“I was looking for an invasion of Downton by the 20th century in a fairly indigestible way — not just some character turning up for lunch but something that overturned order.”
Julian Fellowes, the creator of the beloved TV series “Downton Abbey” and the writer of the film of the same name released in theaters in 2019, says this during a recent video interview to promote its new sequel, “Downton Abbey: A New Era.”
He’s been asked what inspired the storyline in which a Hollywood film crew in the late 1920s comes to Downton Abbey — the Yorkshire estate home to the fictional Crawley family and their servants — to film a silent movie.
Early on in the production of “The Gambler,” the decision is made to turn it into a “talkie,” meaning dialogue will need to be recorded not only for scenes yet to be filmed but also for those that have been. This leads to numerous challenges, including a leading lady — Laura Haddock’s Myrna Dalgleish — whose stardom has come from being seen but not heard.
Fellowes says the idea came after a conversation with a colleague, who told Fellowes of his grandfather’s experience working on the 1929 Alfred Hitchcock film “Blackmail,” originally intended to be a silent picture.
“In the middle (of production, the crew) got this message from the studios that they had to change it to sound, and they had the invasion of the sound man,” Fellowes says.
Among the ramifications was the need to dub the dialogue of the film’s leading lady, Anny Ondra, who was said to have a strong Czech accent.
“Because they didn’t (yet have) looping and dubbing, they had to have another actress standing on the set saying the lines while (Ondra) moved her mouth,” says Fellowes, who in “A New Era” gives that task to Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary, who by now is in charge of the estate.
“I was telling this story of Mary adjusting to the 20th century and finding she could fit in and the fact that she could, you know, do the job to keep this thing going,” he says. “She is learning to live with the 20th century without being too inhibited by it.”
The movie’s other major storyline sends a handful of “Downton” characters to France, but Fellowes says it was important they not stay away for too long.