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.

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