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The end is finally in sight for the Crawley family following Thursday’s announcement that the upcoming sixth season of Downton Abbey will be the last.
But for the hit show’s creator, executive producer and sole writer Julian Fellowes, there won’t be much time to sit and reminisce, as he’ll be diving straight on with his long-awaited NBC project, The Gilded Age.
Having previously stated that he wouldn’t start work on the show — set among the upper echelons of society (where else?) in late 19th century New York — until he had completed Downton, with the latest news he has now admitted that he’s “started thinking about it.”
“But I do want to be off with the old love before I’m on with the new,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“I think I’ve got enough latitude to be allowed that, but certainly The Gilded Age is looming large in my future,” he says.
“It’s a big challenge. There’s always an assumption that it’s impossible to make lightning strike twice in the same place. But I’m looking forward to it, and I think it’ll be quite different. There’s a certain coziness in the fact that ITV have really allowed [executive producers] Gareth [Neame] and Liz [Trubridge] and I just to make the show, and I’m sure working for an American network will prove a rather different experience.”
In creating a new historical drama about wealth and prestige, Fellowes — who also wrote Gosford Park — could be seen to be venturing into areas he’s already covered extensively. But he claims that there were some distinct differences when it came to class and acceptance into the elite between the U.K. in the time of Downton and late 19th century America.
“It was more of a winner-takes-all game in America at that time, because you could basically make the journey in one generation, whereas in England, that still wasn’t true. You needed to have been born at least halfway up the ladder to reach the top,” he says.
“So in a way, I think it makes the American drama more modern. I think we’re living in a world where people can go pretty much all the way, if not in every circumstance certainly in quite a lot of them, in one generation. That world is something the modern viewers can identify with and understand, which is a positive,” Fellowes explains.
Like Downton, Fellowes plans to create a fictional pool of characters for The Gilded Age and set them in an actual period of history, where real-life events — although he won’t reveal which — emerge infrequently to help act as reference points.
But before these characters are crafted, there is still the matter of Downton‘s sixth and final season, which he continues to write as production goes on, and a story arc that, he says, “helps resolve everything and get it all settled.” However, he hints that not all the characters will be heading off into the sunset.
“It’s not complete closure and sometimes not satisfactory closure, but nevertheless, it’s some kind of closure.”
While the TV series might see closure, the Crawleys could still reappear for a Downton feature film, which executive producer Neame on Thursday admitted he was “interested” in developing, although nothing had yet been planned.
“I think a Downton film would be fun, because it would allow us to tell a Downton story, or stories, on a filmic scale,” says Fellowes. “Obviously on TV we’re limited by our budgets, although I think our cinematographers and designers have been fantastic at making it look filmic all the way through. But nevertheless, there is a scale that we have to remain within. With a film, we could go beyond that scale, and I think that would be rather exciting to do, to take the characters into a larger expression of their own period. But we’ll have to wait and see, really.”
Aside from the ratings, accolades and Emmys, alongside it being a game changer for both Masterpiece and ITV, among Downton‘s greatest legacies, claims Fellowes, has been to reverse the idea that “period drama was dead.”
“You know, we bucked it with Gosford, and now I think we’ve bucked it for good with Downton, and indeed we see Channel Four and the BBC producing their own period dramas — and very good they are too,” he notes.
But will he give himself a brief pause before charging on with his next?
“I hope so. I feel that when I’ve put the last full stop on the last draft of the ninth episode, I would quite like to take off for three weeks flat on my back.”
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