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 of 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