Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Julian Fellowes’

Downton Abbey **

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th September, 2019

Downton AbbeyI am one of that rare breed of people in Britain who never watched a single episode of the long-running cult TV series Downton Abbey, though I did sit in on a live interview with its creator, Julian Fellowes, some years ago. One day, I thought, they will make a film of it, which I shall go to see, even though nostalgia-infused upstairs-downstairs dramas aren’t really my thing. This is indeed that feature film. The screenplay is also by Lord Fellowes and the cast will be familiar to fans of the TV show. In fact, I suspect it was mainly made to provide comfort and sustenance to those who had been feeling Downton withdrawal symptoms. The action is set in the late 1920s — after the general strike has caused a few shudders — and centres on an imagined visit by King George V and Queen Mary to Downton Abbey as part of a royal peregrination among fine houses in Yorkshire and other points North. Highclere Castle (the real “Downton Abbey”) is as glorious as ever in its starring role and Harewood House puts in a cameo appearance. Cue for National Trust members to swoon. And in all fairness, it is all very beautiful. Of course it is the intrigues and amours of both the extended Crawley family and their devoted servants that provide the meat in this period piece stew. A couple of new excitements, including an attempted assassination and a police raid on a pop-up gay dance venue, add an extra frisson, but otherwise the film just drifts gently along like a cricket match on a late summer’s afternoon. Hugh Bonneville, as the Earl of Grantham, is charmingly ineffectual; it is the women of the household who have  some gumption. Maggie Smith as the Dowager matriarch has a few spicy, acid quips and asides, but the part does not stretch her. Remember, this is an actor who is capable of something as remarkable and magnificent as the eponymous The Lady in the Van. There are some handsome men and some pretty women in Downton Abbey, which will please many punters. And I suppose as a couple of hours of escapism from 2019 Brexit Britain the movie has its uses. But, oh dear, surely it could have been less superficial and cutesy make-believe?

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An Evening with Julian Fellowes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th November, 2011

Since its foundation 18 years ago, the Friends of Heath Library has organised 150 literary events in the 1930s single storey building that houses the library, right next door to glorious Keats’ House in Hampstead. The very first speaker was the novelist Margaret Drabble, whereas this evening, after the Friends’ AGM, its 150th visitor was the writer, actor, producer and Conservative life peer, Julian Fellowes. Invited to talk ‘for a few minutes’ about himself, he gave a wonderfully discursive and joyfully prolonged presentation of his life and works, nicely balancing the grandeur of success with a healthy dose of self-deprecation. Although he has won most of his plaudits (including an Oscar) for his writing for cinema and television, he is clearly still a thespian at heart: marvellous timing and cadence and lots of good jokes. He is of course currently flavour of the month (maybe even of the year), having built on the great success of the film Gosford Park with the even more successful TV series, Downton Abbey, for which he chose Highclere as the setting. He had some lovely tales of working with Robert Altman on the former and with Maggie Smith in the latter. He is also a great supporter of public libraries, including on his own home patch in Dorset. The Heath Library is one that the philistine Labour Council in Camden is closing, but the Friends — together with the City of London Corporation, who own the freehold on the property — hope to be able to put a package together which will mean that a privately-run library (employing both professional staff and volunteers) will keep the library functioning; but the City, in particular, will foster literary and other artistic events, including maybe creatng a small, secure exhibition space, in which they could, for example, have on display rare letters from John Keats, which are too vakuable to show at the less easily protected Keat’s House.


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