It’s been years since it was first talked about, but the long-awaited and highly anticipated Downton Abbey film – a continuation of the hit ITV drama – is out on Friday.

And for Hugh Bonneville, who plays Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

I have to say when I saw it for the first time and that music starts and then the lights go down, my shoulders went down and I thought, ‘Oh this is great just to escape for a couple of hours from all the nonsense that we’re surrounded by,’ Bonneville told Sky News.

Elizabeth McGovern, who plays his wife Lady Cora Crawley, agreed.

It’s such a stressful world we’re living in at the moment and nothing gives anybody confidence anymore, she said.

But there’s something about Downton Abbey that is reassuring – everybody knows their place, everybody knows what their role is and what the rules are.

Jim Carter, who plays butler Carson, says it’s good to get a break from politics.

The only B-word you’ll hear is Branson, he said, referring to the character Tom Branson, and making his co-stars laugh.

For years after the period drama series finished in 2015, the cast were asked every time they were interviewed when there would be a film, and would usually say it depended on scheduling.

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Bonneville told us that really was the sticking point.

I think the real question mark was going to be the logistics of trying to get us all back together, he said.

Then Julian [Fellowes – the writer] did a couple of iterations of the script and changed the story a bit and so it did take a while for it to get there.

But Carter says there was never any question that fans wouldn’t be keen for the story to continue – and that he’s still surprised by people’s passion for Downton.

It’s astonishing, it’s borderline cult-ish in some respects, he said.

He went on to recount how he met 40 couple who had come to a concert of Downton music performed at Highclere Castle, where the show and films were shot.

He said that 30 of those couples had flown from America especially for the concerts – from the West Coast, from Kansas, from Texas, from all over the states for a two-hour concert. I mean, that is dedication, that’s unusual really.

McGovern says that the cast were also swept up in the excitement when they first got back together for a read-through of the script at Shepperton Studios.

It was a very long first read through, there was a lot of chatter and catching up, she said.

Phyllis Logan, who plays housekeeper Mrs Hughes, said keeping the cast in order was a challenge for producers – like herding cats!

But despite the cast’s fondness for the franchise, they say there’s no way they would prefer to live in 1927, when the film is set.

No, I wouldn’t want to live in those times, said Bonneville.

I think we all are very aware of the fact that we’re painting an idealised picture of that time, McGovern agreed.

I always like to emphasise that because it’s not a documentary, I mean life for the servants in that era was very, very difficult, and for a woman too – like the character I play – she literally had no say over her own destiny whatsoever.

And I would not for one second want to be transported backwards in time.

Downton Abbey is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday.
(c) Sky News 2019: Downton Abbey stars: ‘It’s great to escape all the nonsense’ of today