It’s been a long 18 months since the doors were closed on Downton Abbey. Since then, creator Julian Fellowes has been busy with ITV drama Doctor Thorne and stage productions of School of Rock, Half a Sixpence and Wind in the Willows. But it sounds like he’s finally settling down to write his new drama – The Gilded Age – which was first commissioned in 2012 but we’ve heard remarkably little of ever since.
In a web chat with the Guardian, Fellowes explained why he’d been “so slow off the mark with it”.
“I’m trying to tidy my desk. As an actor, it’s hard to say no to anything – and that continues as a writer. So I want to tidy my desk of commitments and move on with The Gilded Age – a new world and a new bunch of characters.”
The writer and actor also shared some information on the backdrop to his new series which has been billed as Downton Abbey in the USA.
Comparing the world he will create to that of American novelist Edith Wharton, he said: “what she explores is a period of the crossing of two waters in New York – you had the old landed gentry – the younger sons mainly – and from them came George Washington, Thomas Jefferson. They were the dominant social class.
“They lived in largish, simple houses in Washington Square. And into that culture came this torrent of money after the civil war. These people decided to come and spend their fortunes in New York and they started to build palaces up Fifth Avenue. Park Avenue became a great boulevard of New York. If you go up to the 80s, 90s addresses you can still see these palaces.
“And there was this great battle of these two social groups. And there was this woman, Caroline Astor, who came from old, original 17th-century settlers and she felt this gave her the right to be the determiner of who was in and who was out. She recognised that New York society had to expand – that there couldn’t be two rival societies side by side. She was very powerful. That’s the background of what The Gilded Age series will look at..”
It all sounds intriguing – but let’s be honest, what the fans really want to hear about is the proposed Downton Abbey film which has been rumoured ever since the series came off air in December 2015.
“I keep being asked about the Downton film,” wrote Fellowes. “I’ve done some work on the script because I don’t want to find there’s a green light and no script ready. But we’re still waiting for that green light from the studio. 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.
“I know the cast are behind it and there’s a big audience out there. On most movies, unless it’s Spider-Man 6, you’re taking a punt. But it’s pretty likely the Downton movie will happen.”
The writer also revealed that, while he had little interest in extending Downton into the 1930s, he “did think it would be fun to do it in the 70s.”
But he added: “In the whole series we went from 1912 to 1925 and you can believably keep the same actors in that range – maybe with a bit more grey at the temples. If there’s a bigger jump in time there’s less believability in it.”
And while most of the questions were centred around film and television, one fan did want to know if Lord Fellowes had ever graced Nando’s with his presence. The answer was a surprising “Yes!” Apparently “there’s an excellent one in Dorchester, right next to the cinema”…!