News & Politics

Washington High Society Flips for the Cast of “Downton Abbey”

Congressmen, ambassadors, and media figures turned out to meet the cast of the hit PBS show at the British ambassador’s residence.

The cast of Downton Abbey with Sir Peter and Lady Westmacott. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user UKinUSA.

Washington’s own royalty turned out last night to glimpse the fictional visiting British
nobility of
Downton Abbey, the hit highbrow soap opera on PBS. From financial leaders such as Carlyle’s
Bill Conway and
Alan Greenspan to congressmen, ambassadors, and media figures like
Bob Schieffer,
Gwen Ifill, and former
Washington Post editor
Marcus Brauchli, the room was packed.

The show’s actors—represented last night at a reception at the British ambassador’s
residence by those who play the characters kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera), lady’s maid Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt), Lady Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), butler Carson (Jim Carter), and evil footman Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier)—have been on a coast-to-coast US publicity tour. Last night, coincidentally, they
were celebrating yesterday’s announcement that
Downton had secured three Golden Globe nominations (including for Best Drama, up against
Showtime’s DC-set hit,
Homeland). The cast joked that they felt right at home in the British ambassador’s sprawling
Massachusetts Avenue residence, which was decked top to bottom for Christmas.

A sassy
Ambassador Westmacott, for his part, joked that he felt just like Lord Grantham: “I live in this beautiful
house, I have a wonderful staff to help me run it, and I married a beautiful American
woman.” (He quickly added diplomatically that unlike Lord Grantham, his house and
privileges come only at the pleasure of Her Majesty and not for life.)

While liveried catering and house staff passed snacks like miniature fish and chips,
and guests sipped Champagne and single-malt Scotch meant to make Lord Grantham feel
at home, the rowdy crowd showed the depth of fandom behind the show by lapping up
every moment in the cast’s presence—so much so that in their remarks, PBS president
and CEO
Paula Kerger, WETA head
Sharon Percy Rockefeller, and Ambassador Westmacott teased that it was one of the least decorous
crowds ever to be entertained in the house. When the cast appeared on a low stage
at the front of the room with producer
Gareth Neame, a multitude of camera phones rose above the crowd’s heads like fans at a Justin
Bieber concert. As the cast circulated the room, gaggles of fans lined up for personal

The evening included a trailer from season three—and the cast confirmed that season
four is underway. Although the actors said they were prohibited from discussing any
spoilers, they dropped a few hints: The opening scene of the third season will take
place in a church (which may or may not be a reference to Lady Mary and heir Matthew
Crawley’s wedding), that Anna Bates stays true to her imprisoned valet husband, and—perhaps
most amusingly—Sophie McShera joked of her character, “Season three sees Daisy be
a total bitch.” The appreciative crowd roared with laughter.

Taking questions from the audience, Hugh Bonneville confessed his support for Liverpool
football (his past favorite Portsmouth has been “rubbish” recently, he said, drawing
jeers), and was then topped by Jim Carter, who cracked that only cricket and rugby
were real sports.

After being asked whether his character, Thomas, or maid Mrs. Sarah O’Brien was more
evil, Rob James-Collier tried to convince the dubious crowd that his character wasn’t
actually evil (“He cries—evil people don’t have the capacity to cry”), but was instead
resentful of an Edwardian society that punished his homosexuality. The crowd had none
of it—booing and jeering the answer good-naturedly. For their part, the cast roundly
picked Thomas, not “Miss OB.”