The Secrets of Downton Abbey!

The Secrets of Downton Abbey!
  • Although the shoot for each series and the Christmas special runs from February to August, Downton is practically a year-round production. While shooting is over in August,
    post-production work goes on until November.
  • More than 100 stately homes in
    Britain and Ireland were considered for the series location, although Highclere Castle in Hampshire
    was the first place the production team saw.
  • According to Alastair Bruce, Downton’s historical advisor, the odd historical detail has to be amended in order for us to understand what’s going on. “If our characters spoke exactly like Twenties folk, the dialogue and tone of the voices would sound unfathomable to modern ears,” he says.
  • The cast are told to ‘keep emotions in the refrigerator’. “Today we give free rein to our feelings,” Alastair Bruce explains. “It was
    the opposite in the Twenties. The actors have to reflect the protocol of the time.”
  • The Grantham family’s living areas – hall, library, drawing room and dining room – are filmed on location at Highclere but after the first series their bedrooms were constructed at Ealing Studios where all ‘below stairs’ scenes are filmed.
  • The bedroom sets are interchangeable; Robert’s dressing room doubles as the nursery and Tom Branson’s bedroom; Cora’s bedroom transforms into both Mary's and Edith’s.
  • There are 17 people in the costume department including designers, seamstresses, and pattern cutters. While the team use some original garments from the Twenties, many vintage items have to be painstakingly restored.  The team scours vintage clothing
    sales both in the UK and in Paris
    to source antique beading,
    fabrics and lace.
  • Although some props are hired, many are bought as they are used repeatedly. They are sourced from antique markets in Kempton Park, Dorking and Lincoln. Remember the new-fangled electric mixer that frightened the life out of Mrs Patmore in series four? It was an original 1919 mixer found on
    eBay USA and cost $99!
  • The in-house art department produce everything from period product labels, to menus and parcels.
  • The ‘upstairs’ actresses have to be in the make-up chair at 6.30am on the days they’re on set. It takes, on average, an hour-and-a-half  to do their hair and make-up.
  • Shoes are specially made for the cast, as original Twenties footwear is difficult to come by, plus they tend
    to be too narrow for today’s feet! 
  • Many of the male actors require corrective make-up as the high collars of the period cause skin rashes.
  • The rule on set is all the actresses must wear ‘total sunblock’, to maintain an authentic pale complexion.
  • All the food on screen is real – although chicken is substituted for fish dishes as that tends to smell after a long day! Downton’s own home economist makes everything in bulk so food can be constantly replenished and therefore kept looking fresh during long hours of filming.
  • In the kitchen, just a couple of the hobs work and it’s only steam that comes out of the ovens.

What’s new at Downton Abbey?    

It’s 1924 and changes are afoot, starting with a fire at the house. Could this be a soap-style tactic to kill off superfluous characters? We’ll have to wait and see - but in the meantime…

  • Labour have come to power for the first time. Both Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and butler Carson (Jim Carter) are concerned this will erode the old order of things even more. Lord Grantham’s left-leaning son-in-law Tom Branson is delighted to have a Socialist government, and displeases his father-in-law further by his friendship with teacher and women’s
    rights supporter,
    Sarah Bunting.
  • Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) has her head turned by dashing art historian Simon Bricker (Richard E Grant).
  • Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is enjoying the attentions of her two suitors, Gillingham (Tom Cullen) and Blake (Julian Ovenden). She is also kept busy raising little George, now three, and focusing on the upkeep of the Downton estate.
  • Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) secretly visits her baby daughter who was adopted by a local farmer and his wife. But there’s still no news of her married lover who has gone missing in Germany.
  • Later in the series, we meet Docker, Lady Violet’s lady’s maid, played by Sue Johnston.
  • A cloud continues to hang over the relationship of John Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his wife Anna (Joanna Froggatt) regarding the demise of her rapist, Mr Green.
  • Lady Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) still has the best lines, and her love-hate relationship with Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) continues!