Downtown Abbey’s Jim Carter is out to support Tricycle Theatre

Husband and wife actors Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton are curating a festival of classic British films to raise money for the Tricycle Theatre.

Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Alan Bennett, Michael Palin and Stephen Tompkinson are among the well-known faces taking part in Q&As after the screenings.

Staunton, best known for movie roles in Vera Drake and the Harry Potter films, and Carter, currently playing butler Mr Carson in Downton Abbey, live in West Hampstead and wanted to support their local theatre.

“I haven’t worked there for 25 years but it’s a wonderful theatre. We have always been local and stayed in contact to support their work,” says Carter.

“This was an idea we cooked up to run this series of hopefully well loved, affectionately remembered British films.

“The fact that we have a connection with many of them isn’t for vanity’s sake but for pragmatic reasons, because it made it easier to get close friends involved.

“Everyone said instantly ‘I will do it, it’s a good cause’. Hopefully it will also be a nice reunion.”

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The season starts on January 19 with 1984 comedy A Private Function, which was scripted by Primrose Hill writer Alan Bennett.

The Q&A will also include the film’s stars Carter, Bill Paterson and Michael Palin “if he’s not off travelling”.

On February 9, Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville will talk about Mike Leigh’s Gilbert and Sullivan musical, Topsy Turvy.

Stephen Tompkinson, Sue Johnston and writer/director Mark Herman will appear on March 9 to talk about Brassed Off, a 1996 comedy in which Carter played a miner and member of Grimley Colliery Band.

Big attraction

“It was a lovely film because you believed in it and I agreed with what it was saying,” says Carter, who hails from Yorkshire.

“It handled the Miners’ Strike and was tough but funny and human – it was certainly tough to make, in south Yorkshire in winter! When we were filming, the community was still feeling the effects of the pit closures, though Grimethorpe has since had a revival. When we rolled into town the circus of film-making was a big attraction.”

Cast as a euphonium player, Carter went down to Abbey Road studios with his video camera to watch the recording of the soundtrack and pick up tips for the role.

“It was disappointing because the euphonium player didn’t puff his cheeks or have bulging eyes when he played, so there was nothing to work with.”

Carter and Staunton will appear alongside King’s Speech and Bridget Jones actor Colin Firth on April 13 to talk about John Madden’s film Shakespeare in Love.

“When we first read it the actors all fell about because it was full of actor jokes, but we all said, ‘This isn’t going to mean anything to anyone because you’ve got to love actor jokes and Romeo and Juliet.’ But it became a real date movie where girls and their boyfriends both loved it. It just shows you can never tell what’s going to catch fire.”

Unlike Staunton, who appears at Hampstead Theatre in the spring, Carter is happy to stick to screen work these days.

“I don’t miss theatre. I did it for 15 years and I have lost my taste for doing eight shows a week.”

With a Downton Abbey Christmas special and new series next year, he’s not finished with Mr Carson yet.

“When I went for the job I just knew there were three good scripts and Maggie Smith was in it – what’s not to like?

“I have never done anything like it before because it is uniquely successful, a global success. As a young actor I wouldn’t have wanted to get involved in something so long running but I’m at the age where it suits me fine.”

It has meant that he’s recognised more. Last month, when he and co-star Penelope Wilton visited Stockholm for the launch of Downton’s fourth series, they were constantly recognised in the street.

“It turns out there are nine million people living there and one million watch Downton.”

Though it’s raised Carter’s profile, it has led to more “bizarre offers” than juicy acting jobs.

“Would I narrate the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas carol concert in Salt Lake City? Flattering, but no thanks.”

But he adds: “I am not rushing around looking for work, I am very busy as chairman of Hampstead Cricket Club.”

Tickets for screenings are a suggested donation of minimum £19 with proceeds going to the Tricycle’s theatre and education programme.

“We all started off in small theatres. Jim Broadbent, Imelda and I came through these theatres and places like the Tricycle have been hit by thousands of pounds of cuts so they have to make that up in money raised and we hope this will help.”

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