Visitors to the exhibition will be able to walk into re-creations of rooms of the sprawling Crawley estate, such as the library (above), and view props and costumes from all six seasons of Downton Abbey. Photo: Carnival Film & Television
For six faithful years, fans of hit British period drama Downton Abbey spent their days and nights with the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in their sprawling estate, celebrating weddings and births and mourning deaths over the television.
Now, they will be able to walk into the familiar library, drawing room and dining room, as well as Mrs Patmore’s busy kitchen and the gossip-filled servants’ quarters.
Producers of a multi-milliondollar touring exhibition of this award-winning TV series promise a “fully immersive experience” that will connect visitors with their favourite characters, costumes and locations.
As executive producer of the series Liz Trubridge put it: “If you walk in, you’ll feel you’re in Downton Abbey.”
So ambitious is the exhibition that it has been referred to as the “seventh Downton Abbey season”. The critically acclaimed series, set in an Edwardian country household at the turn of the 20th century, ended in 2015 after six seasons.
Singapore will be the first stop in a multi-city, five-year tour that includes Sydney, New York and Toronto. The five-week exhibition opens at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) on June 17 and tickets go on sale on Tuesday.
Several cast members are slated to attend a red-carpet event at MBS on June 21, 2017: Laura Carmichael, who plays Lady Edith; Jim Carter (Carson); Phyllis Logan (Mrs Hughes); Kevin Doyle (Molesley); Sophie McShera (Daisy); and Michael Fox (Andy).
Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England, where much of Downton Abbey was filmed. Photo: Carnival Film & Television
“We know we have a lot of Singaporean fans, and also fans in that part of the world. It’s a great launchpad to other places,” said Mr Dominic Burns, senior vice-president of brand management at NBCUniversal International Studios, producer of the series.
Besides re-creating the rooms of the Crawley estate, props and as many as 50 costumes from all six seasons will be featured.
Also on show are special installations of each character, as well as behind-the-scenes footage and new videos created for the exhibition, which spans more than 1,000 sq m.
Producers wanted a historical element to the exhibition as well, so there will be a zone marking some milestones of the era – World War I, the sinking of the Titanic, the rise of the suffragette movement and the introduction of the telephone.
“We’d known for a number of years that Downton Abbey had a huge following and we were looking at doing something with the series for that loyal following,” said Mr Burns about the germination of the exhibition.
While the company had licensed products in the United States – its biggest fan base – such as homeware and teas, TV executives felt the experience engaging with Downton Abbey had not been found.
When a small travelling costume exhibition in several locations in the US proved to be a big hit, “we thought, gosh, there must be something more here”, he said.
The phenomenal success of the series – broadcast in more than 220 countries and territories – surprised none other than Hugh Bonneville, the actor who played Downton’s patriarch, the Earl of Grantham.
“It’s about such tiny details of British social structure. How do you shake hands, class details that are so ingrained in us in Britain. It’s in our cultural roots. I thought the American market would enjoy it because of the costumes, but it’s mystifying that it has travelled to the Far East,” he said over afternoon tea at The Ritz London on Tuesday.
The impact of Downton’s success was felt both at home and abroad.
Sales of cucumbers shot up because, suddenly, everyone wanted cucumber sandwiches. Hotels reported queues for their afternoon teas and Jermyn Street tailors were making a killing with quality shirts and suits.
Butler schools are doing a booming business in China as rich Chinese take to old-style British formality, thanks to Lord Grantham and his refined brood.
The real Downton Abbey – Highclere Castle in Hampshire – has perhaps benefited the most. Tourists have been swarming to see the manor since the series hit the big league, bankrolling much-needed repairs to the 338-year-old country house.
“It has given us an international profile and private tour business which we didn’t have,” said Lady Fiona Carnarvon, who is married to George Herbert, the eighth Earl of Carnarvon – the real-life residents of the mansion.
This story first appeared on The Straits Times on June 3, 2017.