Downton Abbey – A Celebration: The Official Companion to All Six Seasons, by Jessica Fellowes – A Review

Downton Abbey a Celebration 2015 x 300“It’s that time of year when the world falls in love” … with Downton Abbey all over again. The final season starts in less than one month on Masterpiece Classic PBS on January 3, 2016. My anticipation of another season of great drama, romance and witty retorts runs high.

I am, of course, paraphrasing The Christmas Waltz; the famous 1954 holiday song written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne for Frank Sinatra. There is nothing like listening to Christmas carols to make me sentimental. Coupled with the fact that this will be the sixth and final season of Downton Abbey, one of my favorite period dramas on television, and I am ready for a double shot of brandy in my eggnog.

Despite my melodramatic angst over the conclusion of the Crawley family and their servants’ story, fellow Downtonites can revisit the fabulous plots, locations and characters by reading the final companion volume to the series, Downton Abbey – A Celebration, by Jessica Fellowes. This is her fourth large and lavish book spotlighting the phenomenally popular, award winning television series.  And, it truly lives up to its title—a jubilant fête worthy of her uncle Julian Fellowes’ vision of portraying the changes in the British aristocracy through the Crawley family and their servants from the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 to the Jazz Age of 1925. Continue reading

The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes – A Review

Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes 2015 x 200Will we ever be able to explain the phenomenon that is the television series Downton Abbey? Watched by millions and showered with awards, I find the reason for its success as elusive to pinpoint as Jane Austen’s lasting appeal. It means so much to so many. In two hundred years time will people be watching and reading about this period drama as passionately as we do Austen’s novels?

Quite possibly so. Their common link is the witty writing. Clever bon mots and cheeky retorts never go out of fashion. They make us smile, laugh-out-loud and reflect upon what makes us tick as humans. They are a window into our souls.

The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes is a collection of those fabulous zingers that make this series so “light, bright and sparkling” to Austen fans and the bazillion other viewers around the world. Creator and writer Julian Fellowes must love Austen as much as this Janeite. He certainly recognizes how her prose can sing with humor and social reproof using the same technique in his own dialogue. Whenever anyone complains about anything I am tempted to use a little Lady Catherine, oops, Lady Violet on them… Continue reading

The World of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes – A Review

The World of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes (2011)Season two of Downton Abbey has concluded and we are left in limbo until it returns next Fall in the UK and January 2013 in the US.

*deep sigh*

For those like myself, who have watched and re-watched every blessed minute, yet, just can’t get enough of the award winning ITV/PBS television mini-series and are in total Downton withdrawal, may I suggests this stunning full-color coffee table-sized book about the series, The World of Downton Abbey?

The publisher touts it as a “lavish look at the real world–both the secret history and the behind-the-scenes drama–of the spellbinding Emmy Award-winning Masterpiece TV series Downton Abbey.” This is no idle boast. From cover to cover this 303 page oversized-volume is packed with sumptuous full-color pictures of the production, the cast, historical connections and its shining star, Highclere Castle, the grand manor house in Hampshire where the series is filmed.

The author Jessica Fellowes is the niece of the series creator and writer Julian Fellowes. Not only does she have the inside scoop into the production of the series, she is also well qualified to write the text as a journalist and the former Deputy Editor of Country Life magazine. Equally important is the photographer Nick Briggs, who captures intimate and awe inspiring images of the production that send us back into memorable scenes or highlight costuming and scenery.

Organized into nine chapters: Family Life; Society; Change; Life in Service; Style; House & Estate; Romance; War; and Behind the Scenes, each chapter is written in context to the series characters and their roles and included pertinent quotes from the screenplay illustrating key scenes and events in the series”

‘I mean, one way or another, everyone goes down the aisle with half the story hidden.’ Violet, The Dowager Countess

There are also quotes from the actors and actresses about their characters:

‘There’s an independence about Mary – she’s not influenced by anyone and she’s very much her own person, she makes her own decisions. I understand her because I’m one of three girls too and I’ve always been defiant that I didn’t want to do what they did.’ Michelle Dockery

…and from the creator:

‘There’s an element of performance. They were all performing a role that had been decreed for them. For and aristocrat to be convincing, he must look like an aristocrat.’ Julian Fellowes

I particularly enjoyed the insights from the costume designer Susannah Buxton on her research influences for the clothing and the historical vignettes that linked the series to actual period personalities such as Daisy, Countess of Warwick, and Mary Leiter, an American buccaneer that inspired Julian Fellowes to create the character of Cora Levinson who married Robert, the future Earl of Grantham in 1889.

Overall, the most spectacular impression from this volume is its sheer bulk and beauty. Any Downtonite, Edwardian historian, or period drama lover could get lost in this volume for days. Creator Julian Fellowes rightfully opens the book with a brief forward, offering us insights and asides, yet, I felt quite cheated that Violet, The Dowager Countess of Grantham was not given the last word.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

The World of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes
St Martin’s Press (2011)
Hardcover (304) pages
ISBN: 978-1250006349

 

Cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE