The multitalented Julian Fellowes had already carved out a mightily impressive career as a novelist, actor, screenwriter and producer before the success of Downton Abbey took his fame to a whole different level. Now he’s returned with another period drama, adapting one of his favourite authors, Anthony Trollope, for the small screen…
Hi Julian. Why do you think people love period dramas so much?
Julian Fellowes: “I suppose they have a reassuring view of a society that seems quite calm compared to our own. In troubled times there’s a desire to go back to a slightly mythical period in the past where everything was simpler. In a way it’s a misreading because the period of Downton is one of great social change.
“Nevertheless, in period drama the characters live by a set of rules that we don’t necessarily believe in. The other thing, of course, is you can enjoy a social period but you don’t have to live it. It looks charming but you don’t have to change your clothes five times a day and wait for something to happen. It’s history-lite in a way.”
Has it always been that way?
“There was a time around seven or eight years ago where the perceived truth was that the genre was finished. When we were making Downton, the advice we were getting was that the audience doesn’t exist anymore. Nobody knows anything!”
The Victorian matriarch
Rebecca Front plays Lady Arabella Gresham, a once-wealthy member of society who has seen the family fortune frittered away by her reckless husband. Struggling to make ends meet, her only hope of getting back in the black is for her son to marry into money…
Rebecca, we don’t mean to be rude but your character seems like a schemer…
Rebecca Front: “She is, but only for survival’s sake. They’re all in a bit of a predicament and she’s the only one that’s fully got to grips with it. Her husband, as much as she adores him, is never going to sort this problem out. She’s a pragmatist. She’s not really trying to get an advantage; she’s just trying to save the situation. There’s a huge amount at stake.”
Had you read much Trollope before filming?
“I had; I like a Victorian novel. About ten years ago I took a lot of his novels on holidays, and I must have read Doctor Thorne, but I don’t remember it! I don’t remember much about any of the books I read because usually I’ve got the scripts I’m working on in my head. I really love Trollope, I don’t know why he’s not more widely read. He’s got a lot of the charm of Charles Dickens, but he’s a lot more satirical.”
You sound like a big fan. We’re guessing you didn’t need much persuading to be part of this project…
“Absolutely. I was really thrilled to be asked to do it. Julian’s an ideal person to adapt these kind of books. We worked together years ago as actors on Kavanagh QC so I was intrigued to get the chance to work with him as he is now – a writer. Since then he’s become the world-famous Julian Fellowes.
Was he around much on set?
“Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend that much time with him on set. What I remember about him when we acted together was his sense of humour and how garrulous he is. I always enjoyed the days when Julian was on set.”
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