Hugh Bonneville has become something of a legend to the loyal Sunday night TV viewers of Britain. His current role, for which he is arguably best known, is as Lord Grantham in the mind-bogglingly popular Downton Abbey. But those less enthusiastic about costume dramas and the elevated segregation of the upper classes might also have spotted him as the eponymous and irritable tramp in Mr Stink, or as Ian Fletcher, Head of Deliverance for the Olympics in the BBC mockumentary, Twenty Twelve. Oh, and don’t forget his role as the lovably ignorant Bernie in Notting Hill.
After a stint at a London drama school, Bonneville studied Theology at Corpus Christi in the eighties, where he admits he was a ‘pretty pants’ student, having done ‘far too many plays than was healthy’ for his academic career. Possibly explaining why he came away with a Desmond 2:2 in Theology. But his stellar career and (well-merited) celebrity status, re-ignited by Downton, suggest there’s hope for us all regardless of our results in Finals.
Like a butler with a tray of foie gras canapés, costume dramas come and go in Britain, so why does Bonneville think people have warmed to Downton more than the rest? “If I knew that I’d be a millionaire, having bottled the recipe”, he jokes. Then he re-thinks: “one reason why it’s appealed to a broader audience than one might expect from a traditional costume drama is that it’s about tension not violence, romance rather than sex. It’s not so in your face. And it just breathes out in way that a lot of contemporary shows, which are brilliant, don’t.”