Representing Focus Features at this year’s The Contenders London was this year’s not-so-surprise Brit hit Downton Abbey, which brought producer Liz Trubridge, actor Michael C Fox — who plays footman Andy Parker — and costume designer Anna Robbins to the stage. Speaking to Deadline’s Peter White, the trio confirmed that bringing the popular TV show to the screen had been no easy task.
“I think we started talking about it probably during series five,” said Trubridge. “We knew were going to wrap up in the next season, we had an idea for the story, and we really, really wanted to achieve it, but we knew it was going to be an incredibly difficult task because no one in their right mind sets out to do a feature film with 20 main characters. So we just thought, ‘Well, we’re gonna do it, but if we’re going to do it, it has to stand on its own. It’s got to be something that people can come to even if they haven’t seen the series.’”
Luckily, the cast didn’t need much persuading to return. “Everybody was up for it,” Trubridge recalled. “But it was just (a question o) finding the time, that 10-week period, in which we could get that huge cast together.” She laughed. “Our poor lawyers said that bringing this cast together made the negotiations for Brexit look like a walk in the park. So that was our biggest challenge.”
For Fox, it was thrilling, but daunting. “I think we were all a bit nervous on the first day,” he said, “like we were going back to school. But once we got past that first day, we just back into the rhythm of it and everyone had a great time.”
Robbins, for her part, added that making the big-screen adaptation had made some things harder but others much easier. “The challenge of taking it from the small screen to the big screen was literally that the costumes were going to be seen on a massive scale, so my quality control was that much higher,” she said. “And then there was also the fact that, over the course of the series, I’d had nine episodes with which to tell a story, which meant literally hundreds of costumes per character, whereas with the film I had fewer costumes, so I had to kind of consider them a bit more. But (shooting it as a film this time) meant that I had a bit more time to do that, which was wonderful because I then had the ability to really delve in deeply to my research for the new characters that arrived.”