As years of watching our favorite PBS Masterpiece Sunday night drama sadly come to a close, here are nine things you should know about Downton Abbey, before it’s too late.
1. Highclere Castle
The “above stairs” scenes are filmed at Highclere Castle, the 1830s great house designed by the same architect who designed the British Houses of Parliament. The similarities between the buildings can be seen in the sand-colored stone and Gothic Revival turrets. Since 1679, the family of the Earl of Carnarvon has had a home on this spot. Beneath the current house are the ruins of a medieval palace. The “below stairs” scenes are filmed at the famed Ealing Studios on set in West London.
The current house is nestled on 1000 acres of parkland and the family home is available to rent for weddings and open for tourists in the summer. Although gorgeous pictures of the home are here, it is sells out early. But this being the 21st century the gift shop is open, online.
2. Massive audience
Downton Abbey has delivered PBS Masterpiece it largest audience ever. No surprise, really.
We know that Lord Grantham married Lady Grantham for her money, but not a whole lot more. The show’s writer Julian Fellowes (who in real life is Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, Lord of the Manor of Tattershall) will sate our curiosity. Fellowes said:
I do actually have an idea of doing a prequel of the courtship of Robert and Cora, when all those American heiresses were arriving in London – the Buccaneers, as they were called. They had a slightly troubled courtship, because she was in love with him before they married, as we know, and he married her entirely for her money.
The Buccaneers were American heiresses who, in marriage, exchanged fortune for title with landed Englishmen.
4. Bedroom scenes
In the filming of the show only one bedroom is used, and the furniture and fittings are changed to make it look like many. The cast is required to wear full sun screen at all times to maintain their Edwardian pallor.
5. English accents
The above stairs cast speaks in accents of modern-day wealthy Brits as the affected speech pattern from the early part of the 20th century was thought to be off-putting. The below stairs staff use their own regional accents.
6. The future
The world of Downton Abbey, of grand homes staffed with dozens of servants, is doomed as we the viewers know. We know WWII will bring this world to an end. Julian Fellowes, author and creator, has chosen to give his characters varying awareness of this fact and thus allow us to watch the differing ways people adapted to the coming changes.
7. Original story
Unlike so many costume period pieces, Downton Abbey is not an adaptation so the story hangs in the balance and only Fellowes knows what will transpire next. Without a pre-existing book, tragedies in the storyline still have the power of surprise (think Matthew and Sybil!).
8. Critical acclaim
Downton Abbey is in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the “highest critical review ratings for a TV show.” It replaces Mad Men in that spot.
9. More to come?
Season six premiers here in the US on January 3 and, sadly, this is the end of the line. Fellowes long has said he would not let the show run endlessly. “What we don’t want,” Fellowes said, “is to go too far ahead and have the actors doing wobbly stick acting with talcum powder in their hair.” But there are rumors of a film in the offing and we can only hope.