey can not rely on lust to draw in viewers the way some premium-cable shows do. The extra rules then demand impeccable plot structuring and characterization to hold an audience. The dialogue in particular, ranks among the best in TV history. Maggie Smith spouts some amazing one-liners. I wait with bated breath to hear what she will say next in the movie version.

Image: Focus Features

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.

RIP Tim Conway, Actor, Funnyman, ‘Carol Burnett’ Star … and Catholic

Tim Conway on ‘The World Over’/EWTN

A bit of laughter has gone out of the world, with the announcement of the death of Tim Conway at the age of 85 this morning, May 14, in the Los Angeles area.

A native of Chagrin Falls, Ohio (he has something to say about that in the video below), Conway volunteered for the Army and later pursued show business. He was beloved as a funnyman but also as star of such classic TV shows as McHale’s Navy and The Carol Burnett Show. For younger viewers, he was also the voice of Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob Squarepants and won Emmy awards for guest appearances on the sitcoms Coach and 30 Rock.

From People:

Conway is survived by his wife of 35 years, his stepdaughter, his six biological children and two granddaughters. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family would like donations to be made to The Lou Ruvo Brain Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The beloved actor is best known for his work on The Carol Burnett Show, winning viewers over with characters like the Oldest Man and Mr. Tudball, whose accent he has said was inspired by his Romanian mother. He was known to ad-lib his sketches — even surprising his scene partners — and won a Golden Globe Award for the series in 1976, along with Emmys in 1973, 1977 and 1978.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, to an Irish father and a Romanian mother, Conway was baptized into the Romanian Orthodox Church but converted to Catholicism for a girl while in college. Faith wasn’t almost foremost in his mind, though, until back spasms later in life led Conway to discover that a high-school football injury could have left him paralyzed … but didn’t.

From a 2013 post at Tony Rossi’s Christopher Closeup blog:

That was a watershed moment for Tim, spiritually speaking. He writes, “Ever since that incident on the football field, which might have altered the course of my life, Jesus and I have stayed in constant touch. I never stop saying thank you.”

Though Tim, who converted to Catholicism in college because of a girl he liked, doesn’t wear his faith on his sleeve, his relationship with God remains important to him. He admits that his journey of faith hasn’t always been a straight line, but adds, “All straight lines get a little crooked from time to time, but I tried to maintain a decent life.”

In the same year, Conway went on Raymond Arroyo’s World Over show on EWTN to discuss his career and his memoir, What’s So Funny?: My Hilarious Life — and his conversion to Catholicism …

Here’s just a taste of Conway’s comic genius on The Carol Burnett Show, with co-star (and frequent victim of Conway’s efforts to crack him up) Harvey Korman:

Conway was married twice. Among his six biological children and one stepdaughter is Tim Conway Jr., who currently has a radio show on L.A. station KFI AM 640.

Here’s a clip of Conway Jr. as emcee of the Orange (County, California) Catholic Foundation’s 15th Annual Conference on Business & Ethics, from 2017, including a selfie with Bishop Vann of the Diocese of Orange — and showing the comic apple doesn’t fall far from the tree:

Image: EWTN (screenshot)

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

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Patricia Heaton, Bradley Whitford and Kim Cattrall Headline Faith-Adjacent Fall 2019 Shows [UPDATED]

‘Perfect Harmony’/NBC

The broadcast networks have announced their plans for the fall, and there are a few shows of possible interest to people of faith. Just remember, a lot can change between a show being picked up and actually making it on the air.

Perfect Harmony (NBC)

Former West Wing star Bradley Whitford — who reportedly is involved with All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California — stars as former Princeton music professor who winds up working with a small-town church choir.

Carol’s Second Act (CBS)

After talking a break following the end of The Middle on ABC, Catholic star Patricia Heaton returns to her Everybody Loves Raymond home of CBS for a new multicamera comedy. She plays a retired teacher who, now that her children are grown, decides to become a doctor. Kyle MacLachlan also stars.

Patricia Heaton (right) in ‘Carol’s Second Act’/CBS

Evil (CBS)

Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife) are behind this new drama, starring Katja Herbers (Westworld), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Aasif Mandvi and Michael Emerson (Lost, the upcoming The Name of the Rose). It’s described as a psychological thriller exploring the origins of evil and the (Catholics believe false) dichotomy between science and religion (some descriptions have Colter’s character as a “priest-in-training,” and the team working for the Catholic Church). The husband-and-wife duo bring their own theological perspectives, since Robert is Catholic, and Michelle is Jewish.

Filthy Rich (Fox)

Kim Cattrall headlines the cast of a show described as a soapy Southern Gothic family drama. When the patriarch (Gerald McRaney) of a Southern family, which got rich from creating a Christian TV network, dies in a plane crash, his stunned family learns that he fathered three children out of wedlock — and they’re all written into the will.

Also, just added today (May 14) …

United We Fall (ABC)

The multicamera comedy stars Will Sasso and Christina Vidal as parents of two young children dealing with overzealous extended families — including the Latina mother’s large Catholic one. Also starring are Jane Curtin and Jason Michael Snow.

Christina Vidal, Will Sasso in ‘United We Fall’/ABC

Also, among the shows axed was ABC’s Catholic-family comedy The Kids Are Alright, that our blogger Adrienne Thorne didn’t dislike.

But, in good news, NBC’s acclaimed family drama This Is Us was picked up for three more seasons. From Variety:

“In a television landscape with nearly 500 original scripted series, there are very few, if any, that have the critical and cultural impact of ‘This Is Us’ and we couldn’t be more proud to bring fans three more seasons of a show that so well represents the NBC brand,” said Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta, presidents of scripted programming for NBC Entertainment. “A huge thank you and congratulations to our executive producers, cast and crew who reach new heights every week with the show’s inventive and compelling storytelling.”

Images: NBC, CBS, ABC

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.

For Oxygen: Kim Kardashian and Mark Wahlberg Projects Tackle Prisons and Sex Trafficking

Photo: Adobe Stock

Oxygen Media, which has shifted its focus from female-oriented lifestyle programming to true crime (also a favorite with female viewers) has just announced its slate of new programming and shows in development, with such stars as Kim Kardashian and Mark Wahlberg.

Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project

Among the projects given a greenlight is a documentary from socialite, entrepreneur, reality and social-media megastar Kardashian, reflecting her newfound interest in prison reform. She’s also apparently now in the midst of a four-year law apprenticeship, with the goal of taking the bar exam in 2020, following in the footsteps of her late father, attorney Robert Kardashian.

A attendee of Catholic Marymount High School in Los Angeles, Kardashian has — despite her racy public persona and multiple marriages — claims to be a Christian. She and current husband Kanye West had their daughter, North, baptized in the Armenian Apostolic Church, at the Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem (more here on that).

In between her social, entertainment and family obligations, Kardashian has become involved with a group seeking to advance causes for clemency and prison reform. She was among those instrumental last summer in the release of 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson, who’d been in an Alabama prison on a nonviolent drug charge since 1996. President Trump commuted her sentence last June.

According to TMZ, Kardashian and her legal allies have gained freedom for 17 inmates over the last few months, and now her efforts — as might be expected from a reality-show star — are coming to TV.

From Oxygen:

“Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project” (working title)

Executive produced by Kim Kardashian and Bunim Murray Productions with Gil Goldschein, Julie Pizzi and Farnaz Farjam serving as executive producers.

In June 2018, Kim Kardashian used her global fame to publicly campaign for criminal justice reform by convincing the White House to grant Alice Marie Johnson clemency.

Inspired by her work with Johnson, Kardashian has made it her personal mission to lobby for systematic change and advocate for the men and women who she and her legal experts believe have been unfairly sentenced.  Now, as she pursues her own career in law, Kardashian is dedicating both personal resources and her public platform to the cause.

In this compelling 2-hour documentary, Oxygen will capture Kardashian’s efforts to secure freedom for Americans who she believes have been wronged by the justice system. “Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project” is an exclusive, never-before-seen look inside her mission to tackle one of America’s most controversial subjects.

Mark Wahlberg’s Exploited

Among the projects currently in development is one from Wahlberg’s Unrealistic Ideas company. Wahlberg, a former rapper who spent time in prison for felony assault and had other run-ins with the law, has found a new life as an actor, producer, husband, father and devout Catholic.

He’s spoken about his conversion in many venues, including this 2010 interview with the U.K.’s Catholic Herald:

“Being a Catholic is the most important aspect of my life,” the A-list actor tells me firmly when we meet for tea in a posh hotel near his home in Beverly Hills. “The first thing I do when I start my day is, I get down on my hands and knees and give thanks to God. Whenever I go outside of my house, the first thing I do is stop at the church. The kids will be mad with me. ‘Daddy! It takes too long!’ I’m saying: ‘It’s only 10 minutes and this is something I really need to do.’ Because I do. If I can start my day out by saying my prayers and getting myself focused, then I know I’m doing the right thing. That 10 minutes helps me in every way throughout the day.”

“Once I focused on my faith wonderful things started happening for me,” he says now. “And I don’t mean professionally – that’s not what it’s about. These days, I’ll be in church and people will come up to me and say: ‘Do you mind if I sit and pray with you?’ And they’ll start praying and it’ll turn out they’re praying for their new movie to be a success or whatever, and I’m like, this is not what I come here for. For me to sit down and ask for material things is ridiculous. It’s a much bigger picture than that. I want to serve God and to be a good human being and to make up for the mistakes I made and the pain I put people through. That’s what I’m praying for, and I recommend it to anybody.”

Now, he’s looking to have an impact on one of the most compelling issues of our time — sex trafficking.

From Oxygen:

“Exploited” (working title)

Produced by Unrealistic Ideas and Blue Pacific. Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson and Archie Gips serve as executive producers for Unrealistic Ideas and Matt Bartley, Michael Janke and Chris Campbell serve as executive producers for Blue Pacific.

From Mark Wahlberg’s Unrealistic Ideas production company comes the new active crime investigation series that follows the on-going work of the DeliverFund, as they tackle the current US sex trafficking epidemic. In each episode the DeliverFund, comprised of ex-CIA, NSA and Navy Seal operatives Nic McKinley, Kara Smith and Jeremy Mahugh, take viewers on a journey to what victims call the center of hell. They will locate victims, work with local law enforcement and ultimately rescue sex trafficked victims and return them to their families.

Here’s wishing both celebrities luck with projects tackling important issues.

Images: HBO/Twitter

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.

‘Game of Thrones’ Coffee Cup: How Could This Have Happened? (With HBO’s Response)

‘Game of Thrones’/HBO

In some ways, the world seems to be coming apart at the seams, but leave it to HBO’s blockbuster fantasy series Game of Thrones to give us all a momentary Monday distraction — in the form of a Starbucks coffee cup.

The cup in question made a cameo appearance in the May 5 episode, the follow-up to the previous week’s massive but murky battle scene. Since this was an interior scene on a set, it was likely filmed in Belfast — meaning, if you go to the Northern Ireland city, you can still get your Caramel Cloud Macchiato fix.

I’ve been on enough sets in my years as an entertainment journalist to know that mistakes happen, but usually they’re caught somewhere along the way. But, this one made it all the way to the final cut.

For some answers, I turned to our producer-at-large, Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a graduate of USC Film School. Here are my questions, and his replies:

What is continuity, and why does it matter in a movie?

To borrow from business parlance, continuity is a type of quality control in filmmaking that assures a visual coherence by the final airing. For instance, you would not want a character holding a knife in the right hand in one shot and then placing it in the left hand for another shot in the same scene. It creates a nightmare for editing to cut around. For a fantasy piece like Game of Thrones, especially, a set has to be wary of leaving anachronistic items in the shot — water bottles, coffee cups, cellphones, etc.

Whose job is it on a set to make sure anomalous objects aren’t visible?

It is the script supervisor’s specific responsibility to make sure anomalous objects aren’t visible within frame. That said, anyone on set who notices this should inform the script supervisor or one of the producers.

How could this have been missed in all the layers of editing and special effects?

In this day and age, especially in the world of television, when shooting must go quickly, physical production will sometimes film even though another camera crew is in the shot, presuming visual effects can take it out afterwards. Recently, I sat in on an editing session of a parishioner of mine who does visual effects on Paramount Network’s Yellowstone. He pointed out the shots where physical production knew visual effects would work their magic later. Some of the coolest fixes were taking out power lines in a panoramic shot or adding ominous looking clouds in an episode’s final shot, where they weren’t present in the raw footage.

If it had been caught earlier on, how could the error have been fixed?

Editing out the coffee cup could have been an easy fix in post. A colorist could have replaced the white of the Starbucks cup with the color and texture of the cup’s immediate surroundings.

When things like this happen, how often do you guess that it’s an intentional Easter egg and how often just an oops?

It’s hard to believe a show operating with the highest level of technicians in the world would miss this at that all levels of production and post-production, so I suspect it’s an intentional Easter egg.

I don’t watch the show and have found it to be pretty devoid of meaning. It would be the boldest of post-modern statements, if intentional. That for all the fans’ analysis and dissection, the show is ultimately nihilism, and even the producers ensuring the integrity of the fantasy world they’ve created is of no importance.

And fans are indeed debating. But you have to wonder, if you’re truly absorbed in a scene, do you notice these thing unless you watch it repeatedly? This episode only aired last night, so either folks have extremely sharp eyes, or they’re hitting the restart as soon as the episode is over.

Did you see it?

This particularly humorous take on it appeared in a story in The Verge:

And HBO’s response?

In response to inquiries from those who saw a craft services coffee cup in Sunday night’s episode of GAME OF THRONES, HBO states, “The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake.  Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea.”

Images: HBO/Twitter

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.

Indie Film ‘Evergreen’ Is Something New in Catholic Filmmaking

Amanda Maddox, Tanner Kalina in ‘Evergreen’/The Daffy

I know I’m not alone in my typical dislike of most movies that are considered “Christian” or “faith-based” films. As much as I respect the good intentions that are probably behind most of those preach-to-the-choir-type stories, I usually can’t stomach the cheesiness and poor quality.

When one of the producers of the indie film Evergreen emailed me to see if I’d be interested in reviewing their “Catholic film” that he claimed was not like most Christian films, I didn’t make any promises. I said I would gladly watch it, but I figured if I didn’t like it, I’d just gracefully refrain from following up with a review.

But then I watched it. And I was kind of blown away by it for a few different reasons.

Evergreen’s premise

It’s a very simple, kind of unexciting-sounding idea: a dating couple (Tanner Kalina, Amanda Maddox) spends a Christmas-season weekend together by themselves in Colorado and decide to dig deep into the questions they need to answer for one another before their relationship can progress.

The entire thing has only four actors, and it’s mostly dialogue. And yet, it’s compelling and entertaining, and ultimately kind of heart-wrenching.

Kalina co-created the story with producer Marshall Kistner and Catholic director Joe Duca (who also wrote the screenplay).

The Catholic part

So the guy is a Catholic. He wears a cloth rosary around his wrist and has a copy of Saint Pope John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility on his bedside table. But he has a complicated past, which includes an annulment and a lot of pain.

The girl is not Catholic, but she once was. And she’s had experiences with Catholics in the past that make her view the religion in a not-so-great light.

This is very much a story about sex. In some respects, it’s almost a how-not-to guide when it comes to setting yourself up for success in chastity.

And I’ll be honest, the sexual aspect of this movie is not going to be for everyone. Some Catholic viewers are more sensitive than others when it comes to this type of thing. And while there are no actual scenes of sex in this movie, some more sensitive viewers might find the sensuality too much (the movie’s not rated yet, but my guess is it’d be PG-13 …).

But the difference here is that it’s all to a point. There’s no gratuitous sex thrown in for no reason. It very much has to do with the morality and mindset of these two people who are trying to figure out if they can be on the same page with things enough to make a relationship work.

And I feel like the struggles and moral shortcomings of these characters, even the Catholic whose reading material suggests he’s trying to live virtuously, are very real. I know a lot of Catholics who try to be faithful but have nevertheless fallen into temptations and situations very similar to what this story shows.

We don’t have a lot of movies like this…

Evergreen really isn’t a typical Christian or Catholic movie. It doesn’t preach its point, and things aren’t wrapped up too tidily.

This film feels very realistic and accessible, not only to Catholics and other Christians, but probably to a lot of people who are struggling in a romantic relationship.

The story is kind of uncomfortable in its honesty about how imperfect Catholics can be. But it’s a very well-done indie movie, and definitely a compelling, worthwhile watch.

Right now, Evergreen is playing at film festivals (it just won pretty big at Houston’s WorldFest Film Festival), and has been well-reviewed (like here). Watch for updates when it hopefully gets picked up for some sort of distribution, either to theatrical release, streaming service, or DVD.

Image: The Daffy

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter. Reposted with permission (and some minor edits) from A Thorne in the Flesh.

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