In Depth

Americans 'can't do period drama' says Downton creator

Julian Fellowes's comments 'baffling' as new Downton series will star two American actresses

JULIAN FELLOWES, creator of Downton Abbey, has claimed that most US actors struggle with period drama. The comment has raised eyebrows because two American actresses - Elizabeth McGovern and the legendary Shirley MacLaine – feature in the upcoming third series of Downton Abbey. What was he trying to suggest?

"I think our actors have a kind of understanding of period," Fellowes told a Creative Content summit in London, reported by The Daily Telegraph. "For Europeans, the past is in them as well as the present and I think they are at ease in that genre in a way that the Americans find harder."

Fellowes, an actor before becoming a hugely successful screenwriter, added: "I think Americans are wonderful film actors - the best in the world - but they are a very contemporary race and they look forward all the time. There is something about period drama where they tend to go into a strange place called 'Period' where people wear funny clothes."

MacLaine, who has joined the show to play Lady Cora's outspoken New York mother Martha Levinson when the third series airs next month, has already admitted that she struggled to adjust to Downton Abbey. But she was referring to the onerous shooting schedule, rather than the period role.

The Daily Mail reports that executives also revealed that MacLaine took a little time "to adjust to the rhythm of the language in Downton Abbey, but worked hard to perfect it".

Could Fellowes comments be an early apology for MacLaine's performance?

Some people have already taken to Twitter to describe Fellowes comments as "baffling" and point to the admired US period dramas Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, the success of which would appear to make a nonsense of his remarks.

Perhaps it's a newer rival closer to home that has Fellowes rattled. The BBC's new period drama, Parade's End, starring Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch, debuts this Friday, and is being touted by some previewers as a worthy rival to Downton, with added sex.

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