Before Downton: TV shows that flopped on the big screen

The Downton Abbey cast at Alnwick Castle.
The Downton Abbey cast at Alnwick Castle.
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IT HAS been in the works since even before the last shot went into the can for its TV finale. Last night it looked as if they were ready to finally reload the cameras.

A cinema version of Downton Abbey would put Yorkshire’s most famous stately home among a small and not-so-select group of television dramas to have made the transition to the big screen.

Ray Winstone in The Sweeney movie

Ray Winstone in The Sweeney movie

But you have to go back almost to the dawn of the medium to find one that was a hit.

It was the actress Phyllis Logan who began the renewed speculation about Downton - The Movie. “The will is definitely there with everybody involved,” she said on breakfast TV. “We’d love all to get back together again and have one last hurrah.”

Ms Logan, who played the housekeeper Mrs Hughes in the imprecisely located mansion, somewhere between the Howardian Hills and the North York Moors, had said nothing her butler and screen husband had not already intimated.

No-one had seen the script but the cast had been asked to keep the dates free, the actor Jim Carter had said.

Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes in The Avengers

Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes in The Avengers

American movie adaptations of small-screen hits are ten-a-penny, from The Twilight Zone to Charlie’s Angels, and some, like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible have gone on to even more stellar success.

But British TV’s road to the Odeon is paved with flops and near-misses.

One of the most recent adaptations, five years ago, saw Ray Winstone take on John Thaw’s old role in a remake of another ITV classic, the 1970s police drama, The Sweeney. It just about clawed back its reported £3m production cost, but was labelled a “brainless joyride” by one critic.

The keenly anticipated 1998 release of a movie version of The Avengers, the tongue-in-cheek ITV drama that was one of the channel’s biggest American exports and which embodied the psyche of the swinging Sixties, preceded an even bigger nosedive.

The film, which starred Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman in Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg’s old roles of John Steed and Emma Peel, was written off by the New York Times as “short but not short enough”.

A similar fate befell a 2004 live-action version of Thunderbirds, another enduring ITV hit, which cast Sir Ben Kinglsey and Anthony Edwards in roles formerly played by puppets.

The omens for television-to-cinema adaptations had been more promising a generation earlier, when Nigel Kneale’s science-fiction serial, The Quatermass Experiment, made its debut on the BBC, still the country’s only TV channel, in 1953.

Hammer Films acquired the movie rights and released their low-budget version two years later, with the American Brian Donlevy replacing Reginald Tate in the title role. The movie was a modest success, but Kneale was reportedly unhappy with the result, and especially with Donlevy.

A few years earlier, Hammer had started the ball rolling with two films based on the popular BBC radio series, The Adventures of PC 49, whose scripts centred on the caseload of one PC Archibald Berkeley-Willoughby.

The budget for any Down­ton adaptation is likely to be significantly higher, even allowing for inflation, but Ms Logan, who is filling in by appearing in ITV’s The Good Karma Hospital, sounded one note of caution yesterday. Reuniting such a large cast, she said, would not be easy.

The final episode of Downton aired on Christmas Day in 2015.