Downton Abbey has become one of the most popular drama series in the US, but cynics who thought creator Julian Fellowes dreamt up Lady Grantham’s character solely to win lucrative American TV contracts are wrong.
The Earl of Grantham’s wife Cora Crawley, played by Elizabeth McGovern, was instead created to serve as an outsider who could cut through the preoccupations of the English upper middle classes.
Cora, who is the daughter of multi-millionaire from Ohio, was based on one of the many “Dollar Princesses” who were sent by their parents to marry British landed gentry at the end of the Nineteenth Century.
“We weren’t thinking in those terms about foreign sales. The advantage for me of having the American wife was it gave me a central character who was not dyed in the wool of the upper middle class upbringing, so you could have one of the principal characters who didn’t take all that stuff for granted, and questioned it, as Cora did,” Fellowes said.
“She was not consciously written for America. The fact that we would have a central character for American sales was much more clever than we were really.”
Downton Abbey, which was originally rejected by US network PBS, has become the highest rated drama series in the channel’s history, winning three Golden Globes and multiple Emmy awards.
What are the Downton Abbey stars doing now?
What are the Downton Abbey stars doing now?
1/14 Jessica Brown Findlay - Lady Sybil Crawley
At just 24, Jessica Brown Findlay has made her name in Hollywood after starring as Beverly Penn in the film adaptation of Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel Winter’s Tale, alongside Will Smith, Russell Crowe and Colin Farrell.
In 2011 she starred in the leading role in British comedy-drama Albatross and will be playing Lorelai opposite Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy in Paul McGuigan’s remake of Frankenstein.
2/14 Dan Stevens – Matthew Crawley
Since leaving the show in 2012 and moving to New York with his family, Stevens made his debut in Broadway opposite Jessica Chastain and David Strathairn in The Heiress.
He has recently been cast in Hollywood blockbusters A Walk Among the Tombstones, The Cobbler, Criminal Activities, and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, all of which are due to be released later this year or early 2015.
3/14 Sophie McShera - Daisy Mason
Bradford-born Sophie McShera joined the cast of Jez Butterworth’s award-winning stage play Jerusalem as Pea for the show’s return to London’s West End in 2011 at the Apollo Theatre.
She starred as Job Centre regular Bryony in the ITV sitcom The Job Lot and will be reprising the role for series two which will air on ITV2.
She will also star in the 2015 remake of the Disney classic Cinderella as Drizella, one of the mean stepsisters.
4/14 Michelle Dockery - Lady Mary
Dockery has found fame in Hollywood since playing Lady Mary Crawley, with roles in Hanna, and Tom Stoppard’s Anna Karenina in which she played Princess Myagkaya.
In January 2014, she starred in aeroplane thriller Non-Stop together with Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, and in the same month she was listed in Debrett’s 500 most influential people in Britain.
She has also been cast alongside Ryan Reynolds and Ben Kingsley in Selfless, an unconventional sci-fi drama which is due for release in April 2015.
5/14 Laura Carmichael - Lady Edith Crawley
Carmichael made her West End debut in October 2012 as Sonya in Uncle Vanya, opposite Anna Friel and Samuel West. She made headlines when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a half-sleepy state during her performance.
She starred as a receptionist in BAFTA-winning Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy back in 2011 and will be playing the role of Henriette alongside Mia Wasikowska and Rhys Ifans in forthcoming film Madame Bovary.
6/14 Maggie Smith - Dowager Countess
Dame Maggie Smith reprised her role as Professor McGonagall in the final instalment of the Harry Potter series in 2011 before starring as Muriel Donnelly in the hugely successful The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel alongside Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy.
7/14 Hugh Bonneville – Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham
Since taking on his role as Robert Crawley in 2010, Hugh Bonneville has starred in comedy film Burke and Hare, war drama The Monuments opposite George Clooney and Matt Damon, and Muppets Most Wanted.
In 2011 and 2012, he played the role of Ian Fletcher in the award-winning BBC comedy series Twenty Twelve and is due to star as Mr Brown in the upcoming family comedy Paddington.
8/14 Elizabeth McGovern - Cora
American actress Elizabeth McGovern has starred in drama Angels Crest and comedy Cheerful Weather for the Wedding since appearing in Downton.
In 2013, she was awarded the Will Award by the Shakespeare Theatre Company for her work on-stage over the years.
McGovern is currently filming alongside Ryan Reynolds and Dame Helen Mirren for drama Woman in Gold, which is due for release in 2015.
9/14 Brendan Coyle - John Bates
Primetime Emmy and Bafta Award nominee Brendan Coyle starred as Terry in Sky comedy series Starlings between 2012 and 2013.
He appeared in crime-thriller The Raven alongside John Cusack in 2012, and is due to portray Gerry Shaw in new Irish film Noble in September 2014.
10/14 Joannne Froggatt- Anna Bates
Since joining the cast of Downton Abbey, Froggatt has starred in John Donnelly’s play The Knowledge at the Bush Theatre in West London and played guest roles in The Royle Family Christmas special and the TV mini-series True Love.
In 2013, she starred in the comedy drama Filth, based on Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name and Ulberto Pasolini’s award-winning Indie film Still Life.
11/14 Isobel Crawley - Penelope Wilton
Between 2011 and 2012, Penelope Wilton played the role of Mary in the TV series North by Northamptonshire and starred as Lady Mary Murray in the 2014 drama Belle, opposite Matthew Goode.
Wilton will be joining her Downton co-star Dame Maggie Smith in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2 as Jean Ainslie when it is released in 2015.
12/14 Jim Carter – Mr Carson
In 2011, Carter played the role of Barry in My Week with Marilyn opposite Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, and has since narrated a range of documentaries from Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons to Pothole Britain – Drivers Beware!
Carter frequently cycles for charity causes and travelled to Ghana in 2011 to raise money for clean water in the small impoverished town of Tafo. He intended to raise a minimum of £2,750 but actually raised more than triple that amount with £8,670.
13/14 Phyllis Logan – Mrs Hughes
When she isn’t playing the maternal Mrs Hughes, Logan starred in several TV series from 2010 including A Touch of Frost, Lip Service and Vera.
14/14 Lesley Nicol - Mrs Patmore
Since joining the cast of Downton, Nicol played guest roles in the US TV series Once Upon A Time and Raising Hope. She also played a recurring role in the TV series Sarah & Duck in 2013 as Scarf Lady.
The series has been acquired in 250 territories across the world and is watched by an estimated global audience of 120 million people.Reuse content