A big screen transfer for Downton Abbey has been rumoured for almost as long as the hit show ran on television. But on Friday the movie was confirmed, with creator Julian Fellowes scripting, The Book Thief's Brian Percival to direct and Universal Studios to distribute.
Production will start later this summer, with a release in 2019 likely. Plot details remain under wraps, but it is expected the action will pick up directly from the last season’s finale, which was set in 1926.
“When the television series drew to a close it was our dream to bring the millions of global fans a movie and now, after getting many stars aligned, we are shortly to go into production,” said producer Gareth Neame.
“ Julian’s script charms, thrills and entertains and in Brian Percival’s hands we aim to deliver everything that one would hope for as Downton comes to the big screen.”
The show, which ran for six seasons on ITV in the UK and PBS in the US, won three Golden Globes and 15 Emmys from 69 nominations, which made it the most-nominated non-US television show in the history of the awards.
Beginning in 2010, its enormous following worldwide is credited with kickstarting a revival in period drama on both the big screen and small , and propelling stars including Hugh Bonneville, Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery to international fame.
The series was originally conceived as a spinoff TV prequel to Gosford Park, Fellowes' Oscar-winning 2001 film about a murder in a stately home, which also featured Maggie Smith as a waspish matriarch.
Speaking to Graham Norton in 2015, Smith, now 83, suggested her appearance in any film would be implausible. "I can't – what age would she be?" she said. "By the time we finished, she must have been about 110. It couldn't go on and on, it just didn't make sense."
In a webchat with the Guardian in 2017, Fellowes suggested any delay with the film was logistical. “Then the biggest difficulty will be rounding up all the cast as, compared with most series, it has such a large cast. And it needs them to feel Downtonesque.”
He continued: “I know the cast are behind it and there’s a big audience out there,” Fellowes continued. “On most movies, unless it’s Spider-Man 6, you’re taking a [RISK]. But it’s pretty likely the Downton movie will happen.”
Films with their origins in British TV shows have something of a chequered cinematic history. A lull in commissions was seen following a spate of sitcom spin offs in the 1970s and 80s, including On the Buses, Are You Being Served? and George and Mildred.
The success of In the Loop, most of whose characters were first seen in In the Thick of It, bucked the trend, as did the enormously successful two Inbetweeners movies. But a revival of Dad’s Army in 2016 has yet to spawn a sequel, and, in the US, film versions of Sex and the City and Baywatch met with a tepid critical reception.
However, there is less form when it comes to drama series rather than comedies becoming films – particularly those featuring the original cast. Films of The Man from Uncle and Mission: Impossible refreshed the lineup, while the upcoming Sopranos film sets the action decades before the TV show began.