Allen Leech on Branson’s love gamble in Downton

Downton Abbey’s politically minded Irish chauffeur Branson asks the Earl’s daughter Lady Sybil to run away with him. What’s On TV talked to Allen Leech about what’s making Branson tick during the second series of the ITV1 period drama…

Why is Branson and Lady Sybil’s relationship still pretty much unrequited? Is that about to change when he asks her to run away with him this week?

“After laying his cards on the table in the first episode – he took his hat off and everything – you can see he’s completely in love and infatuated with Lady Sybil. He did get a rebuttal at first, but being a headstrong Irishman he doesn’t give up. There is a fire and spirit about Sybil which appeals to him. She’s interested in politics and he stokes that. He is quite well educated, and throughout the series we see him constantly questioning her and a definite bond growing between them. Whether they do get together, and can cross the class divide, is essentially the personal drama for Branson.”

Branson’s not only got romance on his mind, there’s the Irish question and his opposition to the war. How are those affecting him?

“What’s nice about this second series is that there are lots of issues for Branson, as there’s the question of conscription, and the Easter Uprising in Ireland happened in 1916, so they affect him deeply. So he has big decisions to make with his political ideals, and how he feels about Lady Sybil.”

Is Branson hoping things will soon change politically in Britain and Ireland?

“When Downton is requisitioned by military authorities to be a convalescent home, Branson see that as a signal that things at last will be different. The way people view the working class and the aristocracy begins to change. It gives Branson hope that things won’t be the same after the war. He’s always reading the papers and lecturing the staff about what’s happening in the world.”

Is it true you keep the cast amused with impressions of them?

“Sometimes I do yeah! I do Jim Carter (the butler Carson) well – he’s pretty easy because you just drop your voice as low as it can go. He’s like the headmaster of us all and I’m like his naughty pupil doing impressions behind his back. Off set, we’re a very joke-around kind of cast, which is nice!”

Downton Abbey screens on Sundays at 9pm on ITV1

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