Sizzling Downton Abbey star Lily James was involved in a blazing drama of a different kind during the filming of Disney’s live-action Cinderella extravaganza when a sumptuous wedding gown she was wearing caught fire.

The 24-year-old had been shooting a scene at Pinewood studios. The bridal dress — with its voluminous skirts, three miles of hemming and covered in Swarovski crystals — is a work of art in its own right. It covers so much square footage the actress can’t always see what’s in front of her.

She was led into her dressing room (a large tent in a corner of the vast 007 sound stage) and her hem brushed against a heater and began smouldering.

‘It had turned really cold and someone had put a three-bar heater a bit too close to where Lily was going to sit on a stool,’ explained distinguished costume designer Sandy Powell.

‘Luckily, just a segment of the silk dress got burnt. Thank God Lily wasn’t harmed,’ added Powell who has collected three Oscars and two Baftas for her screen creations.

‘I wore this wedding dress for about 20 seconds before I walked past the heater and burned some of it,’ Lily told me as she was preparing to film sequences on another occasion with Richard Madden as her dashing Prince Charming.

She said she was in tears at first — until Ben Chaplin, who plays Cinderella’s father, lightened the mood by saying: ‘Well, I’ll wait a while before I make the Cinders joke.’

Lily said: ‘I went: “Oh, no!” And I was laughing through my tears.

‘I was fine. I wasn’t hurt, just a bit shocked for a little while.’

There are several copies of the wedding gown in varying weights for different circumstances, such as coming down a marble staircase, for dancing and walking. The one that was burned had a number of heavy skirts. ‘It’s sort of torture, wearing this dress,’ Lily explained because of having to wear a corset that cinches her down to a 21in waist.

‘I have no waist,’ she said laughing. ‘It’s really hard to eat. I have soup, and if I follow with two squares of chocolate, I’m stuffed. It’s so depressing,’ she added, collapsing into giggles.

‘And because everything’s so tight, I burp. You just have to burp when you need to.’

But, incendiary dresses aside, Lily said she’s been having ‘a ball’ working with director Kenneth Branagh and a bevy of leading ladies, including Cate Blanchett as her wicked-ish step-mother, Helena Bonham Carter as her fairy godmother and Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera as Cinderella’s step-sisters.

Her male co-stars include Stellan Skarsgard, Nonso Anozie and Derek Jacobi.

David Barron and Allison Shearmur, who are producing the film for the Disney corporation, said the picture won’t be released until Easter 2015.

Meanwhile, Lily is taking a well-earned festive break before rejoining her Downton Abbey ‘family’ in February to film the fifth series, in which she plays the vivacious Lady Rose.



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