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This story first appeared in the June 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Rabid fans of PBS’ ratings dynamo Downton Abbey — of which there were 26 million worldwide last season — will recall that the first telephone was introduced to the titular country manse in season one’s seventh episode. But on a rather (and typical) wet April morning at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England, 67 miles west of London, actress Laura Carmichael is coping with a decidedly more 21st century issue during a break in filming the series’ upcoming fifth season.
“I’m trying to order some flowers, but you can’t get a 3G signal in here!” laughs Carmichael, 27, who plays young heiress Lady Edith Crawley. She longingly holds up her iPhone in Highclere’s lavish drawing room while sporting a 1920s skirt and blouse — and Ugg boots. Nearby are more Crawleys — including Emmy nominees Michelle Dockery, 32, and Hugh Bonneville, 50 — and a well-suited butler and a couple of footmen. In Highclere’s spacious library next door, Emmy winner Maggie Smith, 79, and Emmy nominee Elizabeth McGovern, 52, sit quietly and play the word game Bananagrams to pass the time before “action” is called.
As they wait to film another of Downton‘s carefully appointed dining scenes, the cast and crew reflect on the streak of success none of them could have imagined. Season four of the series — which chronicles the post-World War I lives and loves of the aristocratic Crawley family and its staff — was the show’s most watched, and its premiere was the highest rated for a PBS drama. It also has made Emmy history as the most lauded non-U.S. show, with 39 nominations and 10 wins.
Working off of an idea from executive producer Gareth Neame, creator Julian Fellowes (the Oscar-winning scribe of Robert Altman‘s similarly themed Gosford Park) has written each of Downton‘s 40 or so episodes. “It was perfect for the zeitgeist,” says Fellowes, 64, of Downton‘s grasp on viewers. “The Western world’s financial picture has been so worrying that there was need to believe that the world was once a simpler place, when lunch- and dinnertime were sacred.”
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