It’s Julian Fellowes’ hotly anticipated follow-up to Downton Abbey offering all his hallmarks of lavish costumes, stately homes – and some very glamorous stars.
Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriend Cressida Bonas is making her TV debut as an heiress, while builder’s daughter Stefanie Martin is playing heroine Mary Thorne – a role expected to catapult her from obscurity into stardom.
They’re both relative unknowns in their field, who look equally at home in period costume and on the red carpet, with looks that wouldn’t be out of place in Hollywood. But who will win the viewers’ hearts?
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Prince Harry’s ex Cressida Bonas plays Patience Oriel in ITV drama Doctor Thorne airing on Sunday
Stefanie Martin barely left RADA before being cast as Mary Thorne in the new Sunday night costume drama
Fellowes is famed for making household names out of actors at the start of their careers – and Stefanie revealed at a press conference last week that she had just £3 in her pocket when she got the call from ITV.
Previously unknown actors including Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt and Dan Stevens have won awards and roles in Hollywood blockbusters thanks to the fame they achieved in the show created by Julian Fellowes.
And in their own ways, both Stefanie and Cressida are equally new to the machinery of a TV series but when it comes to the limelight, one of them already has a headstart.
Cressida, 27, who plays Patience and Oriel, friend and confidante to one of the main protagonists in the drama which begins tonight, is quite used to top tier friends and family.
Privately-educated Cressida, who is good friends with Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, may not have to flex her acting muscles too hard as her character is described in the 1858 novel as a ‘very pretty girl… belonging to a good family’.
But tonight’s broadcast will be the first time that many Brits will have seen the 27-year-old in action on our screens after she gave up her relationship with the fifth in line to the throne to pursue her career.
Cressida Bonas (left) and Stefani Martini (right) bring a double dose of glamour to ITV’s adapation of Doctor Thorne alongside veteran performers Tom Hollander and Rebecca Front
Stefanie and Harry with established actors Tom Hollander as Doctor Thorne and Rebecca Front as Lady Arabella Gresham
But it’s just the start in her burgeoning acting career and later this year Cressida will also make her Hollywood debut in film Tulip Fever alongside Judi Dench, Alicia Vikander and Cara Delevingne.
After receiving rave reviews for her performance treading the boards in the one-woman play An Evening With Lucian Freud last year, Cressida’s latest ventures could finally put her on the map as a thespian, rather than simply as a notch on a royal bedpost.
Since ending her two-year relationship with the prince, Cressida has also become the face of Mulberry’s spring/summer 2015 collection and stole the show in a blue sequin mini-dress appearing on the Dior FROW in Cannes last May.
But while all eyes may be on her at red carpet events, she’s not the main star of Doctor Thorne.
That honour goes to RADA graduate Stefanie, an unknown actress from North Somerset who was delighted to land the part having only graduated last summer.
She said: ‘My agent phoned to tell me when I was in a coffee shop with my boyfriend. I had £3 in my bank account that day.
The actress plays a ‘very pretty girl… belonging to a good family’ in the Julian Fellowes adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Victorian novel
‘I remember going in, trying to get a coffee, having my card declined and thinking, “I can’t even buy a coffee. How am I going to get home? I’ve only got £3.”
‘Then I got the phone call and it was completely surreal… It’s lovely how that one phone call can completely change your life.’
Stefanie doesn’t come from a thespian family – her father works in construction and her mother in HR – so said it took them a while to process the news that she was going to star in such an anticipated prime time show.
She said: ‘When I rang to tell them I’d got the part my dad was busy, so he just said, “OK, that’s good news, bye.” Then rang me the next day when he’d actually processed it and said, “That’s amazing.” And my mum was really happy for me.’
Meanwhile, her love interest in the drama, Frank Gresham, is also played by an unknown – young Australian actor Harry Richardson.
Cressida, pictured right with co-stars Rebecca Front, left and Gwyneth Keyworth, is said to have ended her two-year relationship with Prince Harry to pursue her acting career
Cressida plays a friend and confidante to the main character in the three part drama
He graduated from the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth in 2014 and had been ‘bouncing around chasing jobs ever since’.
He said he was ‘over the moon’ to get the part in Doctor Thorne, auditioning when he was in London visiting family and he nearly missed his flight home in order to read for the role.
‘On my last night in London I got an email from my agent, with the script for Doctor Thorne, asking me to attend an audition in the morning before my flight back to Australia.
‘Knowing it was Julian Fellowes and Trollope I knew I had to do it!’ he recalled. ‘I read the scripts overnight, attended the audition in the morning and then made it to Heathrow for my flight with just an hour to spare.’
The 27-year-old will make her debut in a primetime TV show following rave reviews of her theatre performances
Unknown actors Harry Richardson and Stefanie Martini will play the lead roles in Doctor Thorne
After flying home, he then returned for a second audition where he was given the part.
Mark Redhead, executive producer of Doctor Thorne, predicts big things for the show’s young cast.
He said: ‘Harry paid for himself to come over from Australia to the UK for the audition. That’s bold. To say, “I really want to go for this role.”
‘He is like an artist’s vision of a young romantic hero. And Stefanie, who had just left RADA, is, like Harry, also a wonderful actor. I’m sure both of them are going to have massive careers.’
Mark Redhead, executive producer of Doctor Thorne, predicts Harry and Stefanie will have ‘massive careers’ after getting their big breaks on the show
Stefanie’s father works in her construction and her mother in HR, she said they were delighted when she was cast in Doctor Thorne
Doctor Thorne is a three-part drama adapted from Julian’s favourite Trollope novel and he hopes viewers will take it to their hearts, like they did Downton Abbey, which ended last year.
However, he said on This Morning last week that is hard to predict what will be a hit show, and often it just comes down to ‘luck’.
Talking to Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield, he said: ‘We were lucky to have a hit. No one knows why. There’s no science behind it. It’s luck. One hopes for luck, but you cannot expect it.’
He added of his latest work: ‘It’s a charming love story for spring and really deals with social disruption. People coming up and people coming down. I love Trollope’s writing.’
Doctor Thorne begins on ITV, Sunday at 9pm
Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey made the cast including Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery household names
The writer said on yesterday’s This Morning that producing a hit TV show is often down to ‘luck’