Downton Abbey: A New Era focuses around Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) inheriting a villa in the south of France from a mysterious man from her past, to the horror of her son, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). The entire family plus staff decamp to the villa to play out the drama.
As with any production, there is a lot of sitting around waiting for scenes to be filmed and it was during these hiatuses that Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) and Michael Fox (footman Andy Parker) began playing music together. Despite her glittering acting career, Michelle has also performed opera, jazz and even grunge, while he was in a succession of bands that achieved ‘mediocre success’.
The duo not only jammed during takes, their partnership flourished and now they are focusing on their folk duo, named prosaically, Michael and Michelle!
Michael bought his guitar on location when he joined Downton Abbey in 2015 and it wasn’t long before he discovered Michelle had a sensational voice.
“We started to play a few covers and stuff and then it just kind of escalated.”
Michael and Michelle mean business. “We don’t really see this as a side project,” she says. “Maybe in the past it was, but now we’re going into it 100 per cent.”
The duo both play guitar on their new record and combined to write the music and lyrics, which was a breath of fresh air to the actress.
“When the writing is coming from you, and you’re not saying somebody else’s words – I find that really liberating.”
“I don’t think we’d want to do it if it felt like people were just coming to the music because of Downton,” said Michael.
“It’s us– we’re not playing characters,” she added. “I think it will be a whole other experience.”
Meanwhile, they have a new film out and the question is, can Downton Abbey survive the death of arguably its favourite character? The cast believe yes, it can.
Downton Abbey: A New Era has enjoyed a successful opening in UK cinemas (it opens in the US on May 20), but it’s no surprise to learn that the drama, relocated to France, features the death of one of its most beloved characters.
But Michelle and Michael believe the drama can thrive going forward.
“It wasn’t a surprise because of course, that storyline was set up in the first film,” Michelle told the Daily Telegraph. “We’ve spent a really long time with each other. We’re a family. [The death scene] was quite a moment for everybody.”
Michael was bullish about Downton’s survival. “I think it can… We’d like it to carry on.”
The Watching Silence is out now on Decca Records.
Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix.
An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.
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