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An entrancing British television series that captured the hearts and imaginations of audiences around the world, Downton Abbey allows audiences into the class struggles and conflicts that existed in England in the first decades of the 20th century. As rich as Downton’s Crawley clan are the fun facts around the celebrated series.
- Fellowes found inspiration for Downton Abbey’s ensemble structure in contemporary-set American drama series. In producer Rebbeca Eaton’s memoir, Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS, Fellowes explains, “I was constantly thinking in terms of those American structures. I had liked E.R. There was something called Chicago Hope that I liked very much, and Thirtysomething, with all those stories going at once.”
- The role of Dowager Countess Violet was written expressly for Maggie Smith. The same is true of Hugh Bonneville’s Lord Robert Crawley, and Brendan Coyle’s John Bates.
- Downton Abbey is the “Highest critical review ratings for a TV show.” It won this honor in 2011 from the Guinness Book of World Records, beating out former record holders Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, and Modern Family.
- It’s an Emmy record-holder as well. Boasting 16 Emmy nominations by 2012, the series became the British TV series with the most Emmy nods ever. That number has continued to skyrocket, and by 2014 had reached 48.
- By season three, Downton Abbey was the most watched drama series in the world. The show now broadcasts in more than 200 countries and regions, including the United Kingdom, United States, Sweden, Russia, South Korea, and the Middle East. It’s believed more than 120 million people around the world have seen the series.
- X-Files’ Gillian Anderson was offered the role of affluent American lady, Cora Crawley. She declined, and so Academy Award-nominated Elizabeth McGovern (Ragtime) took the part. It earned McGovern a Golden Globe nomination in 2012.
- Downton Abbey is the second-time Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville have played husband and wife. The first was the short-lived BBC sitcom Freezing. Funny enough, the show also had them portraying American and English respectively.
- Acting was Jessica Brown Findlay’s backup career. When she was just 15, the actress who played Lady Sybil, was an aspiring ballerina who had been invited to dance in the Russian Kirov Ballet Company. A fateful ankle injury forced her to change her focus, a lucky accident for Downton devotees.
- Michelle Dockery’s accent was an obstacle to playing Lady Mary. Having grown up in Essex, the English ingénue’s original accent would have been too blue-collar to work for Lady Mary. But after years of working on it to get a better range of roles, she won the part that would prove her breakout.
- Mary’s son is named after Julian Fellowe’s relative. When writing the beginnings of the character, Fellowes’ niece had a baby, and named him George. Fellowes told PBS, “His birth is commemorated on Downton.”
- The show has an on set magician. Though he plays the stern Mr. Carson on Downton Abbey, Jim Carter has been known to entertain the cast and crew between takes by performing magic tricks. This makes Carson’s backstory as a vaudevillian Cheerful Charlie a bit easier to imagine, doesn’t it?
- Each episode costs about $1.6 million. Fellowes confessed this shockingly high figure in his book, The World of Downton Abbey. But it’s less shocking when you consider the show’s demanding costume designs, and other costly shoot requirements.
- The real Downton Abbey is Highclere Castle in West Berkshire, England. Built in 1839, this posh country house has served as the key location for the series. Aside from various exterior shots, its library, drawing room, grand hallway and dining room have been shown as the home of the Crawleys. Select interior scenes for Downton were shot at West Wycombe House in Buckinghamshire.
- Because of these locations, precious antiques make it onscreen. For instance, the mahogany desk and chair in the music room long ago belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.
- There is only one bedroom set for the titular home. Despite all the lavish details seen in the bedrooms of sisters Mary, Edith, Rose’s and mother Cora, production designer Donal Woods, confessed that only one bedroom is used for all of the above. It’s just carefully redecorated as needed. Those with an eagle eye might note the windows all boast the same view.
- All the downstairs scenes are shot on a soundstage. The servants dining room, quarters, and kitchen are all built in a studio about an hour’s drive from London.
- All the food on set is real. Because of long shooting days, the makers of these delectable looking dishes are careful to avoid using cream, because the smell by the end of a shoot would be abominable.