Hugh Bonneville, Samantha Bond, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter & Brendan Coyle (‘Downton Abbey’ Christmas special) interview

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Downton Abbey returns to ITV1 this Christmas with a one-off special.

Set in 1919, the two-hour episode will air at 9pm on Sunday 25th December and sees Downton hosting a lavish Christmas party. However, despite being the season of goodwill, tensions are rife and Bates’s arrest has cast a shadow over the festivities. Will he be a condemned man or will he be found innocent in time for the annual servants ball?

> Buy the Series 2 boxset on Amazon.

Here the cast discuss the special and reveal their own plans for Christmas…

Hugh Bonneville who plays Lord Grantham, the head of the Downton Abbey household had a few knocks of confidence during the war years, but as the new decade dawns there are plenty of changes a foot.

Hugh says that the household is preoccupied over the Christmas period with Bates’s trial, “He is aware that Christmas can’t quite be the same and obviously matters get a bit more complicated as things go on and it’s really Anna’s resilience that sees them all through this traumatic affair.”

Hugh got to dance with Phyllis Logan at the Servant’s Ball and recounts with much hilarity the dance lessons, “Myself and Phyllis took to it like a duck to water, and in fact we had an off screen dancing competition and it was clear from the outset we would win Strictly Come Downton.”

But did he tread on any toes? “Well, I think toes are overrated and indeed Phyllis is now out of intensive care and is looking forward to a fully fit 2012.” But the couple he did enjoy watching were Rob James-Collier and Maggie Smith. “They were a sight to behold, it was a joy – poetry in motion.”

Samantha Bond plays Lady Rosamund Painswick, the widowed sister of Lord Grantham and daughter of the Dowager Countess. Samantha explains that although people may consider her as a schemer, she has a very different view, “I don’t think she is scheming, I think she has a very practical plan which is part of her make up.”

She goes on to explain that things are looking up for Rosamund. “She is full of hope, the possibility of ceasing to live a solitary life and of finding companionship and affection puts her in a far jollier mood.”

The Servants Ball is a yearly tradition held in the New Year as a reward from the family to the staff for their hard work throughout the year. So all of the cast had to go for dancing lessons to prepare themselves for the scenes.

But unlike the majority of the cast Samantha was already a dab hand at the waltz hence didn’t need lessons and had the pleasure of dancing with one of the hall boys Tom, “Tom didn’t look at me the whole time we were dancing and he looked terrified.So much so that I couldn’t tell if he was acting terrified or actually was. Either way he was very nervous but got better even if I had to do the leading.”

On Christmas and cooking for the family Samantha explains how it works in her house, “I’m not a great cook but I just love to entertain. I’m a very capable cook and can feed vast quantities of people but entertaining is where my true talents lie.”

Laura Carmichael plays Lady Edith, the much put upon middle daughter of Robert and Cora. Laura explains that Edith hasn’t had the best of times during the war. “She’s had a rough war in the sense that another couple of men have come and gone and she has revisited her feelings for Patrick. Even though I think she knows it wasn’t actually him it’s still really painful that the family didn’t take it seriously.”

Seeing her younger sister get married and her older sister soon to be heading that way with Sir Richard, will Edith ever be lucky in love?

“She hasn’t given up hope of seeing Sir Anthony Strallan again. She knows he survived the war but not to what extent he was involved. She wants to see him and the thought of seeing him does get her flustered so the feelings are still there.”

Laura, along with the other cast, had a fantastic time learning to dance but she did have a helping hand, “I actually cheated in the first waltz, I was un-partnered so I asked to be paired with the dance teacher’s assistant who’s done loads of film choreography hence we looked great!”

Laura loves Christmas and is a dab hand in the kitchen, “I just love a big Christmas lunch that lasts hours, I’m just crazy about it. The first time I cooked Christmas lunch it was for about 20 people. We did turkey and goose and it was sublime!”

And what does Laura and her sisters like listening to while cooking this sublime dinner? “A bit of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas, you can’t beat it!”

Jim Carter plays the ever faithful butler Carson. Having had some difficulties staffing the house during WW1, he is forced to look to former footman Thomas, “Thomas has cleverly made himself indispensible and has schemed himself back into the house. Carson knows he will try and advance himself further so he must keep a close eye on the situation.”

Jim confesses he is not a natural dancer and at times struggled with the waltz. “I still find it difficult to talk and waltz as in my head I’m going one, two, three, one, two, three so when people wanted to engage me in a bright and lively conversation I was a bit dismayed.”

Despite this Jim talks about his previous dancing experiences, namely in Guys and Dolls. “My tap dancing in Guys and Dolls 28 years ago is still the stuff of legends, people in the dance world still talk about that. Especially when the costumiers were told I needed a pair of size 12 tap shoes.”

Jim likes nothing better than getting together with friends at Christmas but can’t take much credit for the Christmas feast. “I’m a good eater, I can carve the turkey and eat it but Imelda is brilliant, all of the preparation and the timing is like clockwork. She’s just brilliant.”

They also like to sing carols, they even print out the words! “It’s so we can sing the second verse of songs. I do love to hear people singing Silent Night, I’m not so fond on myself singing it but I do love that one.”

Brendan Coyle plays Bates, his Lordship’s valet. At the end of the second series, Bates was arrested for the murder of his wife, Vera. Dragged off, leaving a shattered Anna behind, “It is a harsh world for Anna and Bates’, explains Brendan.

“The events around them have been catastrophic and conspire against them but the moments of reprieve they do have are caring and loving.”

Bates has some nasty surprises in store during the Christmas episode that has a ripple effect throughout the whole house. “The trial has an impact on everyone, not just Anna. Lord Grantham has always stuck by him, considers them friends almost. Isobel Crawley and Lady Mary are there to support both him and Anna who is always so strong for him.”

So Christmas isn’t a happy time for them? “There is such pressure on people for Christmas to be a happy time but maybe it serves as a reminder for many people it isn’t.”

> Buy the Series 2 boxset on Amazon.

Are you looking forward to the Christmas special? Let us know below…