The cast of Doctor Thorne.

Doctor Thorne is broadcast on ITV Choice (123) from Wednesday 8 June at 21:00.

Julian Fellowes became an international success as the creator of the award-winning Downton Abbey.

His first post-Downton television project is an adaptation of Anthony Trollope's 1858 novel Doctor Thorne, which premieres on South African television screens this week airing on ITV Choice (123) on Wednesday 8 June at 21:00.

This three-part television drama adaptation stars Tom Hollander in the title role of a country physician and follows his attempts to secure the romantic and financial fortunes of his illegitimate niece, Mary, who is loved by the scion of her aristocratic but impoverished neighbours. But this young man's mother wants him to marry a rich American heiress.

The cast includes Ian McShane, Phoebe Nicholls and Cressida Bonas whose previous claim to fame was that she used to date Prince Harry.

Fellowes, who won an Oscar for his first screenplay for Gosford Park, reveals why he chose the project: “I wanted to allow television makers to see that they don't have to do Jane Austen and Charles Dickens every time. And Trollope’s dialogue is very modern and jumps on to the screen.”

Are there any parallels between Mary Thorne and Downton’s Mary Crawley? “They’re both strong women. One of the things about period pieces is that women were so circumscribed –there were endless rules. But of course, there were clever women who wanted to have good lives, get around the rules and find ways of expressing themselves,” he says.

Twenty-three-year-old Australian actor Harry Richardson plays the role of Frank Gresham, the financially troubled heir who’s in love with his beautiful but poor childhood friend Mary Thorne (Stefanie Martini).

So how did he crack the uppercrust British vowels? “At drama school, my tutor would put on Downton Abbey to help us study British accents,” he says. “And on set Julian himself was often on hand to give advice on aristocratic etiquette. For example no hands in pockets, never, never, never! It was a great experience. It is an exciting time to be a young actor. The possibilities are infinite.”

So was his young co-star Stefanie Martini pressured as the series was Fellowes’ first project after Downton Abbey and therefore received plenty of media attention with high expectations?

Martini is plain talking: “I didn’t see the Downton link as pressure – I just saw it as really good exposure! Julian has adapted it from the book – he hasn’t completely made it up himself – so it’s not quite the same thing. There are only three episodes, a beginning, middle and end, so you know where the story is going to go, and it’s so much smaller than Downton. It is wonderful and beautiful and I am delighted to be part of it.”

So how did she prepare for her role as Mary? “Mary is so virtuous and good that I didn’t want to overthink the role, to add anything or put anything crazy on her. She was an absolute dream to play.”

Veteran actor Tom Hollander discusses his part: “I loved playing him (Dr Thorne), because it was a part I hadn’t played before; he’s a listener, but also a hero. He’s not selfish, and it’s not his own agenda that he’s servicing. So that’s actually quite unusual to play. One seems to play characters that are more concerned with getting something, but his concern is for everyone else, and chiefly for Mary.”

 “I also liked the fact that there were so many young actors in it who are just starting out. I got to see the sheer fun of it from their point of view; of the costumes, the locations, and the romance of all of that. They were in a state of wonderment about it all, which made me realise quite what a privilege it is to be doing those things.”

Doctor Thorne is broadcast on ITV Choice (123) from Wednesday 8 June at 21:00.