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building Down(ton)stairs

January 6, 2014


From Benjamin

With the Masterpiece Classic period drama Downton Abbey‘s much anticipated 4th season begun last night, fans of the aristocratic characters and dramatic story-lines can get their fixes for the next 13 weeks. For those of us who watch for the architecture & interiors, there is still much to be enjoyed. Visitors to the actual location in Hampshire, UK will find gardens designed by landscape architect Capability Brown. And for armchair travelers, the ceremonial life can be toured in the hour-long “Secrets of Highclere Castle”, about the 17th century Jacobethan pile where much of the show is shot.

Though the living rooms & libraries upstairs surely serve as glamorous backdrops, it’s the downstairs workrooms – in the kitchen, scullery & servants’ hall, where the servants’ status mirrored that of the gentry whom they served, and technological advances were few & far between – that point up so clearly what ordinary life might have been like. Alas, as the 300+ pages of The World of Downton Abbey so richly illustrate, the cellar sets are all constructed on an Ealing Studios soundstage.

For another detailed depiction of life in a post-Edwardian country estate, also from the mind of Downton creator Julian Fellowes, the movie Gosford Park features many similarities. Not least of which is the role played by the scenery, with the picturesque centrality of workers’ quarters surely counting as one of the great kitchens in film.
Downton Abbey is shown on Sundays at 9pm on PBS.

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