'It felt like the end of an era,' Joanne Froggatt tells Metacritic of filming 'Downton Abbey: A New Era.'
Downton Abbey has returned once again with Downton Abbey: A New Era, and a few things have changed and a few tears have been shed in the Crawley household.
As the new movie begins, the 1930s are looming, a movie director named Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy) has chosen Downton as the setting for his latest film, and the ailing Violet (Maggie Smith) reveals she's been mysteriously willed a villa in the south of France, which she is now willing to her granddaughter Sybbie (Fifi Hart). That means there's a whole lot going on both upstairs and downstairs, where a few of the Downton staff are preparing for a trip to France, and the rest are all abuzz about the fact that there will be movie stars living in their house, asking them for tea.
Anna (Joanne Froggatt) mostly keeps her cool, but she lets Daisy (Sophie McShera) do the freaking out about getting to serve the famous Myrna Dagleish (Laura Haddock). Unfortunately for them, Myrna turns out to be a total pill who will barely look them in the eye. Things take quite the turn when the silent film is forced to turn into a talkie, and Myrna's worst fears are realized: Her voice is terrible, and she can't do the posh accent required for her character. She really loses it when Barber recruits Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) to dub over her lines, and bombards herself in her room, eventually only opening it for her dutiful maids/fans: Anna and Daisy.
The two women, unexpectedly led by Daisy, save the day, convincing Myrna to finish the movie, and are eventually rewarded when Barber casts the Downton staff as extras in a climactic dinner scene. Violet takes a turn for the worse and ends up passing away, but she is sure that Lady Mary will carry on her sharp-witted legacy — whether viewers get to see that happen or not.
In a chat with Metacritic, Froggatt reflects on saying goodbye to Violet, watching her character grow over the years, and shares her thoughts on the future of Downton.
Is it strange for you to still be doing press for Downton Abbey after so many years?
It's wonderful. We never would have dared imagine when we first started, filming that first season, that we'd be still here 12 years later, two movies on, six seasons on, and still talking about Downton and still loving it as well. I mean, it's incredible. We just don't get the chance to do that, usually. So I feel very very blessed.
What was your reaction when you first read the new film script?
I really think Julian and the team have surpassed themselves on this movie because it really. I've seen it twice, and it really made me laugh out loud so many times on both viewings. It also made me cry both times, and I know what happens, obviously. I read the script and played the role. So I really do think that the audience is going to love it as much as we enjoyed making it. I just think it's really gorgeous, laugh out loud, moving, just leaves you feeling really positive and it just feels like a warm hug. It's what we all need right now, a bit of escapism and joy and entertainment.
Were you as excited about the staff getting to be extras in the fake movie as the characters were?
Yeah, it was fun. It was fun to be able to do the dressing up in our costumes, because they're quite out there. It's a movie within a movie, so they're a 1920s take on what an 1800s southern American style would be. So, there was quite a lot of leeway for Anna Robbins, our brilliant costume designer, to sort of have real fun with that. It was a fun scene to shoot because none of us had seen each other in our costumes until the day, and some of them were just very comical, actually. Like, Rob James-Collier had these stick-on sideburns and for some reason he especially looked incredibly comedic. It was good fun to film.
Anna and Daisy get to save the day a bit, and it's a little unexpected. What were those scenes like to film?
It was really fun. All three of us enjoyed filming those scenes together, Sophie McShera, and Laura Haddock and myself. It was great fun, and really nice to see Daisy coming into her own as well and becoming this strong woman now that she's married and we've seen her progress as a character through the seasons into this second movie. The fact that it's actually Daisy giving a pep talk this time around, and she said it how it is and doesn't suffer fools, Anna is a bit taken aback a bit, but she gets it right. They were really fun scenes to film, and the three of us really loved working together.
What's it like for you to look back on where Anna started to where she is now, especially after watching Daisy blossom like that?
It's incredible because it's so incredibly rare as an actor that you get to play a character over the course of 12 years, on and off. To be able to have that kind of character arc is practically unheard of, so it's just amazing to think of where I started with her as a character at the beginning of Season 1, the slow burn love story with her and Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), and everything Mr. Bates went through, how the universe seemed to be pulling them apart, but we were willing them to get together, and all the trauma Anna went through, and then having their baby and finding that place of happiness towards the end of the seasons. And now to be able to play her in a really good place in her life — really excited and happy — is lovely. It's lovely for me because she's been a big part of my life and I want to see her happy as well. I just have a real special place in my heart for Anna Bates.
Do you assume there will be more Downton?
Never assume, never assume. We'd love there to be more. I mean, how much longer can we keep going? I don't know, that's really up to the audience. If there's still an appetite for more Downton, and if Julian feels he has another movie in him, then I think we would all love to do a third, but who knows? We'll have to wait and see.
Do you see Anna staying in this role for the rest of her life, or do you see her branching out?
I don't really see her branching out. She's actually got to an incredibly successful place in her career for a woman of that time, so she loves it. She loves where she is. She's in a really good place. She loves being Lady Mary's maid. She's great at it, you know? I think her and Mr. Bates have found their place in life, and there was talk of them having a B&B at one point. Maybe one day they'll get Bates B&B — not Bates Motel. That's a different show.
It feels like there could be a really fun future in store, with Lady Mary as the new Violet and Anna as her maid. They could be a real power duo. What are you hoping for the future?
Oh goodness, I don't know. I leave that to Julian, really. Whatever Julian writes, it's always really fun and exciting to read. ... Of course, everything has an ending, doesn't it? We've said goodbye to each other three times now, so I hope we get to say goodbye for a fourth. We'll see.
Speaking of goodbyes, tell me about saying goodbye to the Dowager Countess. It must have really felt like a big deal.
It was just incredibly moving, the scenes of the procession to the funeral. Obviously it's just a character, but it did feel like the end of an era to us as well, because the dowager is such a big part of Downton, and she's such an integral part. So the fact that in our pretend world, the Dowager is leaving us, is incredibly moving and poignant. Like I said, it felt like the end of an era.
Get to know Joanne Froggatt:
Froggatt starred on the Downton Abbey series, which has a Metascore of 91, but she is also known for roles in Robin Hood (70), Liar (63) and Angela Black (60), on which she is also a co-executive producer.