TV preview: Downton Abbey

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It’s been a busy year for Hugh Bonneville.

He reprised his role as the bumbling boss Ian Fletcher in W1A, a BBC spin-off from the award-winning Olympics mockumentary Twenty Twelve, starred alongside George Clooney in the Second World War film The Monuments Men and wrapped up series five of Downton Abbey.

“There isn’t a lot of time off at the moment, but I’m not complaining. I love the fact there’s that variety,” says the 50-year-old.

Bonneville’s been working for more than 20 years now, popping up as lovable buffoons in the romcom Notting Hill and period adaptation Mansfield Park, but it’s Downton and his role as patriarch Lord Grantham, aka Robert Crawley, that’s made him a household name - and recognisable to millions of TV viewers around the world.

As Downton fans will know, Grantham, unable to fully comprehend how much the world has changed following the First World War, is still coming to terms with the fast-paced life of the Twenties.

“I think he’s felt like a fish out of water, wanting to revert to the way things were before the war,” says London-born Bonneville. “He’s been dragging his heels, being a bit of a dinosaur and reluctant to change, because he didn’t know which direction to go in.”

But as the series progresses, his alter ego begins to warm to the idea of progression, the actor reveals. “He is a conservative by birth and tradition and all that, but he was very forward-thinking in series one, and that’s the Robert [Crawley] I fell in love with,” he says. “I was aware of him making some odd decisions in series three and four, but he’s set to get some strong views about the future in a good, modernising way, so I’m rooting for him. He’s bouncing back.”

But what of his relationship with wife Cora, played by Elizabeth McGovern? Downton’s golden couple’s been drifting apart of late, and the arrival of Richard E Grant’s suave art historian Simon Bricker hasn’t helped matters.

“The important thing [in a marriage] is not to get stuck in a rut and, as we see in the series, taking each other for granted can be a dangerous thing, especially when there are art historians coming over the horizon,” says Bonneville, laughing.

He’s been married to wife Lulu since 1998 in real life, and the couple have a 12-year-old son, Felix.

Viewers will be warmed to hear that, unlike last year, the upcoming Christmas special will be set during the festive period with “a chunk of” scenes having been shot at Alnwick Castle.

“Highclere is stunning to film in but, frankly, Alnwick Castle is huge. That was the highlight of the year,” says Bonneville. “Harry Potter filmed exteriors there, but I believe it’s the first time cameras have been allowed inside. The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland are huge fans, which is why they let us in.”

One of the men behind Harry Potter, producer David Heyman, is behind Bonneville’s forthcoming project - the much-anticipated big screen adaptation of Paddington, due for release in November.

“It was the script as always,” says the actor, on what drew him to the role of Mr Brown. “I was very nervous when I picked it up, because I didn’t want my childhood being messed with, and my memories of this adorable creature.

“But within a page, I was laughing out loud and reminded of the charming innocence and warmth [the author] Michael Bond put on the page. It was a no-brainer to be part of the film.”

There have been many wonderful incarnations over the years, but this is the first time a computer-generated Paddington will mix with actors, including Nicole Kidman and Julie Walters, on screen.

“It’s wonderful that it’s come to life, but it’s been a painstaking process,” says Bonneville.

Downton Abbey, Sunday 9pm ITV

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