Downton Abbey – Julian Fellowes, Jessica Brown Findlay and Allen Leech discuss the political issues of the third series

by Anna Howell

It feels like forever since the unique and fabulous world of the residents of Downton Abbey was on our screens, but fear not, next month see’s the launch of the new series on ITV.

Fans of the show will know how from last year’s Christmas day special, Matthew and Mary had finally given to their very obvious feelings for each other and decided to get married, Bates had been arrested for the murder of his ex-wife and Sybil had run off with Tom Branson  to start a new life in Ireland as the humble wife of a radical journalist.

A big part of the third series seems to be focussed on the political beliefs that resurfaced after the war, something which the character of Tom delivers brilliantly.  Now married to Sybil, he is allowed to speak his mind at the dinner table, and does as often as he can.

Julian Fellowes, the mastermind behind the hit series,  explained:

“The issues in Ireland were very real, and in the forefront of the minds of those it effected, but the war pushed it to one side.  When the world woke up from the war, there were gig changes ahead, the whole of the world was about to enter into the roaring 20’s, where a lot of the class issues that had been so prominent before the war, seem to have been erased, or at least diluted.  Tom is a big example of someone passionate and committed to his political beliefs, and now that he is allowed to use his voice he does so.  You can look forward to many prominent political discussions.  It has worked well, as all the issues around at that time will be portrayed through this one character, which is not just fighting for his beliefs politically, but in doing so has then also to deal with the huge clash of class his marrying above himself has caused.”

Allen Leech, who plays Tom Branson in the show, commented:

“Branson is living back in Ireland with Sybil, and they’re basically paupers.  They’re living on Sybil’s money, which is obviously not where Branson wants to be – he made the choice to leave, he’s become a journalist back in Ireland, and essentially he’s fighting for the Irish Republican cause, trying to educate people.  But the problem is he’s not able to provide for his own wife, and now they are expecting a baby.  And then they come back for a big event, obviously, which is Matthew and Mary’s wedding.

“You see Branson completely lost in this world that he used to work in.  No one below stairs wants him because they don’t know how to act with him, and certainly no one welcome’s him upstairs, so the only person he has to talk to or confide in is his own wife.  Essentially he is completely isolated from these two worlds, and it’s a very difficult place for him to be.

“One of the worries that Lord Grantham has for Branson is that he’s getting more politically active this series.  He finds himself in a very strange place because he rallies against the English in Ireland yet the one place he then looks for refuge is Downton Abbey.”

Being the only actor in the show who has made the transition from downstairs to up, Leech commented:

“I was used to just getting into my green uniform every day, and then I arrived this year, and the costume department said, ‘You know we’re going to have to get you some suits?’  Doing my first dining room scene, even as an actor I still felt like, ‘I shouldn’t be here.’  I didn’t know what to do with the cutlery and whatnot – which of course is great for the character because he wouldn’t know what to do either.  Little things kept happening during filming like I wouldn’t put my serviette down – and Jim (Carter, Carson) would have to come over and do it.

His on-screen wife, Jessica Brown Findlay, who plays his wife, Lady Sybil in the show, had this to say about the future of her character in series 3:

“A lot has changed for Sybil but we find her incredibly happy and settled.  She’s always been able to find her identity.  She’s spent these months in Ireland with Branson, she’s had the joy of work, she’s felt independence and she’s completely accepted there.  She’s just really content.  I think she’s still hoping for some sort of reconciliation between her husband and her family, but in general it’s the happiest and most content we’ve seen her.  And of course she’s pregnant – so she’s preparing for her own little family too.”

With regards to the Irish political issue her on-screen husband is involved in, she said:

“A big concern is the Irish problem: her involvement in that and what it will mean in terms of the freedoms they will or will not have to come back and forth to the house.  She’s in a quite tricky position.  She needs to come back because her family demands it but she also needs to not take too much of an English stance on Ireland.  She’s caught between two worlds in a way.”

But with regards to her relationship status, she added:

“She’s treated far more like a grown up now.  I don’t think her opinions and the things she’s doing are quite so laughable any more – because she’s followed through with them.  She’s not just a flippant teenager doing things to bait them.  Her sisters in particular see her as much worldly now.  She can relate to them in many ways but I think they all relate to each other now because they’ve had a bit more life experience.”

And her sisters?

“Sybil’s always had the love of the two of them.  She’s never really had trouble – it’s a different relationship to that between Edith and Mary, definitely.  Sybil and Mary will have heated discussions but they’re quite similar in a way.  They take things quite seriously.  Sybil’s relationship with Edith Is interesting because she sees a lot of herself in Edith – such as never feeling like she quite fits in.  Neither Sybil nor Edith have quite fitted the mould of a lady in the way their parents expected.”

“She’s treated far more like a grown up now.  I don’t think her opinions and the things she’s doing are quite so laughable any more – because she’s followed through with them.  She’s not just a flippant teenager doing things to bait them.  Her sisters in particular see her as much worldly now.  She can relate to them in many ways but I think they all relate to each other now because they’ve had a bit more life experience.”

And her sisters?

“Sybil’s always had the love of the two of them.  She’s never really had trouble – it’s a different relationship to that between Edith and Mary, definitely.  Sybil and Mary will have heated discussions but they’re quite similar in a way.  They take things quite seriously.  Sybil’s relationship with Edith Is interesting because she sees a lot of herself in Edith – such as never feeling like she quite fits in.  Neither Sybil nor Edith have quite fitted the mould of a lady in the way their parents expected.”

The new series on Downton Abbey begins next month on ITV1/ITV1 hd.

2 Comments

  1. Ilze Choi on August 21, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I suspect that this couple, Sybil and Tom, will be hit by tragedy in Season 3. I liked this couple the most because of their dramatic predicament and the historic issue of Ireland. It’s too bad that the film did not show their life in Dublin. The Irish wedding would have been super! I dread viewing Season 3.

  2. Jessie on August 21, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    I’m the same llze Choi, I dread whats going to happen with Sybil and Tom! I just hope nothing to bad happens…

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