For you genre TV and film fans that got sucked into the BBC/PBS series Downton Abbey, now that the series is on hiatus are you ready to entirely re-immerse yourself back into sci-fi and fantasy? Or do you still need a bit of the British manor fix now and then? A great feature of British manor series and movies is the overlap of actors back and forth into the best of sci-fi and fantasy. So if 12 inches of snowfall has stranded you inside and you want to further investigate your favorite performers on Netflix or other streaming media as they stretch their acting chops, here’s an excuse to dive into some films and TV series you may not have otherwise tried, featuring the best of the world of sci-fi and fantasy.
One of the best performances by any genre actor in a British estate-based story can be found with Superman’s Christopher Reeve in the Merchant Ivory film Remains of the Day (1993). Reeve plays a retired American senator and you can see Reeve’s ability to play a role different from his past work here, an indication of what he was capable of had he not been forced to leave acting from his horse-riding injury. It also will be interesting viewing for fans of his time travel classic, Somewhere in Time. Set in both the 1930s and 1950s, Remains of the Day follows Darlington Hall butler (Thor’s Anthony Hopkins) and a could-have-been romantic interest housekeeper (Harry Potter’s Professor Trelawney and Brave co-star Emma Thompson) amidst the restrictive social norms of the British manor. And if you like Remains of the Day you might like Merchant Ivory’s earlier film Howard’s End (1992), also with Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, as well as The Lone Ranger, Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter’s Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), and Amadeus and Doctor Who star Simon Callow.
Before they starred as Hogwarts teachers in the Harry Potter movies, you could find Downton Abbey star Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall), Michael Gambon (Professor Dumbledore), and Alan Bates (Professor Snape) in Robert Altman’s best film Gosford Park (2001), as well as Brave star Kelly MacDonald, Children of Men’s Clive Owen, the Scarlet Pimpernel’s Richard E. Grant, Doctor Who and Dead Again’s Derek Jacobi, and The Hobbit, V for Vendetta, and Sherlock Holmes’s Stephen Fry. Although it is set a few decades later, you may agree Gosford Park has a lot in common with Downton Abbey’s goings-on in a big old country British estate, plus a lot more intrigue.
If you really want to try out some genre bending, how about an 18th century superhero story? At first blush it may not sound like it, but The Scarlet Pimpernel is every bit a precursor to V for Vendetta and the actual inspiration for Zorro and Batman. The 1999 BBC mini-series follows Richard E. Grant as the improbable Sir Percy Blakeney, a man with a secret identity during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. Downton Abbey viewers will be happy to find co-star Elizabeth McGovern as Mrs. Blakeney–a wife who has no idea of her husband’s secret exploits. A much earlier 1934 film version stars Leslie Howard (Gone with the Wind) and Raymond Massey (Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Arsenic and Old Lace).
More recently you could find X-Files’s own Agent Scully, Gillian Anderson, starring in the 1850s Charles Dickens manor-based, suspense mini-series Bleak House (2005). Anderson plays the (awesomely named) Lady Dedlock opposite Doctor Who’s Anna Maxwell Martin, the original Star Wars trilogy’s Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson), and Doctor Who “Blink’s” Carey Mulligan.
You of course could also delve into British house life in the early 19th century Jane Austin world of TV and movies, the best of which is the 1995 A&E mini-series Pride and Prejudice, where most of the world was first introduced to now-popular actor Colin Firth. In that series you’ll also find The Adjustment Bureau and the new RoboCop’s Jennifer Ehle as the series co-star. In the same year genre actor Emma Thompson starred in Austin’s Sense and Sensibility opposite Harry Potter’s Alan Rickman, and House, M.D.’s Hugh Laurie. And if you dig these films you’ll find more genre actors in the lesser but still good 2005 film version of Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley (Jack Ryan, Pirates of the Caribbean, Domino, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) opposite Doctor Who’s Carey Mulligan, Donnie Darko and Into the Wild’s Jena Malone, and classic genre actor Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Dirty Dozen, The Italian Job, The Bedford Incident, Buffy the Vampire Slayer).