…You can always go, Downton Abbey!
I have always been fanatically obsessed a fan of Masterpiece Theatre, now Masterpiece Classics.
My production company is called Mastersleaze Theatre in honor of it, but, again, that’s a whole ‘nother topic!
Anyway, I’m addicted to Masterpiece Classic’s Downton Abbey.
It’s the best thing to happen to television since picture in picture!
Set in Pre-WW I and WW I England, the show tells a story of an Earl, as in a Peer, as in an Aristocrat, his wife, three daughters, and his awesome mother, played by Maggie Smith, their servants, the Great War, and it’s just all drama, drama, drama.
It is addictive!
So, during my weekly pilgrimage to Barnes and Noble, I was pleased to find a couple of books regarding the era and the show.
Please, very, very, pleased.
I bought two.
One is of course the ‘companion’ book to the show which explains who’s who, who plays who, who does who, and who shot who.
It doesn’t tell who the whos really were.
There were and are real people living in Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey.
The estate has been in the same family for generations. It is the seat of the Earl of Carnarvon. History buffs will recognize the name as the man who funded the research and one of the men who found the tomb of Egypt’s King Tut.
The Earl of Carnarvon spent millions of dollars along with Howard Carter doing research and digging in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. Their work paid off when they opened the door to the most fabulous of all Egyptian sites, the tomb of the boy king. It was money well spent, and a hobby that reaped tremendous rewards.
Carnarvon did not have three daughters. He had a son and a daughter. So the story in the show varies in that respect. But, real history points us to real things in the series that are very, very true, and very close to what happened in the giant castle.
Lady Cora, played by Elizabeth McGovern, is an American heiress, who’s cash helped restore and save the estate.
Lady Almina, the real countess who lived in the house at the time was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, and her daddy’s money really did save the estate, funded the searches in the Valley of the Kings, and built hospitals during and after the Great War.
The servants are mirror images of the men and women who really ran the place and waited on the Earl, Lady Almina, and their children.
The other book I picked UP is Lady Almina, The Real Countess of Downton Abbey. It is written by the existing Countess of Carnarvon, and is a great read. Packed with historical information on the war, life at the time, the search for King Tut, and what the servants really did.
Much of the series can be related to real events, though radically changed, many of the plots and sub-plots in the show are based on real events.
Most notably, the last scene of season one when the Lord Grantham announces that England is at war with Germany. That really happened to Julian Fellows family, and it happened at a garden party. Fellows tells that he heard the story repeatedly from his father.
There are plenty of other truths in the show as well…although they didn’t all happen at Highclere. The Turkish diplomat who dies in action in “Lady” Mary’s bed…really happened.
The red wallpaper in Mary’s room at Downton Abbey isn’t wallpaper, it’s silk. It was installed by Almina, the real Countess, for the visit of HRH Albert, The Prince of Wales, later HM King Edward VII. (Mary’s room scenes are filmed at the studio, and the room has been recreated.) Back at Highclere, Almina spent the equivalent of $300,000 to get the house ready for the Prince and plan the weekend, which included, shooting, riding, dining, dancing, etc.
The Green wallpaper in the drawing room…again, silk, been there since Almina put it UP with her Daddy’s money back in the day.
The story is great, the bird’s eye view into Victorian and Edwardian England is educational, and the execution is spot on. And even though season two was a tad frustrating compared to season one – too many sub plots, rapid resolutions, and not enough Maggie Smith – it’s still a great show.
Season three, in production now, will add Shirley Maclaine as Cora’s wealthy American mom. She’s coming to England, and frankly the thought of her and Maggie Smith duking it out is just too exciting to bear!
History buff or no, Downton Abbey’s the way to go!
Check it out, and support PBS.