Like most of the people who’ve finished series three of the British period drama Downton Abbey, I still can’t get over what happened that last episode, even though it’s been weeks since I watched. :(
I have two books I got at the National Book Store sales last year: The World of Downton Abbey, and Upstairs & Downstairs: The Illustrated Guide to the Real World of Downton Abbey, but I actually only broke through the packaging after the 2012 Christmas special
in an attempt to purge that horrid, horrid event from my memory because I was so affected afterwards.
My horror at the last episode aside, if you haven’t watched the show, it’s a beautiful show about a wealthy family in the English countryside near the end of the Edwardian period, and the various events in their household. Great actors, excellent production design (you know I’m a sucker for costumes!), and a riveting plot of personal drama amidst the background of an ever-changing Britain — I was hooked for three seasons. Hence I am finding it so difficult to move on after the Christmas special.
The World of Downton Abbey is the official companion book to series 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey. Written by Jessica Fellowes (niece of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, who wrote the foreword for the book), this is a must-have for all Downton Abbey fans: 300 pages of the show in full color!
The book is a grand showcase of character profiles, the period, society and those in service (upstairs and downstairs), historical personalities of the era, fashion and the elaborate dressing up and changes within the day, the Downton estate, romance in Downton Abbey, the war, a behind the scenes look at the show, and beautiful photography of the show on every other page.
There are also insider revelations to the show, like:
– Daisy’s job is actually the job of three kitchen maids, but they had to combine all of them into Daisy for storytelling purposes!
– The downstairs dining table was actually shot in a studio, so most of the downstairs cast rarely set foot at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey in the show). Dishes taken out of the kitchen (studio) had to appear two weeks later in the dining room at Highclere!
– Dining scenes took 10-12 hours to film, because the director needs to shoot each actor and this could take 3 to 4 takes per person.
– All of the actresses playing Mary, Edith and Sybil only have sisters in their families.
– Branson is driving an actual, working 1920 Renault!
-The actresses were often found bending over the kitchen table — all of them had to wear corsets, and it is a traditional method to relieve the corset!
– Actors were reminded to say “nye-ther” and “eye-ther” as the “nee-ther” and “ee-ther” only came about after American soldiers came to Britain after World War II.
I spent many an hour happily losing myself in the pages of this book, reliving my favorite moments in the show, marveling at the effort it takes to mount a show of this scale, and poring through the the actors’ stories about their Downton Abbey experience. It’s a landmark show and it’s awesome that there’s a beautifully-made and well-written book to accompany it.
And some more pictures:
Meanwhile, Upstairs & Downstairs by Sarah Warwickis quite deceiving: it has Downton Abbey in the subtitle, and a small photo of Highclere Castle on the cover, but as I discovered upon reading it, caveat emptor, the contents have nothing to do with the show whatsoever!
I was feeling slightly ripped off (in any case it was half-off in the sale) but as I read on in the book, I found that it wasn’t all bad. It’s a book about the Edwardian period, and the events in a typical household in that period. The chapters are broken off into parts of the day: Before Dawn, Breakfast Time…. all the way until The End of the day, detailing activities for both the downstairs folk and the genteel men and women upstairs.
There’s an interesting diagram of the below stairs staff (detailing positions, age and typical annual wage, uniform and job descriptions); photoessays on popular authors of the era: Beatrix Potter, P.G. Wodehouse, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf; spreads on movers and shakers: Emmeline Pankhurst,Winston Churchill, the Bloomsbury Group. There were also detailed discussions of ladies’ undergarments, typical dinner menu and the preparation of it, the suffragette movement, house parties, sport and games, bathtime, and even Edwardian bedhopping!
Here’s a look inside the book:
Although the text could be pared down into smaller chunks for easier reading, there’s a lot to learn from this book, and the collection of photos and illustrations does paint a vivid picture of the era. But while it is all very educational, it is still hard to discount the fact that it slickly rides on the fame of Downton Abbey, and the hardcore fan will undoubtedly be in for a disappointment.
It’s still going to be a while until Series 4 of Downton Abbey, and while the Christmas special seems like a deal breaker now, I will most likely still watch it in the future. Just as long as my favorite characters are still there! :D
The World of Downton Abbey, 5/5 stars
Upstairs & Downstairs, 2/5 stars
Both books from National Book Store.