13 Fascinating Behind-The-Scenes Facts About "Downton Abbey"

·8 min read

As the most-watched PBS drama of all time, Downton Abbey remains a treasure of television that won't soon be forgotten. Six TV seasons and one movie later, fans have the opportunity to reunite with some of their favorite characters for the sequel film, Downton Abbey: A New Era, which premieres on May 18, 2022.

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As you can see, we don't deserve this cast.

Before you dive back into the world of the Crawleys and their house staff, here are 13 behind-the-scenes facts about this beloved series:

1.Historical advisor Alastair Bruce oversaw all six seasons and the first movie to ensure that things like manners and social protocols were accurate to the time period. Season 1 begins in 1912, just after the Titanic sinks, and spans up until the late 1920s with Downton Abbey: A New Era.

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Alastair Bruce's work with Downton Abbey ranged from teaching cast members how to properly curtsey to correcting posture and walking speed. During an interview with Town & Country, Bruce attributed some of the show's success to its laser-focus attention to detail.

"I think the attention to detail that I've been a part of, and getting history right, gives the viewer greater confidence," he said. "They feel they're being taken into a time legitimately, and that seals the deal." Bruce was also an advisor for other historical shows and movies, such as the Oscar Award-winning film, The King's Speech.

2.To preserve authenticity, many of the costumes were never washed. Sophie McShera, who plays Daisy the kitchen maid, even told The Telegraph that their costumes would start to stink. Sounds pretty historically accurate to me!

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McShera also confirmed that there are removable underarm patches that do get washed — but this clearly doesn't work wonders for those long days on set.

Stinky clothes weren't the only costume challenge for the show. Historical advisor Alastair Bruce shared that finding waistcoats for male actors proved difficult, as men during the 1910s were often of smaller stature. It was also his duty to ensure the actors playing noblewomen wore corsets and the correct type of jewelry. Sounds comfy.

3.The Downton Abbey estate is actually called Highclere Castle, and it's located in Hampshire, England. This gorgeous structure has been featured in Hollywood before (such as in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and is actually home to the present-day Earl and Countess Carnarvon. Yup.

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In case you aren't bewildered enough that someone resides in this grandiose slice of heaven, you can actually visit the castle for a myriad of activities. Enjoy some afternoon tea, tour Downtown Abbey filming locations, book a stay on property, or (brace yourself) turn this historical site into your wedding venue.

4.Creator Julian Fellowes is also a best-selling author. He has penned a number of historical drama novels including Snobs, Past Imperfect, and Belgravia, which all focus on classism and the British aristocracy in some form.

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In case writing best-selling fiction wasn't enough, Fellowes put his knack for storytelling to use by writing all six seasons of Downton Abbey and both film installments. In addition to the new movie, his most recent accomplishment is executive producing HBO's historical drama, The Gilded Age.

5.Gillian Anderson almost played the Countess of Grantham. Anderson, whose TV credits include The X-Files, Sex Education, The Crown, and most recently, The First Lady on Showtime, was offered the part of Cora Crawley.

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Though her portrayal of Lady Grantham would surely be legendary, it's hard to picture anyone else but the iconic Elizabeth McGovern taking on this role. In fact, McGovern was no stranger to her on-screen husband once she was cast as Cora. Hugh Bonneville, who plays Lord Grantham, had already played her spouse twice prior to the series!

6.The show cast veteran actors such as Dame Maggie Smith and totally new talent such as Laura Carmichael who was working at a doctor’s office when she was offered the role of Lady Edith. Other fresh faces at the time included Lily James (then newly notable for her role in Disney's Cinderella) and Allen Leech who plays Tom Branson.

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According to Backstage, when the series was first created, there were a few actors the creative team already pictured in their respective roles. Casting director Jill Trevellick said that in addition to Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley), and Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley) were at top of her mind from the get-go.

Other roles were harder to fill — like John Bates — since there was such care to get the unique part right. In the end, Brendan Coyle fit the bill, and it's hard to picture anyone else in Bates' shoes.

7.One couple found love in a Downton Abbey place. Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) and Michael C. Fox (Andrew Parker) have reportedly dated since 2016 and have recently tackled one adventure even bigger than stardom — parenthood.

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The Sun speculates that the happy couple welcomed a baby boy together in March 2021, and if so, this child is a Downton legend.

While Carmichael and Fox might be the only "upstairs-downstairs" love story, Rose Leslie, who played housemaid Gwen Dawson, found romance across the prime-time TV universe with actor Kit Harington from Game of Thrones.

8.If you've ever salivated at the very sight of Mrs. Patmore's kitchen, you're not alone. The series had its very own food stylist, Lisa Heathcote, who prepared and dressed the food before every scene. "They'll do a few takes, and [when] we think it looks a bit sad, we reset the plates," Heathcote told PBS. "It's like running a restaurant."

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Having to prep food for long, detailed shoots doesn't come without consequence. According to an interview with Rachael Ray, Sophie McShera (Daisy) and Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) revealed that some dishes were frozen to last longer which resulted in a bit of a smelly atmosphere.

"We had a lobster, and it caused what we called 'Lobstergate.' It was beautiful and looked terrific on camera, and was very expensive," Nicol said. "They froze it, and then brought it out another day, and by the time it had thawed, it was bad."

9.For those of us who still dream of a time when Matthew and Mary Crawley were endgame (*sigh* we're in a New Era now), this is your reminder that Matthew's tragic death wasn't actually planned by creator Julian Fellowes. In fact, actor Dan Stevens chose to bid farewell to Downton to minimize the potential of being typecast down the line.

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The angel that was Matthew Crawley will forever hold a special place in Downton fans' hearts, but Stevens did go on to succeed in other TV shows and movies including Disney's Beauty and the Beast reboot.

The demise of Lady Sybil (played by Jessica Brown Findlay), however, was something that the showrunners anticipated from the beginning. Creator Julian Fellowes told Vanity Fair that when Findlay was cast, she requested to stay on the series for no more than three years. Since Stevens' departure was not planned, Fellowes laments that he should have killed off both characters in that horrendous Christmas special car crash.

10.Each episode of the series cost approximately $1 million to film. This sounds pretty outrageous but is actually on the tamer side for big-budget television. Popular shows like Mad Men dished out $3 million per episode, a significant jump from Downton's production costs!

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Powerhouses like Game of Thrones reached a whopping $15 million per episode by the end of its run, which makes Downton Abbey — in all of its lavish glory — seem pretty darn budgetary.

11.The series was the second most-viewed program on TV during Super Bowl Sunday for multiple years. Notoriously, this particular Sunday washes out any other new content premiering. In 2014, the new Downton Abbey episode garnered 8.2 million viewers, ranking just after the 111.5 million viewers who tuned in to the game.

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By the time the series reached its Super Bowl Sunday success in 2014, it had already ranked second to the NFL two years in a row. Sure, Downton doesn't include a half-time show, but like any good football game, it brought viewers plenty of edge-of-your-seat moments.

12.Highclere Castle, which is the real Downton Abbey estate, was actually used as a hospital during World War I. When war strikes during the early seasons of Downton, the Crawleys open their home to wounded soldiers. This plotline mirrors history, as Lady Almina, the countess residing in the castle at the time, also cared for soldiers in 1914.

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One of the most exciting parts of the franchise's expansive timeline is that we see glimpses into the real historical events of the day. The show kicks off just as the Crawleys learn the news of the Titanic sinking, and in Downton Abbey: A New Era, it seems that the family may be nearing the Great Depression.

13.Many of the characters' accents are not historically accurate — on purpose! Historical Advisor Alastair Bruce has spoken out about how real aristocratic dialect of the time would be painfully "tedious" for the modern-day ear to hear.

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Each character, depending on their social status and upbringing, did have to learn a specific way to speak, but it's not completely accurate to the dialect that would've been spoken by these types of people during the 1910s and 1920s.

Even in its purposeful inaccuracies, Downton Abbey remains a carefully crafted world that will be deeply missed when the series is put to rest.