BAZ BAMIGBOYE: A French twist for Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess in new Downton movie 

The entente cordiale between the UK and France will surely be improved if Maggie Smith and Nathalie Baye, one of the greatest living French actresses, have anything to do with it.

The two screen legends will meet on the set of the Downton Abbey film sequel that’s due to begin shooting in late March or early April under the strictest Covid safety protocols.

Downton 2 will be the Dowager Countess of Grantham’s last hurrah. The theatrical dame has been delighting Downton fans since the series, created by Julian Fellowes, launched on ITV back in 2010.

Maggie’s Violet Crawley has made for unmissable television viewing; her every utterance provoking delight, with many lines, like her ‘What is a weekend?!’, becoming oft-repeated classics.

The entente cordiale between the UK and France will surely be improved if Maggie Smith and Nathalie Baye (pictured), one of the greatest living French actresses, have anything to do with it

The entente cordiale between the UK and France will surely be improved if Maggie Smith and Nathalie Baye (pictured), one of the greatest living French actresses, have anything to do with it

The entente cordiale between the UK and France will surely be improved if Maggie Smith and Nathalie Baye (pictured), one of the greatest living French actresses, have anything to do with it

Maggie’s Violet Crawley (pictured) has made for unmissable television viewing; her every utterance provoking delight, with many lines, like her ‘What is a weekend?!’, becoming oft-repeated classics

Maggie’s Violet Crawley (pictured) has made for unmissable television viewing; her every utterance provoking delight, with many lines, like her ‘What is a weekend?!’, becoming oft-repeated classics

Maggie’s Violet Crawley (pictured) has made for unmissable television viewing; her every utterance provoking delight, with many lines, like her ‘What is a weekend?!’, becoming oft-repeated classics

Meanwhile Ms Baye, who had a four-year romance and a daughter with French rock legend Johnny Hallyday, has won every acting award possible from across the Channel. 

She broke through in Francois Truffaut’s Day For Night in 1973 and hasn’t stopped working since, appearing in French classics such as The Return Of Martin Guerre, La Balance and Le Petit Lieutenant, as well as Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio.

During lockdown, though, many viewers have found their way to her films after seeing her in Netflix’s ace TV series Call My Agent. By the way, the fun of this series, set in the offices of a fictional Paris talent firm, is that real acting royalty make special guest appearances. 

The likes of Cecile de France, Isabelle Huppert, Beatrice Dalle, Monica Bellucci, Audrey Fleurot, Juliette Binoche and Sigourney Weaver have graced the show, happily sending themselves up into the bargain.

Meanwhile Ms Baye, who had a four-year romance and a daughter with French rock legend Johnny Hallyday, has won every acting award possible from across the Channel

Meanwhile Ms Baye, who had a four-year romance and a daughter with French rock legend Johnny Hallyday, has won every acting award possible from across the Channel

Meanwhile Ms Baye, who had a four-year romance and a daughter with French rock legend Johnny Hallyday, has won every acting award possible from across the Channel

Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary and husband Henry (Matthew Goode) will be centre stage, too; along with her sister, Lady Edith, played by Laura Carmichael

Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary and husband Henry (Matthew Goode) will be centre stage, too; along with her sister, Lady Edith, played by Laura Carmichael

Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary and husband Henry (Matthew Goode) will be centre stage, too; along with her sister, Lady Edith, played by Laura Carmichael

I hope the British version that’s in the works will be able to find a similar number of our own stars who are relaxed enough not to take themselves too seriously.

In the new Downton film, Ms Baye will play an old friend of Violet’s who comes to visit her. Of course, the countess will be surrounded, as usual, by her family — including Hugh Bonneville’s Lord Grantham and Elizabeth McGovern as his wife Cora. Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary and husband Henry (Matthew Goode) will be centre stage, too; along with her sister, Lady Edith, played by Laura Carmichael.

Other Downton regulars returning for the film are Penelope Wilton, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Brendan Coyle, Allen Leech and Tuppence Middleton. And expect a few surprises.

In the new Downton film, Ms Baye will play an old friend of Violet’s who comes to visit her. Pictured: Nathalie Baye starring in the 2005 film I've Been Waiting For So Long

In the new Downton film, Ms Baye will play an old friend of Violet’s who comes to visit her. Pictured: Nathalie Baye starring in the 2005 film I've Been Waiting For So Long

In the new Downton film, Ms Baye will play an old friend of Violet’s who comes to visit her. Pictured: Nathalie Baye starring in the 2005 film I’ve Been Waiting For So Long

She broke through in Francois Truffaut’s Day For Night in 1973 and hasn’t stopped working since, appearing in French classics such as The Return Of Martin Guerre, La Balance and Le Petit Lieutenant, as well as Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio. Pictured: Nathalie Baye holding the Volpi Cup after being awarded best actress at 56th Venice Film Festival on September 11, 1999

She broke through in Francois Truffaut’s Day For Night in 1973 and hasn’t stopped working since, appearing in French classics such as The Return Of Martin Guerre, La Balance and Le Petit Lieutenant, as well as Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio. Pictured: Nathalie Baye holding the Volpi Cup after being awarded best actress at 56th Venice Film Festival on September 11, 1999

She broke through in Francois Truffaut’s Day For Night in 1973 and hasn’t stopped working since, appearing in French classics such as The Return Of Martin Guerre, La Balance and Le Petit Lieutenant, as well as Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio. Pictured: Nathalie Baye holding the Volpi Cup after being awarded best actress at 56th Venice Film Festival on September 11, 1999

Love’s labour’s won for drama newcomers 

Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage, but for the past year it’s been limited to Zoom and green screen technology for many thespians.

The pandemic has slashed opportunities for those in the arts, with actors and creatives having to adapt and work virtually.

When Nick Evans cast his modern-dress filmed production of Romeo & Juliet, with Sam Tutty, the Olivier-award winning star of Dear Evan Hansen (who’s going to become a heartthrob) and newcomer Emily Redpath as his star-crossed lovers, he sought out drama school graduates for several of the supporting roles.

‘They’d trained for three years, and suddenly there was nowhere for them to showcase what they’d learned,’ he told me.

Although they appear in many scenes together, not all of the quintet actually met during filming — unless you count Zoom rehearsals. Tennant, who plays Balthasar, said one day he’d like to fix that: meet up with the others, ‘sit at a table, and have a few pints’. The picture of the five together (pictured) was put together using digital wizardry from the film

Although they appear in many scenes together, not all of the quintet actually met during filming — unless you count Zoom rehearsals. Tennant, who plays Balthasar, said one day he’d like to fix that: meet up with the others, ‘sit at a table, and have a few pints’. The picture of the five together (pictured) was put together using digital wizardry from the film

Although they appear in many scenes together, not all of the quintet actually met during filming — unless you count Zoom rehearsals. Tennant, who plays Balthasar, said one day he’d like to fix that: meet up with the others, ‘sit at a table, and have a few pints’. The picture of the five together (pictured) was put together using digital wizardry from the film

When Nick Evans cast his modern-dress filmed production of Romeo & Juliet (pictured), with Sam Tutty, the Olivier-award winning star of Dear Evan Hansen (who’s going to become a heartthrob) and newcomer Emily Redpath as his star-crossed lovers, he sought out drama school graduates for several of the supporting roles

When Nick Evans cast his modern-dress filmed production of Romeo & Juliet (pictured), with Sam Tutty, the Olivier-award winning star of Dear Evan Hansen (who’s going to become a heartthrob) and newcomer Emily Redpath as his star-crossed lovers, he sought out drama school graduates for several of the supporting roles

When Nick Evans cast his modern-dress filmed production of Romeo & Juliet (pictured), with Sam Tutty, the Olivier-award winning star of Dear Evan Hansen (who’s going to become a heartthrob) and newcomer Emily Redpath as his star-crossed lovers, he sought out drama school graduates for several of the supporting roles

I caught up with five of those he cast in the play, available to view from tomorrow until February 27. They included Daniel Bowerbank, 22, from Stanmore, Middlesex; who was in his final term at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when the country went into quarantine. He got the part of Romeo’s friend Benvolio.

Brandon Bassir, 24, an Iranian-American from Los Angeles, was at the Guildhall but flew home to the West Coast when the pandemic first struck. He later made his way back to his digs in Clapham, South London — and took the part of Mercutio. ‘I said I’d take any part — even a horse,’ joked Bassir, who’s also a singer-songwriter.

Timmy Driscoll, 22, a self-proclaimed ‘cheeky-chappy’ from Crowborough in East Sussex, had been a break-dancer. His parents supported his desire to study at Performers College in Stanford-le-Hope, and now he’s keen to break into acting.

Before being signed to play Samson, ‘I’d never read Shakespeare,’ he told me, but he’s taken to it now, posting videos on Instagram of him reading Shakespearean monologues. Iskandar Eaton and Ollie Tennant were friends at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts but the 22-year-olds scattered to different parts of the country last March: Eaton to join his parents in Sheffield; Tennant moving back in with family in Wrexham.

I caught up with five of those he cast in the play, available to view from tomorrow until February 27

I caught up with five of those he cast in the play, available to view from tomorrow until February 27

I caught up with five of those he cast in the play, available to view from tomorrow until February 27

They were later reunited when filming started last year in East London.

Eaton, who plays Abe, said he learned all about voice and movement at drama school ‘but they didn’t teach us about mental health’, adding that all of them have had to learn to ease up on themselves. 

He used to send off self-filmed audition tapes ‘and check emails every 15 minutes’. But now he allows himself a lazy day here and there, to take the pressure off. 

Although they appear in many scenes together, not all of the quintet actually met during filming — unless you count Zoom rehearsals.

Tennant, who plays Balthasar, said one day he’d like to fix that: meet up with the others, ‘sit at a table, and have a few pints’. The picture of the five together was put together using digital wizardry from the film.

Tickets and info for Romeo & Juliet via romeojuliet2021.com/tickets. 

Link hienalouca.com

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