Jim Carter (Mr Carson)
With the overarching theme of Downton Abbey series three being the conflict between continuity and change, Carson the butler is increasingly being seen as a man wanting to preserve the social order:
“These are slightly more economically straitened times after the war,” says actor Jim Carter. “Some of the younger staff are all trying to say, ‘Well, do we really have to go back to the old ways?’ I insist that we have to.”
“Carson is a constant. He’s like the house: he is always there and he never changes or he tries not to. Of course, circumstances force changes on the house and on him. But his generation, people of his age, can’t change, can they?”
Carter cites an example from his own family as to how this is still true today: “My mother is still clinically incapable of buying any foodstuff that costs more than £3.26, you know! It is just not going to happen. So yes, he is fighting a lonely and sometimes losing battle. Even Mrs Hughes is not completely sympathetic.”
So is the actor as sombre off-screen as his character is in front of the retinue of staff at Downton?
“Although the atmosphere is a bit more unbuttoned downstairs, that is just not my working method really. I tend to stay reasonably quiet. I don’t think I am gloomy but I tend to remain fairly focused.”
And speaking of preserving standards from days gone by, is there anything that Carter would like to transport from the 1920s to the 21st century?
“I am quite a fan of good manners. And a life without mobile phones would be nice. In fact, filming at Highclere Castle is great because I certainly can’t get a signal – so you just leave the thing and forget about it. Which is rather lovely.”
Phyllis Logan (Mrs Hughes)
The relationship between Mrs Hughes and Carson has always been dignified and respectful. But in this latest series, Downton’s head housekeeper reveals herself to be more progressive than her colleague:
“They still have that nice warmth and respect between them but he still is very much Mr Play-It-by-the-book. Whereas Mrs Hughes is more progressive, in as much as a head housekeeper ever can be,” says Phyllis Logan. “I mean, she is still in her corset, but you know, apart from that, I think she is a little more of a lefty than he would ever consider right or proper.”
So, will these differences in opinion lead to new alliances being forged below stairs? It seems that Mrs Hughes is set to gain fresh respect for cook Mrs Patmore:
“They become a little more of a partnership, let’s say. There’s always been a little bit of tension between them because of the store cupboard key business in series one. But in these circumstances that all seems to go by the board when they realise that they could actually be succour for each other in certain circumstances.”
All very mysterious – what are these ‘circumstances’ to which Logan alludes?
“She has some issues of her own to be dealing with at the start of the series. They do get resolved but it is a bit challenging and I think it does give her a different sort of perspective on things – on life.”
And what can we expect of Mrs Hughes for the rest of series three?
“As we go on, she looks out for someone you wouldn’t think she would be supportive of in any way – she actually shows some kindness and support for this unlikely person. There’s a part of her that doesn’t accept fools gladly but I think she realizes that we all have our foibles – and perhaps she seen more of life than people think.”