Fellowes denies plagiarism in 'Downton Abbey'

Viewers point out striking similarities between hit ITV drama and other books and films

The screenwriter Julian Fellowes has denied suggestions of plagiarism and lashed out at critics of his hit ITV series Downton Abbey, expressing anger at what he believes is "a permanent negative slant" in the press.

He has denied consciously lifting plotlines from other writers after viewers pointed out that scenes in last Sunday's episode bore similarities to the novel Little Women and the 1942 film Mrs Miniver. One described it as "the finest example of coincidence I have ever heard and seen".

When asked about the apparent similarities, Fellowes accused this newspaper of being part of a left-wing conspiracy against him. But it was in the letters pages of The Daily Telegraph that questions were first raised about the freshness of some of Downton Abbey's plotlines.

On Thursday, Christina Jarvis from Essex wrote to say she had been "slack-jawed" as she watched "the flower-show contretemps" in last week's episode, saying "precisely the same situation appeared in the film Mrs Miniver", which she had seen the previous week.

Prompted by Ms Jarvis's letter, another viewer, John Alcock from Staffordshire, then wrote to say the scene in which salt was sprinkled on a pudding instead of sugar was "an apparent crib from an event in Little Women, or was that, too, a coincidence?" Speaking to this newspaper, Fellowes admitted he had read Little Women and seen Mrs Miniver, but not for many years. He conceded the similarities were striking, but said: "Who can say what is lodged in one's brain? I am not conscious of lifting either, but it doesn't mean [the viewers] are wrong."

Fellowes apologised if he "seemed rather weary", but explained he had grown "depressed" by the criticism of Downton Abbey, even though it has fared so well in the ratings that ITV has already commissioned a second series. "All we get is this permanent negative nit-picking from the left," he said. "You just want to say relax! It's a show that might not appeal to the left. I mean, why is it that it's The Independent on Sunday ringing me up about this? There are plenty of shows on television I don't like but I don't go on about them."

When it was pointed out that he has received criticism for alleged historical inaccuracies in the TV production from several sources including the Daily Mail, he conceded it was not a question of politics. "You're quite right to pick me up on that," he said, "it's perfectly true." He went on to express bewilderment at a column by the parodist Craig Brown last week, in which he derided Fellowes's interest in the etiquette of whether to tip a soup bowl forwards or backwards and described Fellowes as seeming "almost laughably socially insecure".

Fellowes had defended Downton Abbey from accusations it is riddled with historical inaccuracies by saying: "The real problem is with people who are insecure socially. They think to show how smart they are by picking holes in the programme to promote their own poshness and to show that their knowledge is greater."

Speaking of Brown, Fellowes said: "I just don't understand it. He based his entire attack on an interview with my wife from years ago. I just can't imagine writing a whole column attacking someone like that. I find it quite depressing. I would understand it if I was a health risk, but what have I done wrong?" Asked if the criticism had put him off making the next series, he said: "I'm just producing a drama series. It's what I do."

The plot thickens

Downton Abbey

The Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) is to announce the winner of the annual flower show. Like every year, the judges have chosen her. But, stung by a suggestion by Mrs Reginald Crawley (Penelope Wilton) that she wins due to her status, she names Bill Molesley, whose roses are widely considered better, as the winner.

Mrs Miniver

Lady Beldon is secretly informed she has won the annual flower show. But her middle-class neighbour, Kay, persuades her that the judges chose her because of her status. So, she announces Ballard, the village stationmaster, as the winner. His rose is widely considered the best.

Downton Abbey

Cora has a recipe for a pudding that she'd like to give to Sir Anthony. Mrs Patmore is offended when Cora offers to read it to her and makes it herself. When the pudding is served, Sir Anthony splutters in disgust. Mrs Patmore has covered it with salt instead of sugar. Mrs Patmore later confesses she thinks she's going blind.

Little Women

In chapter 11, Jo offers to make lunch. She is hurt by Meg's comment that she can only make two types of pudding. After every course goes wrong in some way, she is relieved to reach the final course when she serves strawberries and cream, a safe dish. But she tips salt on instead of sugar.

Matthew Bell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
news
Environment
environment
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
film
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
film
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing