‘Downton Abbey’ sequel news round-up

It’s going to be a very good Christmas for fans of “Downton Abbey.”

The second movie based on the incredibly popular television series is scheduled to be released just in time for the festive period, and it should be excellent. Dominic West has been added to the cast, most of the familiar faces from the original series and the first film are back, and we’ve been promised an explosive story. As filming is now underway – as highlighted by these recent photographs of Michelle Dockery in costume – this feels like a good time to round up all the latest news and tell you what we know about it.

It’s almost a cliche at this point to say how successful “Downton Abbey” has been for ITV and the actors involved in the franchise. The first film made almost two hundred million dollars at the box office off a budget of less than a tenth of that. The final episode of the show’s sixth season drew more than eleven million viewers in the UK alone, with millions more watching worldwide.

There’s even an official online slots game based on “Downton Abbey,” which is almost unheard of for a period drama. It’s been two years since the game, made by the Skywind Group, was released to online slots websites like Rose Slots for New Zealand players, but it remains extremely popular. There will probably be a follow-up online slots creation based on the movie’s sequel, which only further serves to illustrate the international level of attention for the show.

Filming on the sequel began in April this year and is expected to continue until June. That gives the producers four months to complete all the necessary post-production work on the movie for it to be released in time for the highly lucrative Christmas market. That’s a comparatively short turnaround time in the context of modern films, but “Downton Abbey” benefits from not requiring the kind of expensive, time-consuming CGI effects that are called for in most Hollywood blockbusters. Julian Fellowes, who wrote every episode of the original series and the first film, has again handled writing duties for the sequel.

There will be at least four notable newcomers to the cast when the film is released. Aside from Dominic West, we’ll also see Laura Haddock, Nathalie Baye, and Hugh Dancy. The majority of filming appears to be taking place in the historic English town of Harwich, which required only a minimal amount of set dressing in order to look appropriate for the period it will represent. Quite what will happen on those Harwich streets is unclear. The first film did an excellent job of tying up loose ends from the television series and providing us with a self-contained story but didn’t leave us much in the way of dangling threads for another movie. Nevertheless, we trust Fellowes to have come up with something compelling for the Crawley family and their associated hangers-on.

One star who was thought not to be returning for the sequel is veteran British actress Dame Maggie Smith. Toward the end of the first film, we learned that her character Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, was dying. The legendary actor took a lot of persuasion to reprise her role for the first movie and later noted that while she was grateful for the part, she never particularly enjoyed her time on “Downton,” feeling that it didn’t challenge her as a performer. Even Fellowes noted that he included the revelation that she was dying as a way of convincing Smith that he wouldn’t ask her to return to the part again, and fans believed her story to be over. To the surprise of everybody – presumably including Fellowes – Smith agreed to return yet again. In fact, Nathalie Baye’s character is thought to be strongly connected to the Countess. British newspaper the Daily Mail has described the story of the sequel as “the Countess’s Last Hurrah,” which doesn’t bode well for the character’s prospects of surviving to the closing credits.

Whatever the story does or doesn’t involve, it might not be the last we see of the “Downton Abbey” cast or the Downton story. Star Hugh Bonneville has spoken in the past of the potential for several future films, with enough stories to keep the franchise going for as long as Fellowes is able to write scripts and the key players can be persuaded to return. That means we could see a third “Downton Abbey” film in the future, and possibly even a fourth and a fifth if they continue to be profitable. There seems to be little doubt that this movie will perform well at the box office when it’s released – especially when you take into account the usually favourable time of the year it’s been scheduled for.

The timing of the sequel’s release might be about more than just wanting to take advantage of people spending their holiday money. There has been some speculation that Christmas might be central to the plot of the film, which will only add to its appeal. If we’re to take these rumours at face value and combine them with what we think we know about the likelihood of the Countess passing away before the end, it will be a very sad Christmas for the Crawley family. That might mean that the film is a tearjerker. That doesn’t necessarily make for great festive viewing, but cinema audiences have never shown any reluctance to crying at Christmas in the past, so we don’t see why they’d be likely to start now!

Aside from all of the above, the production crew has done an excellent job of keeping the “Downton Abbey” sequel under wraps. There have been no plot leaks, no tell-tale comments from any of the performers involved, and a surprising lack of photos taken of the filming process by sneaky members of the public. That’s a little frustrating for fans who want to get a hint of what they’re in for when the film is finished, but we think it adds to the experience. Spoilers can ruin a film, and surprises are often what makes a movie great. We’re fine if we don’t hear a single thing about the movie between now and the day it comes out – but if we do, we’ll be sure to tell you here!