Julian Fellowes, the writer of ITV1’s period-drama megahit Downton Abbey, says he is planning a prequel about the first meeting and courtship of Lord and Lady Grantham.
Downton’s owners are played in the current series by Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, but would be portrayed by young actors were the new project – originally conceived by Fellowed as a book, but now planned as an ITV series – to make it to screen.
“I do actually have an idea of doing a prequel of the courtship of Robert and Cora, when all those American heiresses were arriving in London – the Buccaneers, as they were called,” Fellowes said. “They had a slightly troubled courtship, because she was in love with him before they married, as we know, and he married her entirely for her money.
“I sort of feel there’s something quite nice in there because he’s a decent cove, and so he feels rather guilty about this.”
Speaking at a Bafta Screenwriters’ Lecture at the British Film Institute in London, Fellowes also said Downton could become a stage play or film – but that any spin-offs would have to wait for Downton Abbey itself to run its course.
“I don’t think you can continue a narrative in more than one area at once,” he said. “I never really liked those Coronation Street Christmas specials where they all go to Haiti, and you don’t have to watch it. Somehow it doesn’t feel very organic.”
Fellowes also commented on finding success as a writer late in life, after years as a jobbing actor: “People say to me, ‘Wouldn’t you rather this had all happened when you were 30?’ The short answer is yes, but the long answer is that by the time you’re 50 you’ve made a fool of yourself so many times, the thought you might make a fool of yourself is no longer a deterrent. So you just cheerfully take it on board and have a crack.”
The 63-year-old credited Hollywood with launching his writing career: in 2001, Fellowes came from nowhere to win an Academy Award for his screenplay for Gosford Park, directed by Robert Altman. “I do feel very strongly that America rescued me,” he said. “They allowed me a promotion within the business that I would not have been allowed by my British contemporaries.
“All the stuff in England, the stuff we have about each other, they don’t care about all that. They care about whether your last picture did anything and what you’re doing next.”
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news