Laura Carmichael plays Lady Edith Crawley, the daughter of Robert and Cora, who is always feuding with her sister Mary. In the second series, Edith throws itself into the war effort by helping out on a local farm and at Downton Abbey when it is turned into a convalescent home.
Laura starts by sharing an anecdote from the scene she has just completed - driving a vintage car through the village of Bampton. So how was it? “I think my heart rate is starting to go back to normal,” she laughs. “Allen Leech kept saying, ‘That’s only half a million pounds worth of car there, Laura, just one of a few left in the world.’ No pressure, then!” She proceeds to observe that this series shows the sense of liberation that many women feel during the First World War. “People are suddenly aware of jobs becoming available and men’s roles becoming vacant. For example, Edith thinks she can help out with the car.
“Beforehand they just accepted the boredom in their lives; but now no-one is stopping them from doing anything. They can seize those opportunities. Edith feels liberated now. I think it happens to a lot of them, to Sybil and the girls downstairs as well to a certain extent.” Laura explains how the war also helps everyone keep things in proportion. “I think the characters have to soften because of what they are living through. Friends and family coming back, or news that they’ve been blown to pieces on the front – it puts everything in perspective, you know.”
The actress reveals that she embarked on her own research into the jobs women did during the First World War. “My Nan was in the Land Army in the Second World War, and I didn’t realise how long the Land Army had been going. I also went to the Imperial War Museum and had a look through all the things there. “I found out I’d be doing some farming, so I was interested in that. I found this amazing website on Pathé Films, old vintage films of these women laughing and hoeing fields, saddling the horses. It’s unbelievable; there’s something so moving about watching films with no sound, and they’re still giggling!”
One element which viewers really enjoyed in the first series of Downton Abbey was the constant bitching between Edith and her sister Mary. Laura, who is also appearing in the forthcoming movie, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, reveals, “It’s still very much there. It is still very painful between them. “But Julian has exposed another side of the relationship, which I do think this hatred is tied to: an absolute bond of love that is so much more intense. I think you see that when things start to go very badly for the family. There’s a moment of sisterly love – it does show itself.”
One of the chief pleasures of this job for Laura has been working with the great Maggie Smith. She says, “It’s such fun working with Maggie, she’s incredible to watch. I destroyed a rehearsal the other day by laughing the whole way through it because I couldn’t look at her - she was being too brilliant. “She also has a great sense of humour and enjoys telling stories. So if there’s a moment at the dining table where we’re waiting for stuff to happen or we’re outside having a cup of tea, it’s a joy to get her talking and telling stories. It’s mad, I do pinch myself.”
Laura, for whom this was her first professional job, cannot conceal her delight at being back on the set of Downton Abbey. “It is just a great thing to be a part of, to be honest. I was so excited to be able to hang out with the same people again. “It’s just a joy to work on, we’re laughing all day long. The storylines are great and really exciting. I was turning every page, really excited to find out what was going to happen next.”