“I really adored her. Sometimes, you feel on paper that you shouldn’t, you should hate her or want to slap her, and then she does something that draws you back in. She’s endearing, there’s no stopping that.”
Jessica Brown Findlay, known to millions of Downton Abbey fans as Lady Sybil, is explaining the appeal of Amelia, her character in Albatross, her first feature film, released today. It’s one of those charming seaside films that reflects British life so sweetly, despite the family dysfunction at its midst. Amelia is the plot’s catalyst who swings, uninvited, into the lives of an author, busy revelling on his former bestselling glory, and his family at their cliff top B&B.
Inevitably, she causes havoc, particularly for Daddy, but Brown Findlay wouldn’t have it any other way for her character:
“She starts off as that teenage, misunderstood cliché, that whole ‘I know I am’ business’,” she explains. “At 17, we all think we know what we’re doing. But I wouldn’t want to tell her anything. It’s only by being allowed to trip up and fail, that we learn to get up and keep going.”
“Maybe not kiss the dad,” she adds as an afterthought.
This isn’t the first time the words feisty, headstrong and reckless can be applied to one of Brown Findlay’s character. But she explains that grabbing roles that bark up at the tree of establishment was never her game plan:
“The first episodes I actually read for Downton, Sybil was really intimidated and hadn’t come into her own. So it’s only in Series Two that she’s become so headstrong. In general, I find it exciting to play strong, female roles because they’re shockingly. Girls in scripts are often pretty but brainless, or geeky and no one likes them, so it’s great to find richer roles. Chalk and cheese aspects of people are very interesting to play. But these two are different. Amelia wears her heart on her sleeve, whereas Sybil is far more logical.
Life has changed dramatically for the Berkshire-born actress in the last year, since joining the cast of Britain’s foremost TV drama fixture. So when did she realise she had become part of a phenomenon?
“My mates from school watched it because they knew I was in it and they thought it would be funny,” she remembers. “But weeks later, they were still asking me questions about it, but they didn’t want me to spoil it, and there were people I didn’t expect to stay tuning in. So I thought if that lot were excited about a period drama, we must be onto something special.”
Despite all this swift success at the age of 22, Brown Findlay, who trained seriously to be a ballerina before injury propelled her into a change of career, admits to having her own Albatross:
“I’m starting to shake it off, I am quite self-conscious, and it’s only when I’m playing roles that I can escape that. The older I get, the more people tell me it’s absolutely fine to be the way you are with all your quirks and nuances, and I wish I’d learnt that younger – I would have relaxed a bit more. I was just such a worrier. I’d worry about everything, the tiniest things in life, plus the big questions that no one has answers to.”
Finally, a little titbit for all those Downton fans – can we hope for Lady Sybil to overcome her class prejudices and settle down with Branson the chauffeur?
“Well....” she smiles broadly. “Sybil knows how he feels, she has the weight of knowing this man loves her, but she’s logical and she knows what that would mean, her whole world will change forever. So that’s her Albatross, I guess.”
Albatross is on release from today, Friday 14th October.