Downton Abbey Dish #33

Deborah Gilbert | December 8, 2014

STOP THE PRESSES! Forget about any other Downton news going on this week because, hello, Sexiest Man Alive in the house…

Ho, Ho, Holy Cow!:

For months there have been rumors that George Clooney was going to make a guest appearance on Season 5 of Downton Abbey – and why not? They’ve already had Sexiest Man Dead (Mr. Pamuk), so why not Sexiest Man Alive? Then there were other rumors that he was at Highclere Castle with his fiance to check it out as a possible wedding venue. Turns out it was nothing like that. Actually, it was for a one-off mini-episode created as part of a three-hour charity special called Text Santa to be broadcast in the UK on December 19 which will benefit six different health-related charities. In this all too brief clip, we get a sense of how different Downton Abbey might be if Lord Grantham had been cast as sexy. 

Yes, I realize that there are those (most notably Maid Jane) who find Lord Grantham sexy as he is, but to me he has always seemed more like an imperious teddy bear than a sex symbol, which is perfectly fine as he has served the story well as he is. Though would Hugh Bonneville be upset at being viewed as a teddy bear rather than a sex symbol? I don’t know. But British actors always seem more sensible than their American counterparts, and less inclined to have their heads turned by the kinds of prizes a good publicist can wrangle for them. And besides, sexiness fades eventually, but a favorite teddy remains much loved long after it loses a button eye and its fur’s been hugged off.

Read All About It:

Are you like me and want to know all the behind the scenes details of Downton Abbey? When I love a movie or TV show- and I mean really love it the way I do Downton-after I’ve enjoyed watching it, I want to know all about the creative process. I know there are some who fear that if we (as they say) ‘let daylight in upon magic’ that it will spoil it, but I think it adds a dimension to the fun. Do you agree? If you do, Jessica Fellowes’ new book, A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey will be right up your street!

When I first got this gorgeous book, I was a little bit afraid to open it lest a Pandora’s box of spoilers tumble out, but it turns out that fear was unfounded. Recently I had a chat with Jessica (who also happens to be Julian Fellowes’ niece), and the first thing I asked her was if there were any spoilers in the book, and she replied, “No, no, there are absolutely no spoilers! We were very careful about that. There are images from the 5th Season but nothing that would give any of the major plot lines away, and most of the images that you see are things that are revealed very early on and are the things that you would see in the trailers anyway. The book is designed to enhance your viewing so as you watch it you can be reading the book at the same time and it should reveal layers and stories behind the stories that might not be immediately obvious as you watch them on the screen.”

Layer Cake:

Layers! Yes, peel the onion and let’s see what more is underneath.? Much of the emotional resonance of the show comes from Julian Fellowes’ own life and family history. I’d read that Julian grew up as one of the poor relations of an old aristocratic family. Jessica explained it this way, “Basically, Julian’s father, my Grandfather Peregrine Fellowes, had an aristocratic father, and I think a reasonably smart but not particularly grand mother. But his father was killed in the First World War when Peregrine was only two, so he had this slightly strange lifestyle where he lived with his Mother and they lived fairly modestly. She did then remarry but she remarried a Catholic and all Peregrine’s aunts were very snobbish. They were like Violet the Dowager Countess in the show, and they thought it was horrific that their nephew had been converted to Catholicism. He would go and stay with them and stay with his cousins and they did live in these massive houses, but it wasn’t his own upbringing. Then he married my grandmother, who was incredibly beautiful but quite middle class. They all thought that was absolutely awful, and they were very awful to her as well, so Julian saw that when he was growing up. He saw these two halves of his family: His Father’s side which were very grand and sneaky, and he saw how horrible they were to his mother, and he adored his mother. So Julian really hates snobbery, and he’s really seen it’s effects up close. That’s why he’s brilliant writing it in the show.”

Agony Aunt:

One particular great-aunt, Isie Stephenson, was the basis for Violet. But what about Edith? In a British newspaper which carried side-by-side interviews with Jessica and Uncle Julian, she mentioned that he always spoke of himself as not good looking, which made me wonder, was Edith his alter ego? To that she replied, “He’s not Edith but he certainly understands Edith’s plight. What is interesting about Julian is, what he perceives as his lack of good looks actually gave him a vulnerability that suits him and means he does understand the broken hearted and the people who don’t find life easy. And he is also incredibly clever and bright and amusing and all those sort of things. He was never short of a great host of friends and girlfriends and all that, but he didn’t see himself in that way. Edith is about those people who are always unlucky. No matter what they do it just never quite works out for them. That’s what he thinks Edith is. I hope he lets it work out for her eventually.” Me too!

Hey There Crawley Girl:

I asked Jessica if she’d like to live the life of one of the Crawley sisters she laughed and said, “When you think of dentistry or medicine you’d always much rather be in the 21st Century.” Then continued, “I think it was an incredibly exciting time but I don’t think they knew to recognize it as that. I think we see that with hindsight, that women were really beginning to do things differently and have this sort of extraordinary opportunity to go out and work. But then they were kind of forced into it because there weren’t any men. Lots of women went out to work and changed the world for doing so, but they might have rather got married and had children, just as many, many women have been forced into getting married and having children when they would have rather gone out to work. Now we have genuine choice and they didn’t then. But we have to be very grateful to them because I think that era advanced Feminism, thanks to the courage of those women. It was also a remote life, “Your social life, most of the time, is the people you’re living with. I think that’s why they had to dress it up a bit, making everyone dress for dinner. It just made the whole day a bit more exciting. Particularly when you live in Yorkshire like the Crawleys are, you’re going months and months without seeing anyone new. You have a bit more fun if you at least have a tiara on.”

The 411:

This book, has so many interesting aspects and insights into the show that I can’t fit them all here. There is such a wealth of information that Lord Grantham couldn’t possibly lose it in a Ponzi scheme. There is back story about characters and story lines, costumes, the art department, the social history of the period, how a great house would have operated in 1924, interviews with the actors, and virtually every aspect of the show’s year-long production. There are recipes all the way through, there are parlor games you can play, there are tips on how to curtsey properly, all that kind of thing, so you can have a bit more Downton in your life, and not just from watching it on the television.” What is great about the recipes is they have been translated into American measurements! So if you’d like to try to make an authentic Christmas Pudding for your holiday celebrations, you’re in luck – it’s in the book!

Getting to visit the set during filming, does Jessica still enjoy watching the show? “Oh totally! What’s nice is I usually tend to know the first four or five episodes and then not the last three, so I get proper surprises which is really fun. Even if I wasn’t writing about it I’d be watching it. And I’m quite star struck when I go on the set. I’m not at all feeling like they’re my mates. I think they are all absolutely brilliant.” And this book is brilliant as well. You’ll just have to trust me and go get a copy for yourself!

Many Happy (& Unhappy) Returns:

 A lot went on in Season 4 and it’s been a long time since Lady Mary and her suitors let battle commence, Edith took more of her life into her own hands, Green took that (un)fortunate tumble, and Carson and Mrs. Hughes waded into the waves. Time for us to wade back in ourselves, isn’t it? Luckily, in the run up to the Season 5 premiere on January 4, both Thirteen and WLIW are re-running Season 4.