Interview: Composer John Lunn Discusses His Work On Downton Abbey: A New Era

ComingSoon was given the opportunity to speak with Emmy-winning composer John Lunn about his score for the upcoming Downton Abbey: A New Era. Lunn has worked on the series since it first started back in 2010, and also worked on the 2019 big screen follow-up.

Jeff Ames: What initially drew you to Downton Abbey back when the series first started?

John Lunn: I got sent the script. I’d been working with the company Carnival Films, who were making it. I liked working with them. I’ve done a lot of work with the BBC. We struck up a real good working relationship. When I first read the script I thought it was really interesting. I waited until they filmed the first two episodes before I decided to work with them. I thought it was very good, but none of us had any idea that it would become quite as popular as it’s become.

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Was there an aspect of the script that really appealed to you?

I’m not very good on scripts. I usually have to see it, to see how it’s filmed before I get interested. I work to the images themselves. It was only when the images came to life that I realized that this was going to be a great vehicle for me to work on. They had only written the first episode, so I didn’t know the whole arc of the series or the emotional relationships I would have to trace. I wasn’t aware of that at the time. I knew it was a period drama, which I had done quite a few of. I quite enjoyed the aspect of writing more modern music than the music of the era, because the music for Downton Abbey is not really 1912. It doesn’t ignore it, but it’s not music you would have heard in 1912. It’s more modern than that.

But ultimately, I had struck up a good relationship with the company and the producer and thought it would be — well, not an easy series to do, because it certainly wasn’t. I just thought it would be a worthwhile job, really.

When the series ended in 2015, did you feel unsatisfied or were you yearning to reed-lore the series later on?

At the time I felt like we had kind of done it. We had done six seasons with some that were ten or twelves episodes long. There was quite a lot of music in each series. I thought we had done it and exhausted it. In the back of my head, I thought there was something in there somewhere. And while I was working on other projects with the company, I was kept abreast of the developments on the film. So, I don’t think I ever thought it had gone away completely.

So, when the original film came out, how different was the experience?

It was pretty much the same. It was just an extension of the story. The story just kind of carried on as if the series never finished. A lot of the material we ended the Season 6 on kind of crossed over into the first movie. So, there was some material that certainly stretched over into the first movie and there were new storylines and thematic elements. I had a bigger orchestra, a bigger budget, and a little more time to work on it.

If I’m being honest, though, it wasn’t that different from working on the TV series.

With A New Era, how has the music evolved?

There are two real new storylines. One of the features is that the family spend quite a bit of time in the south of France, so that in itself opened a whole new thematic element for me. Plus, there’s a storyline involving Violent to come out of that visit from France as well that’s given me a lot of new material to work with as well. Also, there’s a plot where they decide to rent out Downton for the making of a film, which also gives me a lot of new thematic material.

So, it’s given me a whole new take on the whole Downton thing. There’s definitely elements people will recognize, but there’s also a lot that’s quite new.

That certainly fits with the title, A New Era, right?

Exactly. I couldn’t ignore that, could I? I needed to do something new! [Laughs]

This is just me speculating, but this seems like a series that is destined to continue for some time. Are there themes or elements you introduce with the expectation of exploring them later on down the road?

Well, I did do that with the TV series. A lot of the music in Downton is about the relationships between people, so if there’s a new relationship within a film there’s a good chance that material will be available to be further developed. In this case, the story of them going to the south of France, the chances of them going back there won’t happen again. So, future films will need new music.

On the TV series, though, there was always the expectation that we would get Seasons 4, 5, and on. So, yeah, I was thinking about that the whole time.

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Is there an element of your new score that you’re excited for fans to hear?

The last ten minutes are very music-led. I can’t give away why. The music is massively important and carries you all the way to the end. I’m very happy with that. It’s really moving. You’ll discover why.

Apart from that, I tried to write music that was implying — we’re not actually in the ’30s yet, but we’re very close. The music a bit more upbeat, the orchestrations a bit more developed as well. Like the first movie, there are bits where the music is massively important. The first five music is basically just music. There’s hardly any dialogue until about five minutes in. The first movie started like that as well, so I had to find a different way to do that.

But there’s more of a contrast in the music in this film than there was in the first film and the TV series, which has been quite satisfying.

You are in contention for your score for The Last Kingdom. What’s it like to receive such recognition from your peers?

I’m over the moon about it. I’m very pleased with The Last Kingdom. It’s very different from Downton Abbey and it’s one I’ve really enjoyed working on. I think the music is really quite original, which is what I’m most pleased about. So, the fact people are talking about it is brilliant.


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