Downton Abbey is a historical period drama television series created by Julian Fellowes and co-produced by Carnival Films and Masterpiece. It first aired on ITV in the United Kingdom on 26 September 2010, and on PBS in the United States on 9 January 2011 as part of the Masterpiece Classic anthology.
The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey between 1912 and 1926, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era—with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy. Events depicted throughout the series include news of the sinking of the Titanic in the first series; the outbreak of the First World War, the Spanish influenza pandemic, and the Marconi scandal in the second series; the Irish War of Independence leading to the formation of the Irish Free State in the third series; the Teapot Dome scandal in the fourth series; and the British general election of 1923, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and the Beer Hall Putsch in the fifth series. The sixth and final series introduces the rise of the working class during the interwar period and hints towards the eventual decline of the British aristocracy.
Downton Abbey has received acclaim from television critics and won numerous accolades, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie. It was recognised by Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed English-language television series of 2011. It earned the most nominations of any international television series in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, with twenty-seven in total (after two series). It was the most watched television series on both ITV and PBS, and subsequently became the most successful British costume drama series since the 1981 television serial of Brideshead Revisited.
On 26 March 2015, Carnival Films and ITV announced that the sixth series would be the last. It aired on ITV between 20 September 2015 and 8 November 2015. The final episode, serving as the annual Christmas special, was broadcast on 25 December 2015. Although there are no plans in place, there are strong rumours of a future film adaptation, with executive producer Gareth Neame saying that he was "very interested" and bookmakers Ladbrokes stating that "it only looks like being a matter of time before the film is released".
The first series, comprising seven episodes, explores the lives of the fictional Crawley family, the hereditary Earls of Grantham, and their domestic servants beginning the day after the historic sinking of the RMS Titanic on 14/15 April 1912. The storyline centres on the fee tail or "entail" governing the titled elite, which endows title and estate exclusively to heirs male. As part of the backstory, the main character, Robert, Earl of Grantham, had resolved past financial difficulties by marrying Cora Levinson, an American heiress. Her considerable dowry is contractually incorporated into the comital entail in perpetuity. Robert and Cora have three daughters and no sons.
As the eldest daughter, Lady Mary Crawley was to marry her second cousin, son of the then-heir presumptive. The first episode begins as news reaches Downton Abbey that both Grantham heirs perished in the sinking of the Titanic. A distant male cousin, solicitor Matthew Crawley, is from an upper-middle-class family – as his mother reminds him in episode one of series one. Matthew Crawley becomes the new heir. The plot centres on the relationship between Lady Mary and Matthew, who resists embracing an aristocratic lifestyle.
A subplot involves John Bates, Lord Grantham's new valet, and Thomas Barrow, who resents Bates replacing him and causing Barrow to be demoted back to footman. Bates and Thomas remain at odds as Barrow works to sabotage Bates after learning he was recently released from jail for theft. In the story line, Barrow, a gay man in late Edwardian England, aided by Miss O'Brien, Lady Grantham's maid, creates havoc for most of the staff. Barrow is caught stealing but hands in his notice as he has joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. Matthew eventually falls in love with Lady Mary, but she rejects his proposal. Cora becomes pregnant, but miscarries after O'Brien, mistakenly believing she was to be fired, retaliates by leaving a bar of soap on the slippery bathroom floor. The series ends just after the Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination and the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914.
The second series comprises eight episodes and runs from the Battle of the Somme in 1916 to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. During the war, Downton Abbey is temporarily converted into an officers' convalescent hospital.
Matthew becomes engaged to Lavinia Swire, a wealthy solicitor's daughter, and joins the British Army as an officer. William Mason, the 2nd footman, finally gets permission from his father to join the Army and becomes Matthew's soldier servant. Unfortunately, both are injured in a bomb blast. William dies from his wounds after a deathbed marriage to Daisy, the kitchen maid. Daisy never loved William but Mrs Patmore, Downton's cook, pressured her to make William's last days happy by marrying him.
Mary finally acknowledges her feelings for Matthew, but becomes engaged to Sir Richard Carlisle, a powerful and ruthless newspaper mogul. Their relationship is rocky, but Mary is bound to Carlisle after he squashes a story regarding her past scandalous indiscretion. Bates's wife, Vera, repeatedly causes trouble for John and Anna, who is now his fiancée, and threatens to expose a Crawley secret. When Mrs Bates mysteriously dies, Bates is arrested on suspicion of her murder. Matthew and Mary realise they are in love but Matthew honourably remains committed to marrying Lavinia. Unknown to him, a devastated Lavinia overhears Matthew and Mary declare their love. The Spanish influenza epidemic hits Downton Abbey at the end of the war. Cora, taken seriously ill, survives, but Lavinia, also infected, dies. Barrow is rehired at Downton after helping the staff during the outbreak. Mary and Matthew reunite, while Bates is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
Lady Sybil, the youngest Crawley daughter, who hated her stifling aristocratic life, falls in love with Tom Branson, the chauffeur with strong socialist beliefs. They elope to Ireland after receiving Lord Grantham's reluctant blessing.
Ethel Parks, a new housemaid, has a relationship with one of the injured officers, Major Bryant. Mrs Hughes finds them together in bed and dismisses Ethel, but takes pity on her and helps her when Ethel realises that she is pregnant. She has a baby boy and names him Charlie after his father, but Major Bryant refuses to believe that he is the baby's father.
In the third series, 1920–1921, Mary has ended her engagement to Richard Carlisle, despite his vindictive threats to expose her past indiscretion. Mary and Matthew are married in the series première, but Robert (Lord Grantham) learns that the bulk of the family's fortune (including Cora's dowry) has been lost, due to his well-intentioned, but bad investment. In the meantime, Edith has fallen hard for Sir Anthony Strallen, whom Robert discourages from marrying Edith due to his age and infirm condition. At Edith's insistence, Robert gives in and welcomes Sir Anthony, but the latter cannot accept the fact that there is no reservation from the Grantham family, and at the altar on their wedding day announces that he cannot go through with the marriage, devastating Edith.
Meanwhile, due to dislike and increasing tension, Bates's cellmate tries to sabotage him with a crime that will ruin his chances for a pardon, but Bates is informed by a fellow prisoner about the search, which results in the guards not finding what they are seeking. Back at Downton, Mrs Hughes finds out she may have breast cancer, which only some of the household hear about, causing deep concern, but the tumour turns out to be benign, much to everyone's relief. Tom Branson and Lady Sybil, now pregnant, return to Downton after Tom is implicated in the burning of an Irish aristocrat's house. After Matthew's reluctance to accept an inheritance from Lavinia's recently deceased father and then Robert's reluctance in turn to accept that inheritance as a gift, Matthew and Robert reach a compromise in which Matthew accepts and uses the inheritance to invest in Downton, giving him an equal say in how the estate is run.
Tragedy strikes when Sybil dies from eclampsia, shortly after giving birth. Tom, devastated, names his daughter Sybil, after his late wife. Bates is released from prison after Anna uncovers evidence clearing him of his wife's murder. Tom becomes the new estate agent at the suggestion of Dowager Countess Violet. Barrow and Miss O'Brien have a falling out, after which O'Brien leads Barrow to believe that Jimmy, the new footman, is sexually attracted to him. Barrow enters Jimmy's room and kisses him while he is sleeping, which wakes him up shocked and confused. In the end, Lord Grantham defuses the situation. The family visits Lady Violet's niece Susan and her husband "Shrimpie", the Marquess of Flintshire, in Scotland, while awaiting the birth of Matthew and Lady Mary's baby. The Marquess confides to Robert that the estate is bankrupt and will be sold, making Robert recognise that Downton has been saved through Matthew and Tom's efforts to modernise. Mary gives birth to the new heir, but Matthew dies in a car crash while driving home from the hospital.
In series four, 1922–1923, Cora's maid Miss O'Brien, desiring adventure and travel, leaves to serve Lady Flintshire in India. Cora hires Edna Braithwaite, who had previously been fired for her interest in Tom. Eventually the situation blows up, and Edna is replaced by Miss Baxter.
Lady Mary deeply mourns Matthew's death. Matthew's newly-found will states Mary is to be his sole heir and thus gives her management over his share of the estate until their son, George, comes of age. With Tom's encouragement, Mary assumes a more active role in running Downton. Two new suitors — Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake — arrive at Downton, though Mary, still grieving, is not interested. Middle daughter Lady Edith, who has begun writing a weekly newspaper column, and Michael Gregson, her editor, fall in love. Due to British law, he is unable to divorce his wife, who is mentally ill and in an asylum. Gregson travels to Germany to seek citizenship there, enabling him to divorce, but is killed by Hitler's Brownshirts during riots. Edith is left pregnant and with help from her paternal aunt, Lady Rosamund, secretly gives birth to a daughter. She intends to give her up for adoption in Switzerland and places the baby with adoptive parents, but reclaims her after arranging a new adoptive family on the estate. Mr and Mrs Drewe of Yew Tree Farm take the baby in and raise her as their own.
Anna is raped by Lord Gillingham's valet, Mr Green, which Mr Bates later discovers. Subsequently, Mr Green is killed in a London street accident. A local schoolteacher, Sarah Bunting, and Tom begin a friendship, though Robert (Lord Grantham) despises her due to her openly vocal anti-aristocracy views. In the final Christmas special, Sampson, a card sharp, steals a letter from the Prince of Wales to his mistress, Rose's friend Freda Ward, which, if made public, would create a scandal; the entire Crawley family connives to retrieve it, though it is Bates who extracts the letter from Sampson's overcoat, and it is returned to Mrs Ward.
In series five, 1924, a Russian exile, Prince Kuragin, wishes to renew his past affections for the Dowager Countess. Violet instead locates his wife in Hong Kong and reunites the Prince and his estranged wife. Scotland Yard and the local police investigate Green's death. Violet learns about Edith's daughter, young Marigold. Meanwhile, Mrs Drewe, not knowing Marigold's true parentage, resents Edith's constant visits. To increase his chances with Mary, Charles Blake plots to reunite Gillingham and his ex-fiancée, Mabel. After Edith inherits Michael Gregson's publishing company, she removes Marigold from the Drewes and relocates to London. Bricker, an art expert interested in one of Downton's paintings, shows his real intentions toward Cora and is thrown out by Robert, causing a temporary rift between them.
Mrs Patmore's decision to invest her inheritance in real estate inspires Carson, Downton's butler, to do likewise. He suggests that head housekeeper Mrs Hughes invest with him; she confesses she has no money due to supporting a mentally incapacitated sister. The Crawleys' cousin, Lady Rose, daughter of Lord and Lady Flintshire, becomes engaged to Atticus Aldridge, son of Lord and Lady Sinderby. Lord Sinderby strongly objects to Atticus's marrying outside the Jewish faith. Lord Merton proposes to Isobel Crawley (Matthew's mother). She accepts, but later ends the engagement due to Lord Merton's sons' disparaging comments over her commoner background. Lady Flintshire employs underhanded schemes to derail Rose and Atticus's engagement, including announcing to everyone at the wedding that she and her husband are divorcing, intending to cause a scandal to stop Rose's marriage to Atticus; they are married anyway.
When Anna is arrested on suspicion of Green's murder, Bates writes a false confession before fleeing to Ireland. Miss Baxter and Molesley, a footman, are able to prove that Bates was in York at the time of the murder. This new information allows Anna to be released. Cora eventually learns the truth about Marigold, and wants her raised at Downton; Marigold is presented as Edith's ward, but Robert and Tom eventually discern the truth: only Mary is unaware. When a war memorial is unveiled in the town, Robert arranges for a separate plaque to honour Mrs Patmore's late nephew, who was shot for cowardice and excluded from his own village's memorial.
Lord and Lady Sinderby invite the Crawleys to Brancaster Castle, which the Sinderbys rented for a shooting party. While there, Lady Rose, with help from the Crawleys, defuses a near–personal disaster for Lord Sinderby, earning his gratitude and securing his approval of Rose. A second footman, Andy, is hired on Barrow's recommendation. During the annual Downton Abbey Christmas celebration, Tom Branson announces he is moving to America to work for his cousin, taking daughter Sybil with him. Mr Carson proposes marriage to Mrs Hughes and she accepts.
In series six, 1925, changes are once again afoot at Downton Abbey as the middle class rises and more bankrupted aristocrats are forced to sell off their large estates. Downton must do more to ensure its future survival; reductions in staff are considered, forcing Barrow to look for a job elsewhere. Lady Mary defies a blackmailer, who is thwarted by Lord Grantham. Lady Mary becomes the estate agent. Edith is more hands-on in running her magazine and hires a female editor. Lady Violet and Isobel once again draw battle lines as a government take-over of the local hospital is considered.
Meanwhile, Anna suffers repeated miscarriages. Lady Mary takes her to a specialist, who diagnoses a treatable condition, and she becomes pregnant again. Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes hold their wedding reception at the schoolhouse, during which Tom Branson reappears with Sybil, having returned to Downton for good. Coyle, who tricked Baxter into stealing, is convicted after she and other witnesses are persuaded to testify. After Mrs Drewe kidnaps Marigold when Edith is not looking, the Drewes vacate Yew Tree Farm; Daisy convinces Tom Branson to ask Lord Grantham to give her father-in-law, Mr Mason, the tenancy. Andy, a footman, offers to help Mr Mason so he can learn about farming, but is held back by his illiteracy; Mr Barrow offers to teach Andy to read.
Robert suffers a near-fatal health crisis. Previous episodes alluded to health problems for Robert; his ulcer bursts and he is rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. The operation is successful, but Mary and Tom must take over Downton's operations. Larry Merton's fiancée, Amelia, encourages Lord Merton and Isobel Crawley to renew their engagement, but Lady Violet rightly suspects Amelia wants Isobel to be Lord Merton's caretaker in his old age. Daisy and Mr Molesley score high marks on their academic exams; Molesley's are so exceptional that he is offered a teaching position at the school. Mary breaks off with Henry Talbot, unable to live with the constant fear he could be killed in a car race. Bertie Pelham proposes to Edith, but she hesitates to accept because of Marigold. Lady Violet, upset over Lady Grantham replacing her as hospital president, abruptly departs for a long cruise to restore her equanimity.
Bertie Pelham unexpectedly succeeds his late second cousin as marquess, moves into Brancaster Castle, and Edith accepts him. Then Mary spitefully exposes Marigold's parentage, causing Bertie to walk out. Tom confronts Mary over her spitefulness and her true feelings for Henry. Despondent Barrow attempts suicide, and is saved by Baxter, causing Robert and Mr Carson to reconsider Barrow's position at Downton. Mary and Henry reunite and are married. Mary apologises to Edith, and the sisters reconcile. Mrs Patmore's new bed and breakfast business is tainted by scandal, but saved when the Crawleys appear there publicly. Mary arranges a surprise meeting for Edith and Bertie, Bertie proposes again, and Edith accepts. Edith tells Bertie's moralistic mother about Marigold; she turns against the match, but is won over after all by Edith's honesty. Barrow finds a position as butler and leaves Downton on good terms, but he is unhappy at his new post.
Lord Merton is diagnosed with terminal pernicious anemia, and Amelia blocks Isobel from seeing him. Goaded by Lady Violet, Isobel pushes into the Merton house, and announces she will take Lord Merton away and marry him – to his delight. Lord Merton is later correctly diagnosed with non-fatal anemia. Robert resents Cora's frequent absences as the hospital president, but eventually comes to admire her ability. Henry and Tom go into business together selling cars, while Mary announces her pregnancy. Molesley accepts a permanent teaching position and he and Miss Baxter promise to continue seeing each other. Daisy and Andy finally acknowledge their feelings; Daisy decides to move to the farm with her father-in-law. Carson develops palsy and must retire. Lord Grantham suggests Barrow return as butler, with Carson in an oversight role. Edith and Bertie are married on New Year's Eve. Lady Rose and Atticus return for the wedding. Anna goes into labour during the reception, and she and Bates become parents to a healthy son.
The series is set in fictional Downton Abbey, a Yorkshire country house, which is the home and seat of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, along with their children and distant family members. Each series follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, their friends, and their servants during the reign of King George V.
|3rd Earl of Grantham
|Countess of Grantham
|younger son||wife||4th Earl of Grantham
|Countess of Grantham
|son||wife||5th Earl of Grantham
|Countess of Grantham
|son||wife||younger son||wife||6th Earl of Grantham
Dowager Countess of Grantham
|Dr. Reginald Crawley
(formerly Mrs. Crawley, née Turnbull)
|Richard "Dickie" Grey
1st heir presumptive (presumed dead)
|wife||Lady Rosamund Painswick
7th Earl of Grantham
Countess of Grantham
|Harold Levinson||Susan MacClare,
Former Marchioness of Flintshire
|Hugh "Shrimpie" MacClare,
Marquess of Flintshire
2nd heir presumptive (presumed dead)
3rd heir presumptive (deceased)
|Lady Mary Talbot
|Henry Talbot||Michael Gregson
(née Lady Edith Crawley)
Marchioness of Hexam
|Herbert "Bertie" Pelham
5th Marquess of Hexham
|Tom Branson||Lady Sybil Branson
|The Hon Atticus Aldridge||Lady Rose Aldridge
|James MacClare||Lady Abigail (née MacClare)|
4th heir presumptive
|Sybil Branson||Victoria Aldridge|
The main cast of the Crawley family is led by Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, and Elizabeth McGovern as his wife Cora Crawley, the Countess of Grantham. Their three daughters are depicted by Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley and Jessica Brown Findlay as Lady Sybil Crawley (Branson). Maggie Smith is Robert Crawley's mother Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham. Samantha Bond portrays Lady Rosamund Painswick, Robert's sister who resides in Belgrave Square, London. Dan Stevens portrays Matthew Crawley, the new heir, along with Penelope Wilton as his mother, Isobel Crawley, who are brought to Downton. Allen Leech begins the series as Tom Branson the chauffeur but falls in love with Lady Sybil, marries her and becomes the agent for the estate. Joining the cast in series three is Lily James as the Lady Rose MacClare (Aldridge), a second cousin through Violet's family, who is sent to live with the Crawleys because her parents are serving the empire in India and, later, remains there because of family problems. David Robb portrays Dr. Richard Clarkson, the local town doctor. Other suitors for Lady Mary's affections during the series include Tom Cullen as Lord Gillingham, Julian Ovenden as Charles Blake, and Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot.
Downton Abbey's senior staff are portrayed by Jim Carter as Mr Carson, the butler, and Phyllis Logan as Mrs Hughes, the housekeeper. Tensions rise when Rob James-Collier, portraying Mr Barrow, a valet and footman, along with Siobhan Finneran as Miss O'Brien, the personal maid to the Countess of Grantham (up to series three), plot against Brendan Coyle as Mr Bates, the valet to the Earl of Grantham, and his love interest and eventual wife, Anna (Joanne Froggatt), the personal maid to Lady Mary. Kevin Doyle plays the unlucky Mr Molesley, valet to Matthew Crawley; he and Thomas Howes, as William Mason the second footman, round off the main, original downstairs staff.
Matt Milne joins the cast as O'Brien's nephew Alfred Nugent, the awkward new footman for series three and four, and Raquel Cassidy plays Baxter, Cora's personal maid, who was hired to replace O'Brien. The lower staff includes Lesley Nicol as Mrs Patmore the cook, Sophie McShera as Daisy, the scullery maid who works her way up to assistant cook and marries William Mason, and Rose Leslie as Gwen Dawson, a housemaid studying to be a secretary in series one. Amy Nuttall plays Ethel Parks, a maid, beginning in series two and three. In series three and four, Shirley MacLaine portrays the mother of Cora Crawley, Martha Levinson. Cara Theobold portrays Ivy Stuart, a kitchen maid, joining the cast for series three and four. Ed Speleers plays the dashing James Kent, the second footman from series three through five. In series five and six Michael C. Fox plays Andy Parker, a replacement footman for James. In series four, five, and six Andrew Scarborough plays Tim Drewe, a farmer of the estate, who helps Lady Edith conceal a big secret.
Gareth Neame of Carnival Films conceived the idea of an Edwardian-era TV drama set in a country house and approached Fellowes, who had won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Gosford Park. Although Fellowes was reluctant to work on another project resembling Gosford, within a few weeks he returned to Neame with an outline of the first series. Influenced by Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country, Fellowes writes the scripts and his wife Emma is an informal story editor.
Highclere Castle in north Hampshire is used for exterior shots of Downton Abbey and most of the interior filming. The kitchen, servants' quarters and working areas, and some of the "upstairs" bedrooms were constructed and filmed at Ealing Studios. Bridgewater House in the St James area of London served as the family's London home.
Outdoor scenes are filmed in the village of Bampton in Oxfordshire. Notable locations include St Mary's the Virgin Church and the library, which served as the entrance to the cottage hospital. The old rectory in Bampton is used for exterior shots of Isobel Crawley's house, with interior scenes filmed at Hall Place near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.
The Downton Abbey of the title and setting is described as lying in Yorkshire. The towns of Easingwold, Kirkby Malzeard, Kirkbymoorside, Malton, Middlesbrough, Ripon, Richmond, and Thirsk, each mentioned by characters in the series, lie in North Yorkshire, as does the city of York, while Leeds—similarly mentioned—lies in West Yorkshire. Yorkshire media speculated the general location of the fictional Downton Abbey to be somewhere in the triangulated area between the towns of Easingwold, Ripon and Thirsk.
Many historical locations and aristocratic mansions have been used to film various scenes:
The fictional Haxby Park, the estate Sir Richard Carlisle intends to buy in Series 2, is part of Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. Byfleet Manor in Surrey is the location for the Dower house, home to Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, while West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire is used for the interior scenes of Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond)'s London residence in Belgrave Square. A house in Belgrave Square is used for exterior shots.
Greys Court near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire was used as the family's secondary property, which they proposed moving into and calling "Downton Place" due to financial difficulties in Series Three. Also in the third series, Bates's prison scenes were filmed at Lincoln Castle in Lincolnshire.
Horsted Keynes railway station in Sussex is used as Downton station. The station is part of the heritage Bluebell Railway. St Pancras station in London doubled for King's Cross station in episode one of series 4, in the scene where Lady Edith Crawley meets her lover Michael Gregson. The restaurant scene where Lady Edith meets Michael Gregson and where they share their kiss is filmed at the Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly Circus which was originally opened in 1874.
Bridgewater House in the St James area of London served as the family's London home. Outdoor scenes are filmed in the village of Bampton in Oxfordshire. Notable locations include St Mary's the Virgin Church and the library, which served as the entrance to the cottage hospital. The old rectory in Bampton is used for exterior shots of Isobel Crawley's house, with interior scenes filmed at Hall Barn, Hall Place near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, featured as Loxley House, the home of Sir Anthony Strallan.
Parts of series 4 were filmed at The Historic Dockyard Chatham, Kent – The Tarred Yarn Store was used in episode one as a workhouse where Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) visits Mr Grigg (Nicky Henson) and in episode two, streets at The Historic Dockyard Chatham were used for the scenes where Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) is at the market with James Kent (Ed Speleers) watching her. The production had previously filmed in Kent for series 1 where the opening sequence of a train going through the countryside was filmed at the Kent & East Sussex Railway.
Scenes for the 2013 Christmas special were filmed at Royal Holloway, University of London near Egham, Surrey, West Wittering beach in West Sussex and Berkshire's Basildon Park near Streatley. Lancaster House in London stood in for Buckingham Palace.
Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland, was the filming location used for Brancaster Castle in the 2014 and 2015 Christmas specials, which included filming in Alnwick Castle's State Rooms, as well as on the castle's grounds, and at the nearby semi-ruined Hulne Abbey on the Duke of Northumberland's parklands in Alnwick.
In Series 5 and 6, Kingston Bagpuize House in Oxfordshire was used as the location for Cavenham Park, the home of Lord Merton. In Series 6 (2015) the scenes of motor racing at Brooklands were filmed at the Goodwood Circuit in West Sussex. In 2015, Wayfair.co.uk published a map of 70+ Downton Abbey filming locations.
A suite version was released on the soundtrack for the show on 19 September 2011 in the UK and later in the US on 13 December 2011. The soundtrack also included the song performed by singer Mary-Jess Leaverland, with lyrics written by Don Black.
The rights to broadcast Downton Abbey have been acquired in over 220 countries and territories, and the series is viewed by a global audience of an estimated 120 million people.
STV, the ITV franchisee in central and northern Scotland (including the Orkney and Shetland islands), originally opted out of showing Downton Abbey, choosing instead to screen a brand-new six-part series of Taggart, following a long practice of opting out of networked United Kingdom-wide programming on the ITV network. This led to backlash from Scottish viewers, who were frustrated at not being able to watch the programme. Many viewers with satellite or cable television tuned into other regional stations of the ITV network, for example ITV London, with viewing figures showing this is also commonplace for other ITV programmes. STV announced in July 2011 that it would show the first and second series of Downton Abbey as part of its autumn schedule. Scottish cast members Phyllis Logan and Iain Glen were both quoted as being pleased with the decision.
In the United States, Downton Abbey was first broadcast in January 2011 on PBS, as part of the 40th season of Masterpiece. The programme was aired in four 90-minute episodes, controversially requiring PBS to alter the beginning and endpoints of each episode and make other small changes, slightly altering each episode's structure to accommodate fitting the programme precisely into the running-times allotted.[a][b] PBS also added a host (Laura Linney), who introduced each episode, explaining matters such as "the entail" and "Buccaneers"[c] for the benefit of U.S. viewers, which was labelled by some American critics as condescending. PBS editing for broadcasts in the United States continued in the subsequent seasons. The fifth began airing in the United States on 4 January 2015.
In Australia, the first series was broadcast on the Seven Network beginning on 29 May 2011; the second series was broadcast beginning on 20 May 2012; and the third series beginning on 10 February 2013. In New Zealand, Prime began airing the first series on 10 May 2011, the second series on 18 October 2011 and the third series on 18 October 2012.
The series has been noted for its relatively sympathetic portrayal of the aristocratic family, and the class-based society of early 20th century Britain. This has led to criticism from the political left and praise from the right. James Fenton wrote in The New York Review of Books "it is noticeable that the aristocrats in the series, even the ones who are supposed to be the most ridiculous, never lapse into the most offensive kind of upper-class drawl one would expect of them. Great care has been taken to keep them pleasant and approachable, even when the things they say are sometimes shown to be class-bound and unfeeling." Jerry Bowyer argued in Forbes that the sympathy for aristocracy is over-stated, and that the show is simply more balanced than most period dramas, which he believes have had a tendency to demonise or ridicule upper class characters. He wrote that Downton Abbey shows "there is no inherent need for good TV to be left of center. Stories sympathetic to virtue, preservation of property and admiration of nobility and of wealth can be told beautifully and to wide audiences."
Downton Abbey has been a commercial success and received general acclaim from critics, although some criticise it as superficial, melodramatic or unrealistic. Others defend these qualities as the reason for the show's appeal. David Kamp of Vanity Fair wrote, "Melodrama is an uncool thing to trade in these days, but then, that's precisely why Downton Abbey is so pleasurable. In its clear delineation between the goodies and the baddies, in its regulated dosages of highs and lows, the show is welcome counter-programming to the slow-burning despair and moral ambiguity of most quality drama on television right now."
James Parker, writing in The Atlantic, said, "Preposterous as history, preposterous as drama, the show succeeds magnificently as bad television. The dialogue spins light-operatically along in the service of multiplying plotlets, not too hard on the ear, although now and again a line lands like a tray of dropped spoons. The acting is superb—it has to be." Ben W. Heineman Jr. compared the series unfavourably to Brideshead Revisited, writing "Downton Abbey is entertainment. Its illustrious predecessor in television mega-success about the English upper class, Brideshead Revisited, is art." He noted the lack of character development in Downton. Writing in The Sunday Times, A. A. Gill said that the show is "everything I despise and despair of on British television: National Trust sentimentality, costumed comfort drama that flogs an embarrassing, demeaning, and bogus vision of the place I live in."
The first episode of Downton Abbey had a consolidated British audience of 9.2 million viewers, a 32% audience share—making it the most successful new drama on any channel since Whitechapel was launched on ITV in February 2009. The total audience for the first episode, including repeats and ITV Player viewings, exceeded 11.6 million viewers. This was beaten by the next episode, with a total audience of 11.8 million viewers—including repeats and ITV Player views.
Downton Abbey broke the record for a single episode viewing on ITV Player, the ITV online catch-up service.
At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the first series received an average score of 91, based on 16 reviews, which indicates "universal acclaim". This result earned the show a Guinness World Record in 2011 for "Highest critical review ratings for a TV show", making Downton Abbey the most critically well received TV show in the world. Season 4 of Breaking Bad surpassed Downton Abbey's record later in the year, with a score of 96, making series 1 of Downton Abbey the 2nd highest rated show of 2011.
Sam Wollaston of The Guardian said,
It's beautifully made—handsome, artfully crafted and acted. Smith, who plays the formidable and disdainful Dowager Countess, has a lovely way of delivering words, always spaced to perfection. This is going to be a treat if you like a lavish period drama of a Sunday evening.
Viewers were critical of the number of advertisement breaks during the first episode (five in a 90-minute episode, as well as one before and one after), claiming it ruined the continuity. ITV responded by saying that the number of breaks complied with Ofcom regulations and that advertising was necessary to cover the high costs of production.
The second series premiered in Britain on 18 September 2011 in the same 9 pm slot as the first series, with the first episode attracting an average audience of 9 million viewers on ITV1, a 34.6% share. The second episode attracted a similar following with an average of 9.3 million viewers. In January 2012, the PBS premiere attracted 4.2 million viewers, over double the network's average primetime audience of 2 million. The premiere audience was 18% higher than the Series 1 premiere.
The second series of Downton Abbey gave PBS its highest ratings since 2009. The second series averaged 5.4 million viewers, excluding station replays, DVR viewings and online streaming. The 5.4 million average improved on PBS first series numbers by 25%. Additionally, episodes of series two have been viewed 4.8 million times on PBS's digital portal, which bests series one's online viewing numbers by more than 400 percent. Overall, Downton Abbey-related content has racked up more than 9 million streams across all platforms, with 1.5 million unique visitors, since series 2's 8 January premiere. In 2013, Downton Abbey was ranked the 43rd most well-written TV show of all time by the Writers' Guild of America.
The third series premiered in the UK on 16 September 2012 with an average of 9 million viewers (or a 36% audience share).
For the first time in the UK, episode three received an average of more than 10 million viewers (or a 38.2% audience share). Premiering in the US in January 2013, the third series had an average audience of 11.5 million viewers and the finale on 17 February 2013, drew 12.3 million viewers making it the night's highest rating show. Overall, during its seven-week run, the series had an audience of 24 million viewers making it PBS's highest-rated drama of all time.
While rumoured, due to the departure of actor Dan Stevens, the death of Matthew Crawley, in the 2012 Christmas special, drew criticism. Lord Fellowes defended the decision stating that they 'didn't really have an option' once Stevens decided to leave. Stevens later said that he had no say in the manner of his character's departure but that he was 'sorry' his character had died on Christmas Day.
The fourth series premiered in the UK on 22 September 2013 with an average audience of 9.5 million viewers—the highest ever for one of the drama's debut episodes. It premiered in the US on 5 January 2014, to an audience of at least 10.2 million viewers, outperforming every other drama on that night; it was the largest audience for PBS since the 1990 premiere of the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War.
In the UK, the second episode attracted an average of 9.6 million viewers.
The third episode, which aired on 6 October 2013, included a warning at the beginning: "This episode contains violent scenes that some viewers may find upsetting." The episode content, in which Anna Bates was raped, led to more than 200 complaints by viewers to UK television regulator Ofcom, while ITV received 60 complaints directly. On 4 November 2013, Ofcom announced it would not be taking action over the controversy citing the warning given, that the episode was screened after 9 pm, and, that the rape took place 'off-screen'.
Julian Fellowes supports a united Ireland, "Ultimately, I believe in a united Ireland. I do come from a long line of Home Rule supporters." Charges, largely in some Irish media, were made that the series depicts the Irish characters in a negative light.
Allen Leech, who plays Tom Branson in the series, when asked about this by an Irish reporter writing for The Herald, denied that the series depicted Irish characters in a stage pejorative fashion. Tom's brother Kieran, however, is depicted as boorish, rude, and drunken, and is described by the Dowager Countess as a 'drunken gorilla'—a reminder to Irish audiences of the ape-like figures depicting the Irish that were commonly featured in British and American publications in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Dowager Countess character who makes these comments, however, was born in the mid 19th century, and frequently expresses Tory or pro-imperial views that were prevalent in England in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Branson's character as an Irishman came in for some criticism in Ireland. The Irish Times in a mocking review describes the character of Tom Branson as "an Irish republican turned Downtonian toff" and makes a humorous sarcastic case for a future Downton Abbey series where Branson "waxes lyrical about how lovely being part of the British ascendancy is. Then he burns an Irish flag."
The series writer, Julian Fellowes, himself a Roman Catholic, explains that he chose to address this in terms of "that casual, almost unconscious anti-Catholicism that was found among the upper classes, which lasted well into my growing up years." Fellowes also stated that he "thought it might be interesting" to explore this in the series and described his own experiences where the British upper classes "were happy for you to come to their dances or shoot their pheasants, but there were plenty who did not want you to marry their daughters and risk Catholic grandchildren."
Fellowes tries to be as authentic in his depiction of the period as he can. Despite this, the show features many linguistic anachronisms. The accents of characters have also been questioned with the Received Pronunciation of the actors who play the wealthy characters described as "slightly more contemporary" than would be expected among early-20th-century aristocrats, however, this "elicited more natural and unaffected performances from the cast."
In 2010, Fellowes hired Alastair Bruce, an expert on state and court ritual, as historical adviser. Bruce explains his role as being "here to guide the production and particularly the director as they bring Julian's words to life. That also involves getting the social conduct right, and giving actors a sense of surety in the way they deliver a performance." Actor Jim Carter, who plays butler Carson, describes Bruce as the series "etiquette watchdog", and the UK's Daily Telegraph finished its 2011 profile of Bruce's role stating "Downton's authenticity, it seems, is in safe hands." However, historian Simon Schama criticised the show for historical inaccuracies and "pandering to clichés". Producer Gareth Neame defended the show, saying, "Downton is a fictional drama. It is not a history programme, but a drama of social satire about a time when relationships, behaviour and hierarchy were very different from those we enjoy today."
A "tremendous amount of research" went into recreating the servants' quarters at Ealing Studios because Highclere Castle, where many of the upstairs scenes are filmed, was not adequate for representing the "downstairs" life at the fictional abbey. Researchers visited nearly 40 English country houses to help inform what the kitchen should look like, and production designer Donal Woods said of the kitchen equipment that "Probably about 60 to 70 per cent of the stuff in there is from that period." Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management is an important guide to the food served in the series, but Highclere owner, and author of Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, Lady Carnarvon, states that dinner parties in the era "would have been even more over the top" than those shown. Lady Pamela Hicks agreed, stating that "it is ridiculous to think that a weekend party would consist of only fourteen house guests, it would have consisted of at least 40!" However, Carnavon understood the compromises that must be made for television, and adds, "It’s a fun costume drama. It’s not a social documentary. Because it’s so popular, I think some people take it as historical fact."
Previously available on Netflix, since 2013 the series has been available only on Amazon Video.
Internationally, the US DVD release date was 11 January 2011, in New Zealand it was released on 22 June 2011 and in Australia on 4 August 2011. The release in Australia and New Zealand has an exclusive bonus disc in both the DVD and Blu-ray versions. It contains extras such as cast interviews, geography of Downton: upstairs and downstairs, a day in service and others.
On 16 September 2011, two days before the UK premiere of the second series, it was reported by Amazon.com that the first series of Downton Abbey had become the highest selling DVD boxset of all time on the online retailer's website, surpassing popular American programmes such as The Sopranos, Friends and The Wire.
On 1 October 2013, a limited edition 10-disc DVD boxset of Downton Abbey was released, which included Series 1–3 in an inner slipcase, labelled as a '9-disc set', as well as a bonus disc featuring the exclusive TV documentary, 'Secrets of Highclere Castle', which focuses on the real-life history of the castle used as the Downton Abbey estate in the series.
On 26 January 2016, PBS released Series Six on DVD in the US, including the final 2015 Christmas Special.
A soundtrack, featuring music from the series and also new songs, was released by Decca in September 2011. Music by John Lunn and Don Black features, with vocals from Mary-Jess Leaverland and Alfie Boe.
|Downton Abbey: Original Music from the Television Series|
|1.||"Downton Abbey: The Suite"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||7:09|
|2.||"Love and the Hunter"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||3:18|
|3.||"Emancipation"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||2:15|
|4.||"Story of My Life"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:58|
|5.||"Fashion"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:19|
|6.||"Damaged"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||5:25|
|7.||"If You Were the Only Girl in the World"||Alfie Boe||3:47|
|8.||"Preparation"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||3:27|
|9.||"Such Good Luck"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||2:30|
|10.||"Us and Them"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:53|
|11.||"Violet"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:56|
|12.||"A Drive"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:04|
|13.||"An Ideal Marriage"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||2:43|
|14.||"Roses of Picardy"||Alfie Boe||3:55|
|15.||"Telegram"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:45|
|16.||"Deception"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||2:51|
|17.||"Titanic"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||2:10|
|18.||"A Song and a Dance"||John Lunn & Chamber Orchestra of London||1:30|
|19.||"Did I Make the Most of Loving You?" (a shortened version of "Downton Abbey: The Suite" with lyrics)||John Lunn, Chamber Orchestra of London & Mary-Jess Leaverland||4:18|
Downton Abbey has been credited with spawning a massive worldwide increase in demand for professionally trained butlers, especially British butlers, notably in China, Russia, and parts of the Middle East. Between 2010 and 2012, demand was thought to have doubled, leading to some butlers fetching salaries as high as £150,000.
In 2014, China's first school for butlers opened to meet a demand again attributed to the influence of Downton Abbey.
Some of the fashion items worn by characters on the show have seen a strong revival of interest in the UK and elsewhere during the show's run, including starched collars, midi skirts, beaded gowns, and hunting plaids.
The Equality (Titles) Bill was an unsuccessful piece of legislation introduced in the UK Parliament in 2013 that would have allowed equal succession of female heirs to hereditary titles and peerages. It was nicknamed the "Downton Abbey law" because it addressed the same issue that affects Lady Mary Crawley, who cannot inherit the estate because it must pass to a male heir.
The decor used on Downton Abbey inspired US Representative Aaron Schock to redecorate his congressional offices in a more luxurious style. He repaid the $40,000 cost of redecoration following scrutiny of his expenses and questions about his use of public money for personal benefit, and subsequently resigned in March 2015.
The World of Downton Abbey, a book featuring a behind-the-scenes look at Downton Abbey and the era in which it is set, was released on 15 September 2011. It was written by Jessica Fellowes (the niece of Julian Fellowes) and was published by HarperCollins.
A second book also written by Jessica Fellowes and published by HarperCollins, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, was released on 13 September 2012. It is a guide to the show's characters through the early part of the third series.
In September 2012, The Daily Telegraph reported Julian Fellowes as saying that he was working on a spin-off prequel of Downton Abbey that revolves around Lord Grantham and Cora's romance and eventual marriage as the earl and countess of Downton Abbey. Initially planned as a book, it was then picked up by ITV.
Due to the show's popularity, there have been a number of references and spoofs on it, such as Family Guy episode Chap Stewie, which has Stewie Griffin reborn in a household similar to Downton Abbey, and How I Met Your Mother episode The Fortress, where the gang watch a television show called 'Woodworthy Manor', which is remarkably similar to Downton Abbey. In the episode the character, Lily, celebrates by viewing an episode of 'Woodworthy Manor'.
In 2015, it was announced that a spin-off prequel television series was in planning. In April 2015, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Fellowes was planning to be at work on a new period drama series for NBC television, to be set in late 19th-century New York City, titled The Gilded Age.
In a 2015 interview with The Mail on Sunday, Fellowes suggested that a younger version of Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess character from his Downton Abbey drama might appear in the new series, saying: "Robert Crawley would be in his early teens, Cora would be a child. A young Violet [the Dowager Countess] could make an appearance." As the title suggests, the series is to be set during the time of America's so-called Gilded Age – the industrial boom era in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – and portray the upper echelons of New York's high society during that period.
Production and writing for The Gilded Age was updated in January 2016 indicating that filming would start at the end of 2016. As reported in RadioTimes: "NBC's The Gilded Age is set to start shooting later this year, Fellowes tells RadioTimes.com. Asked whether he'd written the script yet, Fellowes said, 'No I haven't, no. I'm doing that this year', before adding: 'And then hopefully shooting at the end of the year.'"
On 4 June 2016, Fellowes was asked by The Los Angeles Times, "Where does The Gilded Age stand?" Fellowes replied, "It stands really with me up to my neck in research, and I’m clearing the decks, so that when I start Gilded Age, I’m only doing Gilded Age. These people were extraordinary. You can see why they frightened the old guard, because they saw no boundaries. They wanted to build a palace, they built a palace. They wanted to buy a yacht, they bought a yacht. And the old guard in New York weren’t like that at all, and suddenly this whirlwind of couture descended on their heads. They redesigned being rich. They created a rich culture that we still have — people who are rich are rich in a way that was established in America in the 1880s, ’90s, 1900s. It was different from Europe. Something like Newport would never have happened in any other country, where you have huge palaces, and then about 20 yards away, another huge palace, and 20 yards beyond that another huge palace. In England right up to the 1930s, when people made good money, they would buy an estate of 5,000 acres and they’d have to look after Nanny. The Americans of the 1880s and ’90s didn’t want too much of that."
Fellowes and other co-workers on Downton Abbey have indicated in April 2016 an openness to consider possibilities for a feature film production of the television series after the completion of its final season in 2015.
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