Tag Archives: Julian Fellowes

Mercurio’s Duty calls for viewers

Line of Duty has added viewers each season
Line of Duty has added viewers each season

BBC2 in the UK is having a great year in terms of its drama output. The first part of 2016 saw a solid performance for US acquisition American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson, while tomorrow sees the much-anticipated return of Peaky Blinders for season three.

Sandwiched between the two was the third season of Line of Duty, which has proven to be a huge hit for the channel. So successful, in fact, there are reports that season four, which is scheduled to air in 2017, will move to flagship channel BBC1.

As the dust settles on Line of Duty’s ratings, various claims are being made, but probably the most eye-catching is that the series is BBC2’s most successful drama in 15 years. With an average audience of just under five million per episode (live+7 day ratings), it even managed to outperform Wolf Hall, which was a strong performer in 2015 with an average audience of 4.4 million.

Line of Duty focuses on the activities of an anti-corruption unit led by superintendent Ted Hastings (played by Adrian Dunbar). It is the latest masterpiece from Jed Mercurio, widely acknowledged as one of the top talents working in British TV.

Mercurio actually started out as a doctor before breaking into the business with acclaimed medical drama Cardiac Arrest in the mid-1990s. Since then he has had pretty consistent success as a TV writer while also carving out a decent career as a novelist. Indeed, his second TV series was an adaptation of his first novel, Bodies.

He has proven particularly adept at creating procedurals with a twist. Aside from Cardiac Arrest, Bodies and Line of Duty, for example, he also created Critical, a medical drama for Sky1 set in a fictional trauma centre.

Critical
Mercurio created Critical for Sky1

He has also tried his hand at a number of other sub-genres of the scripted TV business. The Grimleys (1999-2001), for example, was a comedy drama, while Frankenstein (2007) was a modern-day re-imagination of Mary Shelley’s iconic gothic novel. He also set up Left Bank’s long-running action-adventure series Strike Back (2010) and adapted DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover for BBC1 last year.

Within the UK system, Mercurio is unusual in that he is more akin to a US showrunner than a European writer/auteur. Typically, he will write and produce his shows – sometimes directing as well. As a consequence of this level of control, Mercurio is well placed to ensure his creative vision hits the screen.

Mercurio recently gave a very insightful interview to Den of Geek in which he distinguished his work from procedurals that delve into the private lives of their protagonists. “Part of me isn’t that interested as a person and a viewer in people’s personal lives. I’m more interested in what people do in the workplace and what goals they set themselves. I guess that’s why I write a lot of precinct drama. (There’s often) an expectation, or pressure sometimes even, to feel that the way to succeed with drama is to see all sides of a character by going into their personal lives, even if you’ve got nothing to say.”

It’s interesting to note that Line of Duty’s ratings have been building across the first three seasons, giving it the feel of a show that slipped under the radar but is now attracting new swathes of fans. All of which augurs well for season four, regardless of the channel it airs on.

Liam Neeson starred in the Taken movie franchise
Liam Neeson starred in the Taken movie franchise

In the US, this is a critical time of year for the scripted business as the major networks decide which pilots to take forward to series. Most announcements will trickle through in the next few weeks, though a few new shows have already been given the go-ahead.

One of these is ABC’s Designated Survivor, which will star Kiefer Sutherland (24) and is being written by David Guggenheim (Safe House, Bad Boys 3). Another is Taken, a spin-off from the hit movie franchise. The TV version, for NBC, will be penned by Alex Cary (credits include Homeland, Lie To Me).

Not yet greenlit but looking good is Fox’s Lethal Weapon, another reboot of a movie franchise. This one is being scripted by Matt Miller, whose writing credits include ABC’s short-lived Forever.

Also, this week, DQ’s sister site C21 Media reports that long-running CBS drama The Good Wife is being adapted for the South Korean market by broadcaster TVN. The show, created by Robert and Michelle King, comes to the end of its seventh and final season in the US this week. All told, that means TVN will have 155 episodes to work with.

The Korean version of the show will be produced by Jung-Hyo Lee (I Need Romance, Heartless City) and written by Han Sang-Woon. Like the CBS original, it will centre on the complicated relationships of people in the legal system working against a backdrop of scandal and corruption.

The Good Wife is coming to an end in the US
The Good Wife is coming to an end in the US

Interestingly, this is not the first adaptation Han Sang-Woon has worked on. Last year, he wrote Spy for KBS2, based on Israeli drama The Gordin Cell. Previously, he wrote the movie My Ordinary Love Story. Commenting on the production, TVN parent company CJ E&M told C21: “For the Korean version of The Good Wife, we focused on the casting and were successful in casting Korea’s biggest actress, Jeon Do-Yeon – who has won many awards in her career, including best actress at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival – in the lead role, marking her return to television after 11 years.”

Finally, continuing the writers-as-brands theme we discussed in last week’s column, Amazon is about to air ITV period drama Doctor Thorne in the US (May 20). When it does, it will call the series Julian Fellowes Presents Doctor Thorne, another indicator of the marketing leverage that leading writers increasingly possess.

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Hat Trick’s Mark Redhead reveals his Secret for ITV

Hat Trick Productions is adding to the current trend for true crime with forthcoming ITV drama The Secret. Head of drama Mark Redhead tells Michael Pickard why this real-life story will make compelling television.

While crime remains a staple genre of television, true crime is currently flavour of the month.

Following the success of podcast Serial and factual series such as HBO’s The Jinx and Making a Murderer on Netflix, scripted dramas such as American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson are satisfying audiences’ appetite for fact-based shows.

In the UK, ITV has a long history with true-crime dramas, with series such as Mrs Biggs, Appropriate Adult and The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries, to name but a few recent titles.

Next up is The Secret, which stars James Nesbitt (pictured top) and Genevieve O’Reilly as Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan, who met at their local Baptist Church in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, and embarked on a passionate and destructive affair that climaxed in a plot to kill their partners.

Mark Redhead
Mark Redhead

Produced by Hat Trick Productions, it is distributed by Hat Trick International and is one of 12 dramas being presented to international buyers at the Mip Drama Screenings in Cannes this Sunday.

The project was first championed by Nesbitt himself, who was familiar with both the case and journalist Deric Henderson, who wrote the book on which the drama is based. The story was eventually picked up by screenwriter Stuart Urban, who brought it to Hat Trick head of drama Mark Redhead.

“As soon as I saw the story, I knew it was extraordinary and took it to ITV and they greenlit it really quickly,” explains Redhead, who executive produces the three-part series.

“It’s a fantastic story but what is extraordinary about it was these people committed these terrible crimes and they got away with it – but did they? You commit a crime and the police don’t get you but you can’t escape from it because it’s inside your head. So partly it’s about the crimes but it’s also about the relationship of the two protagonists and what happens if you commit a crime together and the effect that has on your relationship.

“That’s incredibly interesting and original. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it done. It’s a bit like Macbeth or Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. But this is a contemporary true story and we have an extraordinary amount of detail about their relationship.”

The series is currently in post-production, though Redhead – whose credits include other factual dramas Murder of Stephen Lawrence and Bloody Sunday – already says he is “enormously proud” of the drama.

“Jimmy (Nesbitt) says it’s his best work ever. He’s just breathtaking in it,” he continues. “He comes from the area and connects very much with the world. He’s such a brilliantly versatile actor that he delivers all the different moods and stages of this relationship and this extraordinary man in an incredibly convincing way. We partnered him with Genevieve – she gave the best audition I have ever seen. She’s just brilliant and they’re incredibly well matched so they go toe to toe. And 99.9% of the scenes feature one of them.”

Redhead says The Secret will chime with the current trend for true-crime stories, though this time viewers will see the effect murder has not only on the families of the victims but also the killers themselves.

The Secret stars and James Nesbitt
The Secret stars and James Nesbitt Genevieve O’Reilly as Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan

“They pay a price and I think that’s really interesting and important,” he says, adding that director Nick Murphy (Occupation) has brought a naturalistic style to the drama. “We really wanted to make it feel very truthful so there’s minimal lighting, it’s handheld – it feels incredibly real.”

Part of filming a true story is a responsibility to ensure it is retold with as much accuracy as possible, and Redhead says creatives should resist an urge to tidy up real life if the facts don’t present a rounded story or fit in a traditional structure.

“It is a story that if it weren’t true, you wouldn’t believe,” he says of the plot at the heart of The Secret. “You can only tell this story because it’s true. If you presented it to the world as a piece of fiction, people wouldn’t accept it. It’s that extraordinary. And I believe that with true stories, you embrace the mess. You stay as faithful to the facts as possible, even if it causes you headaches in terms of scripting. Audiences accept there won’t be a neatness to a true story.

“Real life isn’t tidy and things happen that are slightly incomprehensible or there are loose ends that don’t get tied up. Our approach with Stephen Lawrence and subsequently Bloody Sunday was to accept it would be messy and trust an audience would understand that and buy that.”

The Secret marks the second time Hat Trick International has distributed one of its sister production company’s dramas. The first was Doctor Thorne, the Julian Fellowes adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s novel.

Rebecca Front and Tom Hollander in Doctor Thorne
Rebecca Front and Tom Hollander in Doctor Thorne

Another three-parter, which aired on ITV this month, it starred Tom Hollander (Rev, The Night Manager) as the eponymous medic who lives with his penniless young niece Mary. When Lady Arabella Gresham (Rebecca Front) discovers her son Frank has fallen in love with Mary, she conspires to find him a rich bride in order to save her own family from its own financial ruin. Her target is wealthy American heiress Martha Dunstable, played by Alison Brie.

The series was executive produced with US producer-distributor The Weinstein Company, which helped to finance the project and was also responsible for casting US star Brie, whose credits include Mad Men and Community.

Explaining the origins of the coproduction, Redhead says: “We had a deficit. You always have a deficit. But the options and places to go in the US are many and various. There are 57 or so places to sell drama in the US and, thanks to the Downton Abbey effect, there’s a much greater willingness on the part of US broadcasters and producers to get involved with the UK, even on a show like this.

“Five years ago, nobody would have touched a period drama of this sort but, thanks to the success of Downton breaking through, there’s now an acceptance that English period drama is something valuable. (The Weinstein Company) came in and it was a decent sum, and they took the rights for American and Canada. Of course, Julian himself is a factor – people want to be in business with him because he’s so brilliant and successful.”

Doctor Thorne is a project that had been in development for many years courtesy of producers Ted Childs (Inspector Morse) and Chris Kelly (Kavanagh QC). Fellowes had also written the script on spec, and Childs and Kelly brought it to Redhead. Downton broadcaster ITV jumped at the chance to pick up Fellowes’ next project.

When deciding who to cast in the lead role, the producers sought someone in the mould of James Stewart or Tom Hanks – a great actor with star appeal. They found their man in Hollander.

“It was great to get Tom,” Redhead says. “When we were talking about casting, Julian wanted what we described as charasmatic decency – the combination of being both good but having some star appeal – which is a very rare commodity and Tom’s definitely got it. I can’t think of many actors who have it.

The Weinstein Company's involvement in Doctor Thorne led to the casting of US star Alison Brie
The Weinstein Company’s involvement in Doctor Thorne led to the casting of US star Alison Brie

“He was keen to have the opportunity to play a straight lead role. There is some comedy in it but he’s the straight guy, the hero, and I think he really appreciated that chance and he carries it really well.”

Though Doctor Thorne could return for a second season, that decision has been put on hold while Fellowes continues work on his long-awaited period drama The Gilded Age, which is expected to begin production later this year for a 2017 debut on US network NBC.

That doesn’t mean Hat Trick, best known for its entertainment and comedy shows, isn’t continuing to build its drama slate, with Redhead confident he will be in production with two or three more series during 2016.

“Drama’s an important part of the mix and (Hat Trick MD) Jimmy Mulville’s very interested in drama,” Redhead reveals. “And the border between comedy and drama is quite moveable. It’s an important element of the company. Drama is going through a boom period so our energies as a company are focused on that.

“It’s cyclical – comedy is having a relatively quiet patch, whereas a few years ago it was the new rock ’n’ roll. Maybe in an era of international coproduction, comedy, which tends to be a local thing, is possibly slightly eclipsed because it’s hard to sell. People in different countries have difference senses of humour, so in a world dominated by international coproduction, humour is not going to be the prime selling point.”

But does Redhead think the drama boom is set to continue? “There’s a tremendous hunger for stories,” he says. “I’m sure there will be consolidation in terms of the number of hours – I can’t imagine the 57 US outlets will continue as they do. There will probably be shrinkage within that market, but the demand for drama will remain. And the UK is actually pretty good at selling itself internationally. Downton Abbey has made a huge difference to the credibility of UK drama internationally.”

But with The Secret and two BBC series – The Fall and Line of Duty (seasons two and three) – set and produced in Northern Ireland with support from Northern Ireland Screen, Redhead jokes that the industry might have swap Nordic noir for the next new drama trend – Ulster noir.

“There are some really talented people there,” he says. “It’s fantastic place to work and it would be great to do stuff set there. This is a place that’s had years of suffering and yet you couldn’t find a more welcoming and amiable part of Europe. It’s always a real pleasure to go there.”

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Fargo keeps going as French shows impress

fargo-season-2-cast-image1
Fargo has proved popular with the critics

US cable channel FX has renewed its stylish anthology thriller Fargo for a third season. Based on the Coen brothers film of the same name, Fargo’s second run will finish stateside on December 14 and is currently receiving rave reviews. The first season was nominated for a total of 18 Primetime Emmys, winning three.

The show was written by the multi-talented Noah Hawley, who was a singer-songwriter and a published novelist before he turned to TV screenwriting. He wrote for Fox drama Bones for three seasons before being handed the Fargo gig, as well as a couple of projects for ABC (The Unusuals and My Generation).

Some writers might have been intimidated by the Coen brothers’ shadow lurking in the background of the Fargo project, but Hawley managed to stay true to the original concept while taking the show’s mythology in an exciting new direction.

Fargo writer Noah Hawley is also working on Cat's Cradle with FX
Fargo writer Noah Hawley is also working on Cat’s Cradle with FX

For this, he received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries – and it would be a surprise if he weren’t on the list again for Fargo season two.

Commenting on the renewal, Eric Schrier, president of original programming for FX Networks and FX Productions, said: “Year two of Fargo is an extraordinary achievement and, given Noah Hawley’s masterful storytelling, we can’t wait to see where the third version of Fargo takes us. Our thanks to Noah, Warren Littlefield, Joel and Ethan Coen, John Cameron and our partners at MGM TV for making Fargo a memorable and rewarding journey.”

Despite getting his break in network TV, Hawley did an interview with Hollywood Reporter in 2014 in which he made it clear that he was more comfortable in cable drama: “The leap from network to cable was huge for me because at the networks there’s a real desire for original content but also a fear of original content. To arrive at FX and have them say, ‘Can you make it darker and more morally ambiguous?’ is incredible. (FX Networks CEO) John Landgraf would rather make something great for some people than something good for everybody.”

FX seems equally enthusiastic about Hawley. Aside from greenlighting Fargo season three, it has gone into partnership with him on Cat’s Cradle, a series based on Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical novel.

Billy Ray is adapting The Last Tycoon
Billy Ray is adapting The Last Tycoon

Another writer in the news this week is Billy Ray, who will be adapting F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon for Amazon. Ray is primarily known as a movie writer, having written around a dozen titles including The Hunger Games and Captain Phillips.

The Last Tycoon, which was made into a film in the 1970s with a Harold Pinter script, looks at Hollywood in the 1930s and is being produced by Sony Pictures Television. There were rumours in 2013 that the project was heading for HBO – but there has clearly been a rethink since then.

The project comes after the recent movie version of The Great Gatsby and another Amazon project about Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda. So keep you eyes peeled for TV adaptations of This Side of Paradise and Tender is the Night.

Congratulations are also due this week to the team behind French series Spiral, season five of which has won the International Emmy for Best Drama Series. A Canal+ show, Spiral (Engrenages in French) follows the lives and work of Paris police officers and lawyers working in the Palais de Justice.

spiral
International Emmy winner Spiral
Created by Son et Lumiere, it debuted in 2005 and has been produced at the rate of one season every two years. The first two runs comprised eight episodes each, rising to 12 after that. With season five having aired in late 2014, a sixth season is due towards the end of next year. In the meantime, it has proved popular abroad, selling to 70 countries including the UK, Australia, Japan, Mexico and the US (via Netflix).

In terms of story and script duties, the show was created Alexandra Clert and Guy-Patrick Sainderichin, with the latter writing the first season. Season two was overseen by Virginie Brac, while season three was handled by Anne Landois, Eric de Barahir and Simon Jablonka. Landois and de Barahir also led season four, while Landois and Jablonka oversaw the Emmy-winning fifth outing.

For anyone wanting to learn more about the structure and intention of the show, Spiral showrunner Landois did an interesting video interview with Vivendi. She also spoke to her UK fans via a BBC blog platform.

whitesoldier
Soldat Blanc (White Soldier)

This year’s International Emmys provided another strong indication of French drama’s increasing impact on the global scripted market. Alongside recognition for Spiral, TV movie White Soldier (Soldat Blanc) won the award for best TV movie/miniseries. Set in Saigon in 1945, the production looks at France’s conflict with Vietnam’s Viet Minh through the eyes of a pair of friends. The idea for White Soldier was from Georges Campana and the screenplay was by Olivier Lorelle. Director Erick Zonca was also credited as a writer.

Winner of the telenovela category was Imperio (Empire), which first aired on Rede Globo in Brazil. Created by Aguinaldo Silva, Imperio aired from July 2014 to March 2015 and was a substantial hit for the network. Seventy-two-year-old Silva himself is one of the most feted telenovela writers in Brazil, having been at the forefront of the industry since the 1980s. His numerous credits include a 1989 adaptation of Jorge Amado’s classic novel Tieta, which scored huge ratings, and 2004’s Senhora de Destino, another huge hit.

The International Emmys also gave a deserved nod to Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, in the shape of the 2015 Founders Award.

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Goodbye Downton: DQ studies the period drama’s legacy

As Downton Abbey enters its sixth and final season, those to have played their part in the wildly successful period drama, both behind and in front of the camera, bid an emotional farewell. Michael Pickard reports.

As the emotion-tinged trailers playing on ITV declare, it’s time to say goodbye to one of the biggest successes of recent television history.

When Downton Abbey returns for its sixth season, it starts the countdown to the period drama’s last ever episode, which will air in the UK on Christmas Day.

Viewers will return to the country estate of Downton Abbey in 1925, when secrets and rifts threaten the unity of its primary inhabitants – the aristocratic Crawley family – while their servants below stairs navigate social changes that put their futures in jeopardy.

Julian Fellowes walks away from the Downton Abbey set
Julian Fellowes walks away from the Downton Abbey set

After six years on air and with a possible movie in the works, it’s fair to say the show is a worldwide phenomenon. Airing in more than 250 countries, Downton is the highest rating UK drama of the past decade across any channel, according to ITV, with an average of 11 million viewers over the course of the last five seasons (including Christmas specials).

In the US, where Downton airs on Masterpiece on PBS, season five had a weekly average audience of 12.9 million viewers and was watched by 25.5 million people.

ITV director of television Peter Fincham says that while commissioners can never tell if a show will be a success, he loved Downton from the beginning.

“We loved the script. We heard filming was going very well. We thought it was wonderfully cast,” he says. “If I were in the business of teaching television drama and I wanted to choose the best first episode in terms of exposition and introduction of characters, it would be the very first episode of Downton Abbey.

“Of course, Downton Abbey has an image as a posh series about posh people but one of its great achievements is its even-handedness between upstairs and downstairs. The lives of the characters downstairs are as richly drawn as those upstairs. We are now getting to the end and we absolutely respect Julian (Fellowes, creator and writer) and Gareth (Neame, executive producer)’s feeling that this is the right time to bring it to an end – to leave the audience wanting more. We’re very grateful for Downton Abbey. It’s been a wonderful series on ITV.”

Neame, MD of Downton producer Carnival Films, recalls taking the project to ITV with Fellowes, and says they never once approached the BBC: “It was always destined for ITV. We always saw it on Sunday nights at 21.00 in a very broad entertainment channel because it was about telling a new story and rebooting this much-loved genre.

“It’s been part of a real golden age of drama at ITV and we’re also thrilled that this has been a truly British representative in this golden age of drama around the world, where a British show can really punch above its weight alongside those shows we all revere from the US.”

Hugh Bonneville: 'We’re in the middle of the hurricane, so we don’t really realise the impact it’s had and it will take a few years to realise what it’s meant for all of us'
Hugh Bonneville: ‘We’re in the middle of the hurricane, so we don’t really realise the impact it’s had and it will take a few years to realise what it’s meant for all of us’

Fellowes admits he toyed with ending Downton Abbey after season five but felt he needed one more season (eight episodes, plus the Christmas special) to resolve the numerous storylines.

Not everything will be wrapped up, however. “You always leave slightly open-ended stories because life is an open-ended story until you die and you can’t kill the entire cast,” he says. “We haven’t plugged everything but we’ve shown what the next chunk of everyone’s life would be. I think it’s satisfactory; I hope it is.

“There’s always a concern that with any show, you don’t want it to go on, fall away and start to dwindle. We can all name favourite shows we adored for the first three or four seasons and then gradually lost interest in. We wanted to go out when people were still sorry. It seems the right time to go when we’re still firing.”

While Fellowes created the series, he says the writing process has often been a collaborative process between himself and the cast. In particular, he says Mrs Patmore – the cook portrayed by Lesley Nicol – wasn’t supposed to be funny to begin with. But when he realised how funny Nicol was, he started writing humour into her lines.

He adds: “You do feel sorry to say goodbye to these people because I’ve enjoyed their creation. The actors, what they bring to them, is a huge part of why these people are interesting and I’m sorry to see them go. I’m very unlikely to be involved in anything as successful again, so I say goodbye to these golden years with a slight pang.”

Many among the cast admit working on a show as successful as Downton is likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Maggie Smith, who plays the Dowager Countess, says: “I’m just surprised I got to the end because, just before Downton, I’d done 10 years with Harry Potter, so I felt very old indeed by the time I got to the Dowager. I’m just surprised I got through it.”

Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates) admits that none of the cast thought they’d remain on the show for six years: “I never imagined Anna would go through so much, so as an actor I’ve been extremely fortunate to have such fantastic scenes to play and have Brendan (Coyle, who plays Anna’s husband John Bates) to play with. We’re all proud we’ve got Downton on our CV.”

Echoing a sentiment shared by many of the cast, Froggatt adds: “We are a true ensemble. Downton is a show in which, as characters, we’re either supporting a scene or leading a scene. We all have our share in both roles. That’s what makes it so nice. I had the most amazing support when I was leading scenes and you do it for your fellow actors.”

Filming on Downton finished in mid-August, with weeks of goodbyes as cast and crew said farewell to locations and each other until the final scenes were filmed.

Jim Carter (right): 'After we filmed the last scene, the producers came in and said thank you, and I thought I’d say a few words about the crew, and then I just filled up completely'
Jim Carter (right): ‘After we filmed the last scene, the producers came in and said thank you, and I thought I’d say a few words about the crew, and then I just filled up completely’

“When we wrapped up filming at Highclere Castle (which stands in for Downton Abbey), that’s when it started,” says Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary Crawley. “It felt like we were giving the house back to the owners. It’s an emotional time but it’s also exciting because we’re just celebrating all the time. It’s changed all our lives and opened up opportunities. We never imagined it would have become this much of a success, so I feel very fortunate to have been part of the Downton family.”

Dockery praises Fellowes’ writing as a key reason for the show’s success and says that while other cast members left mid-series and moved on to other projects, she couldn’t have made the same decision.

“After season three, when we were all in negotiations to do four and five, there was certainly a moment where I thought, ‘This may be my time to go.’ But I couldn’t bear the idea of watching the show and not being a part of it. In the end, the decision was made for me because I wouldn’t have liked that.”

For Hugh Bonneville (Robert, Earl of Grantham), the final days of filming Downton were a time for reflection. “I didn’t have grey hair in season one,” he says, “so you look back on six years and realise we’ve been on quite a rollercoaster together. I’ve never had an experience like this before and I probably won’t again. I doubt any of us will – to have something where every department on set has worked to the top of its game and to have been embraced by an audience to this extent.

“We’re in the middle of the hurricane, so we don’t really realise the impact it’s had and it will take a few years to realise what it’s meant for all of us. It has been a uniquely happy experience. The fact we’re all still pals after six years is surprising and a testament to something. It is a genuine ensemble – the only lynchpin is the house. None of us is indispensable and it’s been a great lesson for all of us.”

The final group scene to be filmed featured the servants in the downstairs quarters. Once wrapped, it fell to Jim Carter, who plays Carson the butler, to say a few words. However, as he recalls, it all became very emotional.

“We filmed the last scene of the series in a candle-lit servants’ hall with all the servants,” he says. “The producers came in and said thank you, and I thought I’d say a few words about the crew, and then I just filled up completely. I turned round and a big rigger was in floods of tears. Phyllis Logan (Mrs Hughes) was a dreadful mess on the floor.”

But after six years in the same role, Carter is relishing the chance to play different characters.

“In reality, it’s job done and you move on,” he explains. “I’m not being cynical when I say that, that’s just what we do. But it has been a lovely job and an unprecedented success – something none of us have experienced before or probably will again.

Laura Carmichael (right): ' I feel so proud to be a part of it'
Laura Carmichael (right): ‘People love to love it, it’s an infectious feeling and I feel so proud to be a part of it’

“For some of the youngsters, this is the first job they’ve done. Well, kids, life isn’t going to be like that forever – you’re not always going to be turning left on the plane! I want to do new things and different things, but I’m incredibly grateful to Downton. We’re not creatures of routine, generally speaking.”

Carter, who believes TV commissioners should be braver in backing writing talent, also speaks fondly of his character’s endearing relationship with Mrs Hughes, who at the start of season six are setting a date for their wedding: “We’ve moved together with all the haste of a glacier, but I think the will is there for the people who watch it for us to get together. It’s realistic that people with that close working relationship become friends and become fond of each other.”

The last word, however, falls to Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), who filmed her last lines several days after that final servants’ scene that caused so many emotions to bubble to the surface.

“It’s been such a joy, all of the goodbyes, as much as it’s been sad,” she says. “It’s an alchemy of everything coming together perfectly. All departments are so strong; the look of the show is so mega and it coincides with this incredible script. You can’t underestimate how each department is responsible for the success. People are so kind about the show. It sits in a really nice place for families of all generations. People love to love it, it’s an infectious feeling and I feel so proud to be a part of it.”

Downton could receive more accolades after winning nominations for this month’s Emmy Awards, while there is promise of further prizes next year after the series’ conclusion. For cast and crew, the close of the show represents the end of a unique chapter of their careers, while ITV will hope its recently announced eight-part drama Victoria, starring Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman as the young Queen Victoria, can recreate in some part the global success of this iconic British drama.

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Good Fellowes

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Julian Fellowes leaves Downton behind

Julian Fellowes is one of the hottest writing properties in global drama thanks to the success of Downton Abbey. So when it was announced that Downton’s next series will be its last, there was inevitable speculation about what he would do next.

The answer, revealed this week, is that Fellowes is working on a three-part adaptation of Doctor Thorne, Anthony Trollope’s novel about a doctor and his talented but penniless niece. Produced by Hat Trick Productions for ITV, filming starts later this year.

Trollope’s works don’t get as much attention as other 19th century authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. But there have been high-profile adaptations of The Pallisers, The Barchester Chronicles, The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right. Explaining his choice of project, Fellowes says: “As a lifetime devotee of Trollope – my own favourite among the great 19th century English novelists and certainly the strongest influence over my work that I am conscious of – it is exciting to know that my adaptation of one of his best-loved novels is coming to ITV.”

While many of Fellowes’ screen credits, including Downton Abbey, are original works, Fellowes is no stranger to novel adaptations. In fact, he wrote the screenplay for Vanity Fair, a 2004 film version of the classic 19th century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray.

EPSON MFP imageAs a three-parter, Dr Thorne won’t occupy Fellowes for too long. So it will be interesting to see if he continues his partnership with ITV into 2016. In 2012, there were reports that he was planning a Downton Abbey prequel, focusing on the youthful romance between central characters Lord and Lady Grantham.

Other writer-based developments in the UK include news that in-demand Hugo Blick has been signed up to write a series for BBC2. In a vague statement, the BBC says the show is about “a compelling set of characters caught up in a very human moral dilemma and plays out in a setting drama rarely takes us to, contemporary Africa.”

Although details are currently under wraps, audiences can expect the complex conspiratorial storytelling that Blick gave us in The Honourable Woman, a political thriller set against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to the Guardian, “Viewing a Blick series is like someone coming to you with a ball of horribly knotted and twisted wool and promising to knit you a sweater.”

In the US, the civil rights and abolitionist movements continue to provide rich sources of material for writers. Kirk Ellis, writer of HBO miniseries John Adams (2008), has joined forces with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin TV, to pen a biopic for HBO about famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Based on Kate Clifford Larson’s book Bound for the Promised Land, the production will highlight Tubman’s involvement in leading slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad and later fighting during the Civil War.

Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney
HBO’s John Adams, starring Paul Giamatti (left) and Laura Linney

The John Adams miniseries was a multiple Golden Globe and Emmy winner, which explains why Ellis was a shoe-in for this new project. He was also credited as a co-writer with Stephen David and David C. White on Sons of Liberty, History US’s three-part miniseries about the early years of the American Revolution.

Fellowes, Blick and Ellis are all A-list writers these days. In terms of rising stars, this week saw James Wood (Rev, Ambassadors) named as writer on Game Changer (working title), a BBC factual drama starring Daniel Radcliffe and Bill Paxton. Aimed at an adult audience, this 90-minute drama tells the story of the controversy surrounding video game franchise Grand Theft Auto.

Stateside, Bravo Media is boosting its scripted output (like every other cable broadcaster). A new slate of shows includes White Collar Wives, which looks at the ripple effect of an FBI investigation into insider trading, as the women married to the financial elite go to extreme lengths to save themselves. The project is from BBC Worldwide-owned Adjacent Productions and is being written by Vanessa Reisen (Weeds, Californication).

Bravo’s new orders also reflect the way in which writing talent is crossing from movie to TV. One of its new shows, My So Called Wife, is co-written by Adam Brooks – whose movie credits include French Kiss, Wimbledon and Definitely Maybe. Brooks and writing partner Paul Adelstein previously scripted Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce for Bravo and are reuniting for My So Called Wife.

house of cards
Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

In terms of projects that need writers, the big story is that Fox 21 Television Studios and Kevin Spacey are linking up to produce a TV drama adaptation – The Residence, by Kate Andersen Brower, a best-selling non-fiction book about life at the White House. At the time this story was published, no writer had been attached to the show.

Some good news for British writers, meanwhile, is this week’s decision by commercial broadcaster ITV to raise wages for drama writers. They will get a 5% pay increase following negotiations between ITV and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. The rate for a one-hour drama will rise to £13,283, up from £12,650. Rates for writing series increase to £10,395 per episode, up from £9,900. Presumably this is a minimum, with the likes of Mr Fellowes able to command a much higher pay packet for Dr Thorne.

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