Downton Abbey Mega-Post

Posted on December 21, 2011

Much to discuss regarding the world of the Crawleys and Granthams, darlings.

First, here are some video highlights of that fabulous Downton Abbey screening event that we got to attend last week:

We wish the entire Q&A was online to be viewed because it was a fun, raucous affair. But we have notes! Scattered though they may be. Strap yourself in Downtonites:

The Q&A started off with the announcement of the four Golden Globes nominations (including two for attendees Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) and the further announcement that the cast would be going out later to party, even though tey’re all exhausted from jet lag. Then we all sang “Happy Birthday” to Michelle Dockery.

Elizabeth McGovern, when asked about how she’s similar to Cora, noted that she also married an Englishman, lives in England, and is raising “two teenage girls, who unfortunately think, because I speak with an American accent, I’m a bit stupid.  I can’t help but think Cora feels much of the same things. It does parallel my life experience to a certain extent. I’ve always been fascinated by the differences between American and English culture. ”

Later, when producer Gareth Neame stuck his foot in his mouth and said “We didn’t try to dumb the script down” for American audiences, a remark that got good-natured “oooohs” from the audience which left him red-faced and stumbling, Elizabeth interjected with “SEE WHAT I MEAN?!?”

The cast said they all loved the Red Nose Day spoof of the series (which you can, and should, watch here and here), Dan added: “It’s uncannily accurate. I think we have a mole. ” Michelle noted that the actress who played Mary in the spoof is a good friend of hers.

Joanne: “When I read the first few pages, I was hooked. It was like reading a great novel. I couldn’t wait to get back to it.. In preparation for playing the role she says she watched “documentaries on the time period. And I read a book of excerpts from diaries and letters of people in service.”

Hugh Bonneville raved about their onset protocol advisor (who took a break from the shooting schedule to design the Middleton family’s coat of arms) who taught him, “things like, not to flick your tail coat when you sit down because your butler will just iron it later, so why would you flick it?”

Michelle said of Highclere Castle, where the show is filmed: “I found it overwhelming at first, but my favorite room is the library,” which has books dating back to the 17th Century. She also mentioned the picture of Charles I in the dining room, which is worth 18 million. She didn’t specifiy dollars or pounds, but does it matter? “I think things like that gave the aristocracy the sense of confidence that it had,” she added.

She also mentioned that it’s not as fun to shoot there and she doesn’t feel as connected to the house because there are so many rules as to where they’re allowed to be. She sees the studio as the real home of the Downton Abbey cast. They shoot her bedroom scenes there, some of Lord and Lady Grantham’s bedroom scenes there, and all of the downstairs scenes there.

When asked to do a Maggie Smith impersonation, Michelle said, “I wouldn’t dare!” and Hugh said, “I don’t think I can do the sort of nasal contempt,” before admitting he was too scared to make the attempt.

When asked about the more obscure cultural references that Americans might not understand, such as the entail, Elizabeth McGovern offered, “We don’t know what an entail is either. Laura Linney seems to know.”

Joanne revealed that she does a period Yorkshire accent, which she described as, “a bit slower, more pronunciated and enunciated” than her own, modern Yorkshire accent.

When one audience member asked a rather rambling question about politics and the “disparity of power” that the show depicts, Dan asked, “Do you think the disparity shows up more in our show than currently today? I don’t think that’s the case. I think the disparity between the haves and have-nots is greater now than it was back then. And I didn’t know that until I did the show. And after visiting Detroit last year.”

Hugh Bonneville, when the same question was posed to him: “It’s a TV show.”

Elizabeth McGovern: “The costumes do so much of the work for you because they inform the way you move; the way you sit. And on top of that they’re a key element to the beauty of the show. Having said that, they’re not comfortable. I do have a Maggie Smith story,” she added. “She HATES her costume. Hates it. One day she was struggling with her high collar when she said (in a pretty decent Maggie Smith voice) ‘Now I understand why they invented the guillotine!”

Michelle: Some are original pieces from the period. The lace one that I’m wearing in the episode you just saw was so fragile, that I could only wear it for this series and then we had to leave it because it was literally falling apart. It was from 1919, I believe.”

Dan, on the question of obscure cultural references: “When you’re dealing with a show which you don’t fully understand, you don’t get what’s in it; it almost draws you in more,” and referred to his great love and admiration for The Wire, even though he doesn’t always get the world the characters inhabit. “I had to watch the whole of the first season with the subtitles on, but that’s the thing; great stories are great stories and great characters are great characters, whether they’re dealing crack or serving tea.”

As for the premiere episode (or the first 50 minutes of it, which is what we saw), we will offer no spoilers but say that we are definitely thrown right back into the thick of things and we’re a bit astounded at the sheer number of plotlines they either introduced or furthered, as well as the introduction of several new characters. There are some cheer-worthy moments, if you’re a fan of certain romantic pairings, as well as (of course) some heartache and heartbreak. The Great War is underway and Downton is changing, along with all its inhabitants. The war isn’t a far-away thing but something that comes right to their doorstep in ways big and small. We cannot WAIT until the season fully gets underway and we can talk about it all to our heart’s content, offering theories as to which daughter should wind up with whom and which servants are so evil we want to push them down a flight of stairs.

In the meantime, starting on Monday, we’ll be doing daily recaps of all the episodes of season one, just to get us all up to speed for the season 2 premiere on January 8th. We can think of no better way to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s than quoting great Maggie Smith lines and looking at pictures of stunning dresses, can you? Check your listings because PBS is rerunning the series all through December, mostly on Sundays.

And because we are lucky, lucky bloggers, we received a copy of  “The World of Downton Abbey” by Jessica Fellowes, niece of the show’s creator Julian Fellowes. We couldn’t have asked for a better early Christmas present. It’s loaded with pictures from in front of and behind the camera, as well as interviews with the cast, and historical context for the period and the lifestyle of the great aristocratic country houses of England. With chapters on family life, society, life “in service,” fashion, architecture, and World War 1, it’s practically a textbook for the series, although a fabulous, can’t-put-down textbook. The pictures of the costumes alone would be worth it, but the book is actually entertaining and informative as well. Absolutely a must-have. We know we’re going to be referring to it constantly when we’re doing our recaps.

And there we have it. Much to discuss, Grantham-philes! In the meantime, enjoy all the gorgeous non-spoiler pictures from the upcoming season.


[Photo Credit: Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE, – Video Credit: PBS via]

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