Ladies and gentlemen, I present you the period drama of the year!
In one word, the Downton Abbey (2019) film is sublime.
Four years after the beloved series ended in 2015, the movie is finally gracing the big screens on 13 September in the UK and on 20 September in Canada and the US. The 2 hour (and 2 minute) film focuses on the royal visit of King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) to Downton Abbey. (They are the grandparents of The Queen, Elizabeth II, who would have been 1 at the time.) It takes place in Autumn 1927, almost two years after the S6 finale (which ended on New Year’s Eve in 1925).
If you didn’t get a chance to rewatch all six series of Downton Abbey or if you’re a complete newbie, Jim Carter (aka Carson) and Phyllis Logan (aka Mrs Hughes) give a short refresher before the film on what’s taken place since 1912.
If you enjoyed the TV series, you will love the movie for its cinematography, script, costumes, film locations, and more. You’ll spend most of the time laughing at Countess Grantham’s witty remarks (she’s my favourite), as well as every socially awkward scene (because that is quintessentially British too, is it not?) upstairs and downstairs. And when it’s finally time to say goodbye to Downton, you’ll feel a twinge of sadness (because all good things must come to an end) but also very satisfied for its happily ever after (i.e. no dramatic deaths). I would like to thank Julian Fellowes, the cast and crew, and all involved on this spectacular movie!
Without spoiling the movie (unless you want to read my thoughts at the end), I will share some hopefully useful information.
Did the royal visit actually take place?
Whilst Downton Abbey and the Crawley family are fictional, there is an Earl and Countess of Carnarvon who live in Highclere Castle. According to the Countess’ blog post, there have been many royal visits to Highclere Castle over the last three centuries, including King George V’s and Queen Mary’s visit in 1917.
However, the movie’s royal visit was actually inspired by the real royal visit to Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire in 1912. And, if you haven’t forgotten, the fictional Downton Abbey is in Yorkshire (Highclere Castle is in Hampshire). Because accuracy is key, historical advisor, Alastair Bruce, and two current Royal Household members were called upon to assist the cast in their roles. My one question would be whether it is customary for the Royal Household to takeover during a royal visit.
In the trailers, you see the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery at the parade but did you know that they actually are the King’s Troop? My one spoiler alert for you is that there are no gun salutes in the film.
The film also introduces the King and Queen’s only daughter, Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood (Kate Phillips). (For those with no royal history, Princess Mary was the daughter of King George V and Queen Mary; she was our Queen’s paternal aunt.) During the 1920’s, the King and Queen often visited their daughter and their grandchild at their Goldsborough Hall residence. In 1927, she would not have been Countess of Harewood for another two years but the film has Princess Mary, her husband Henry Lascelles, and their sons George and Gerald at Harewood for the royal visit. Speaking of Princess Mary and her husband, Princess Mary is 29 in 1927. Henry, although 15 years older, appears to be much older than 44 in the film.
Speaking of royalty – and this is for those who don’t have royal history or need a refresher – the Prince of Wales mentioned but not seen is Prince Edward, the one who would later abdicate.
P.S. Queen Mary’s lady-in-waiting Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton, wife of Jim Carter) is a fictional character.
This is the film where you’ll see the most swoon-worthy clothing and lots of tiaras! Once again, Anna Robbins costumes Downton actors with a mix of authentic and reproduction 1920’s dresses. Unlike many period dramas out there where costumes can be passable, “…Downton is head and shoulders above in terms of how far [Anna will] go to make things accurate.” Certainly one of the top reasons I love Downton. Thank you, Anna! It’s nice to know that these costumes and original dresses will be preserved for the public to see.
For all six series of ITV’s Downton Abbey, Lady Mary was, in my opinion, the best dressed of the Crawley sisters. In the film, however, Edith, Marchioness of Hexham is now the belle of the ball with exquisite day and evening wear, as well as the [faux] star diadem.
The highlight of the ballroom scene was seeing diamond tiaras lent by Bentley & Skinner for Violet, Cora, and Edith. For the reproduction tiaras, I recognised Queen Mary wearing the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara with the 15 emeralds. We also see Princess Mary wearing what appears to be Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara albeit it probably should have been the Harewood Fringe Tiara? But I’m no expert.
What was different this time was seeing Lady Mary and Edith in their very fine undergarments (with Lady Mary going as far to reveal her tights and garter). I have no doubt that there will be a higher demand for vintage kimono and/or embroidered peignoirs, slips, and other 1920’s chemises, and bloomers. Speaking of period films’ influence on fashion, I would also not be surprised if 1920’s dresses will become even more valuable now that they are close to being a 100-years-old.
Settings and Film Locations
Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey
Highclere Castle has been and is now one of the top castles to visit in Britain. It is open to the public from July to September and on various dates for special events. You can either visit on your own or join a Downton Abbey Tour. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door. When I visited the Castle in 2016, the £15 admission (it has since increased) was included in the Downton Abbey Tour I joined, which you can read about on my blog.
Whilst photos are not allowed inside, visitors will be able to snap thousands of photos of the exterior and of the grounds. Architecturally, it is one of my favourite castles in the world because of its neogothic Entrance Hall.
Harewood House as Harewood House
Newcomer setting to Downton is Harewood House, future home of Princess Mary (Countess of Harewood) from 1929 until her death in 1965. In the film, Princess Mary says that their home is still Goldsborough Hall but that they are at Harewood due to her father-in-law’s poor health. (I don’t think we ever see her in-laws, the 5th Earl of Harewood and Countess of Harewood.)
We see quite a bit of Harewood House’s Cinnamon Drawing Room (where the ladies take tea) and its exterior in the film. I had blogged about it as the film location for ITV’s Victoria as Buckingham Palace. If ITV’s Victoria hadn’t sent a surge of visitors to Harewood already, then Downton will. And perhaps it’s not a bad thing when these grand houses need all the help they can for maintenance! If you’re looking for the ballroom, however, you’ll have to visit Wentworth Woodhouse to see their Marble Saloon. I’m not sure if it was meant to resemble/replace Harewood’s Gallery or the Entrance Hall.
Bampton and Beamish Open Air Museum and Lacock as Downton Village
In the opening scene, we follow the Royal Mail car through Bampton, the film location of Downton Village. We pass by the church, the park (for the fair), Isobel Crawley’s home, and Downton Cottage Hospital.
For the town scenes, it’s a mix of Lacock and Beamish Open Air Museum’s 1900s Town. As I have not been to both, I have no photos to share.
The 17 track OST by John Lunn will be released on 13 September. I especially liked the opening with a slower variation of the beloved theme which gradually transformed into the opening theme once Downton Abbey appeared on the screen.
Not on the soundtrack but playing in the ballroom scene are classic pieces by Johann Strauss II. Here are two that I recognised instantly:
- Annen-Polka, Op. 117 – We here this whilst everyone is having drinks before the dance.
- Voices of Spring, Op. 410 – We watch everyone waltz gracefully to this piece. Excellent choice!
Is this the end of Downton?
According to Julian Fellowes, “…a follow-up is a definite possibility,” but “…it rather depends as to how the picture is received and we will all have a think about whether we want to go there again.”
After watching the film this evening, I think a sequel is a possibility but we may not see some characters again (also pending the actors’ availability and interest). As Jim Carter (who plays Carson) puts it, “I know if there is a second one it will start with a funeral and people walking away very solemnly from a graveyard and there will be a panning shot along six headstones of those who weren’t available for the film and that is how it will start, (it will be a case of) who let the dowager drive?”
I would love another movie but I miss it as a series when we could look forward to something every week to distract us from our stressful lives. I’m curious to know what my readers would prefer. More movies? A continuation of the series? A spin-off?
Whilst we wait, a film adaptation of Fellowes’ novel, Belgravia, will air on ITV in 2020. In my 2016 post, I mentioned that the novel was the new Downton Abbey, set in the Regency and Victorian eras, complete with upstairs and downstairs characters. I would highly recommend listening to the audiobook!
Possibly coming out later this year is HBO’s The Gilded Age, a ten-part series penned by Fellowes set in 1885 New York. It’s meant to be the American version of Downton Abbey.
If you’re looking for companion books to the movie, there are at least four new books this year:
- Downton Abbey: The Official Film Companion
- The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook
- The Official Downton Abbey Cocktail Book
- Christmas at Highclere: Recipes and Traditions from the Real Downton Abbey
(STOP! If you’ve watched the movie, highlight the bullet points below)
Lord Grantham’s comments about Mrs Patmore being a Russian spy seemed very relevant today! I was surprised that Barrow could behave so brazenly to Lord Grantham and Lady Mary. But Lord Grantham seemed to appreciate it whereas I’m not sure if an earl back then would have tolerated such behaviour. We see the children now and then, including the Bates’ boy. No idea who’s minding their son whilst the parents are busy working. We see that Mary has a daughter (she was pregnant in the S6 Christmas finale) who somehow appears older than the Bates’ boy (who was born in aforementioned finale), even though it’s only been a year and probably nine to eleven months since the finale. Odd. If only Upstairs knew how chaotic things can be Downstairs, and we really see it in the film! Can we applaud Dame Maggie Smith for that elegant curtsey? Excellent casting for the King and Queen! I can’t help but wonder: what if it continued to pour the next day during the parade? Would it have been cancelled? I sympathised greatly with Molesley in that scene, probably because I felt as if I would be as ecstatic as him yet would commit a terribly embarrassing blunder. I almost thought that Barrow’s new love had snitched on him! When Lady Mary considered giving up on Downton Abbey, I couldn’t help but think of all the National Trust and English Heritage houses and castles that had been relinquished in the last century. We commoners are lucky to visit these grand estates but I imagine it would have been terribly hard on the families to have to forfeit their ancestral homes. I wonder what role Henry Talbot would have played in the movie had Matthew Goode (the actor) not had scheduling conflicts. It was lovely to see him return to Downton and run up the stairs to Mary. I love how Countess Grantham is a supporter of Branson’s new budding romance with Lucy Smith. For completely selfish reasons, of course!