Downton Abbey is undeniably one of the most popular period dramas of the 21st century. Whether you couldn’t get enough of the Dowager Countess’ sassy one-liners or Lady Mary’s never-ending boy drama, it was a sad day for us all when the series finally came to a close in 2015. But then, after years of speculation, a miracle happened in July 2018: a Downton Abbey movie was announced. And finally, it’ll be released on September 19, 2019. For those still not over the show’s finale or those anxiously awaiting updates on their favorite characters, here out these 32 posh facts about Downton Abbey.
Downton Abbey Facts
1. Dumbing It Down
In the United States, Downton Abbey also aired on PBS. However, for the benefit of American viewers, the network asked actress Laura Linney to host the series, introducing each episode and explaining such “British” matters like “the entail” and “Buccaneers.” This drew controversy and criticism from certain American television critics for what was perceived as condescension.
2. The Downton Abbey Law
In 2013, a piece of legislation called The Equality (Titles) Bill was introduced in the UK Parliament. Its goal was to allow equal succession of female heirs to hereditary titles. Due to Lady Mary’s storyline, in which she is unable to inherit the estate after Matthew dies because the law dictates it must pass to a male heir, the bill (which was unsuccessful) was nicknamed the Downton Abbey Law.
3. A Smashing Success
Downton Abbey is one incredibly popular television series. As of 2013, the show was the highest-rated Masterpiece drama series of all time on PBS. Downton Abbey had approximately 120 million viewers in 200 countries around the world.
4. The “Real” Downton
Did you know that the estate used to portray Downton Abbey is actually a real castle in England? Its name is Highclere Castle and it’s located in Hampshire. The castle and its gardens are even open to tourists during the summer.
As you might expect given the high attention to detail and historical accuracy, it isn’t cheap to produce an episode of Downton Abbey. In fact, according to The World of Downton Abbey, it costs an estimated £1 million (or $1.5 million USD) to create just one episode of the hit PBS series.
6. Biggest Fan
Among the show’s many royal fans is none other than Queen Elizabeth II. According to the author of At Home with the Queen, Lizzie enjoys watching the show and noting the historical inaccuracies. For example, she noticed in one episode that a British soldier was wearing what were supposed to be WWI medals, but in fact, they were medals not introduced until WWII.
Though it might be hard to believe, Cora, Mary, and Edith’s bedrooms are all the same. According to production designer Donal Woods, it was one set that got redecorated every few days. Woods noted that if viewers look out the window of each of the bedrooms, they’ll notice it’s the same view.
8. Period Costumes
It’s all about historical accuracy! Cast members have revealed that many of their costumes are actual articles of clothing from the 1910s and 1920s. Due to this, the threads are extremely fragile and can’t be washed, resulting in some pretty poor-smelling clothing!
9. Breaking… Abbey?
Hugh Bonneville, known to fans as Lord Grantham, once compared Downton Abbey to another hit television series. When asked about the reason behind the series’ wide appeal, he said, “It’s Breaking Bad with tea instead of meth.”
10. Unexpected Inspiration
Show creator Julian Fellowes had some rather unexpected inspiration for the show. According to Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery!, he was inspired by the structure of American television shows like ER and Chicago Hope when developing Downton Abbey.
11. First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage
Believe it or not, Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, aka Lord and Lady Grantham, had been married before (but not in real life). The two played husband and wife previously in the BBC comedy series Freezing.
12. From Secretary to Aristocrat
Laura Carmichael, who plays Lady Edith, stated that she was working as a secretary in a doctor’s office when she landed the coveted role. She even got the call offering her the part while at work.
13. Agent Cora
Gillian Anderson (known to some as Agent Dana Scully in the popular sci fi series The X-Files) stated in an interview with TV Guide that she was offered the role of Lady Grantham but turned it down! The role eventually went to American actress Elizabeth McGovern.
14. A Strange Legacy
Downton Abbey was credited with creating a massive increase in demand for butlers worldwide. Between 2010 and 2012, demand for professionally-trained butlers was thought to have doubled, especially in China, Russia, and the Middle East. As a result of this, China opened its first school for butlers in 2014.
15. Breaking Records
Though this probably won’t come as a surprise to most fans, Downton Abbey is the most nominated British television series in Emmy history. It achieved this honor in 2012, when it received a whopping 16 nominations at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards.
16. Going in Blind
While on The Graham Norton Show in 2015, Dame Maggie Smith admitted that she has never actually watched an episode of the show. According to the actress, she didn’t want to watch herself on screen for fear of self-doubt over her portrayal of the Dowager Countess.
17. Downton Hospitality
You might remember that in Series 2, Downton Abbey was turned into a convalescent home for returned WWI soldiers. In actuality, this isn’t far from the truth. During WWI, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon turned Highclere Castle into a recovery hospital for soldiers.
18. Turn-of-the-Century Fashion
Downton Abbey was credited for spawning a renewed interest in early 20th-century fashion. In particular, starched collars, midi skirts, beaded gowns, and hunting plaids came back into style in the UK as a result of the show.
19. From Hampshire to London
While some scenes are filmed inside Highclere Castle and on its 5,000-acre estate, all scenes in the servants’ quarters are actually filmed at Ealing Studios in London. This is because the servants’ quarters at Highclere Castle have been modernized, and thus were not suitable for a period drama.
20. A Woman of Many Talents
Michelle Dockery (AKA Lady Mary) is much more than a talented actress. In fact, you might not know that Dockery is a trained singer! She even sang at the 50th Anniversary of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London.
21. Sadie and the Hotheads
Dockery isn’t the only accomplished singer in the cast. Elizabeth McGovern is the lead singer of a band! The band is called Sadie and the Hotheads, and Dockery has been known to perform with them on occasion.
22. Hogwarts Meets Downton
Smith (aka the Dowager Countess of Grantham) isn’t the only Downton Abbey cast member with a connection to the Harry Potter film series (of course, Smith famously portrayed Minerva McGonagall). In real life, Jim Carter (AKA Carson) is married to actress Imelda Staunton, who portrayed Dolores Umbridge.
23. Workplace Romance
Now, Imelda Staunton is slated to appear in the upcoming film version of Downton Abbey. She talked about how, despite the fact that her character doesn’t share much screen time with Carter’s character, it was a blessing to work on the film, and that it was fun enough just to get the chance to drive to work with her husband every day.
24. Cora-gin Story
Downton Abbey was a huge success in the US, but it wasn’t because creator Julian Fellowes pandered to American audiences by making the lady of the house American. He thought that having a character who hadn’t come from the British upper class would create a more well-rounded feel to the series, creating a bridge for modern audiences by providing a viewpoint that didn’t take anything for granted.
25. Stranger Than Fiction Part I
The plotline in Series 1 where Lady Mary’s potential paramour dies in the middle of a romantic encounter was actually based on a story that Downton creator and writer Julian Fellowes had heard from a friend, who’s read it in a great aunt’s diary.
26. Stranger Than Fiction Part II
While Lady Mary was made a young widow in Series 3 of Downton Abbey, the woman who plays her, Michelle Dockery, is no stranger to learning the ways of heartbreak at a young age. In 2015, she was engaged to be married when her fiance, John Dineen, was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away soon after.
27. Egyptian Connection
Highclere Castle, the estate that “plays” Downton Abbey in the series, has been the home of the Herbert family since 1679. In 1922, George Herbert discovered the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh named Tutankhamun, you might have heard of him. As a nod to the location’s Egyptian history, the show named the Earl of Grantham’s dogs Pharaoh and Isis.
28. A Chilling Curse
The show’s link to George Herbert, Lord of Carnavon, who resided in Highclere Castle, means that it has a bizarre connection to what’s known as the “Curse of the pharaohs.” Some believe that anyone who disturbs a pharaoh’s tomb is doomed to death, and many of those connected to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb seemed to have died mysteriously shortly afterward.
Lord Carnavon was among the first to die after King Tut’s tomb was uncovered. He was bitten by a mosquito on the excursion, and the bite became infected after he slashed it shaving. He died soon after of blood poisoning.
29. Cue the Waterworks!
In an interview, Fellowes said that the (spoiler alert!) fatal car crash that killed Matthew in the Series 3 finale would have taken the life of another series regular if he’d had more time to plan. The actress who played Sybil had told Fellowes from the beginning that she only wanted to do three seasons, so her demise was planned from the start.
Meanwhile, Dan Stevens, who played Matthew, only told Fellowes of his own plans much later into filming the show. If Fellowes had known further in advance of Stevens’ plan, he would have had both Matthew and Sybil die in the car crash, but the storyline for Sybil had already been scripted.
30. We’ve Been Expecting You
In July of 2018, it was announced that a Downton Abbey film would be made, with show creator Julian Fellowes returning as writer. The movie will have a full theatrical release on September 13, 2019, in the UK, followed by a US release on September 20, 2019. The film’s first trailer revealed that the plot will center about King George V and Queen Mary making a royal visit to Downton, causing an uproar among the residents and servants of the abbey.
31. Who’s Who
Since the announcement of the film, producers have remained tight-lipped, but recently it was revealed which of the cast members would return. Most of the old favorite characters will come back—although it’s likely that the filmmakers have still kept a few secret appearances up their sleeves. One actor who found their part cut was Sue Johnston, who played the Dowager Countess’s maid, Gladys Denker. She revealed that she was deeply disappointed by the decision.
32. Plot Twists
Likewise, very little has been revealed of the plot since the film’s announcement. Considering the advance ticket sales along, who can blame the filmmakers? There has been talk that the character of Tom Branson, Lady Sybil’s widower, will finally get to meet a new love interest after several years of single fatherhood.
One thing that creator and writer Julian Fellowes did reveal is that there is a plot twist so shocking that it’ll likely cause some emotional responses from audience members. He said, “Everyone was a bit taken aback by it, especially at the read-through,” while actor Imelda Staunton said, “You’re going together with the story after which… pow! However you’ve obtained to have some heartstrings being pulled.”