By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer
The indelible characters and beautiful scenery of Downton Abbey and the Yorkshire countryside have installed themselves in CityPlace, West Palm Beach, in the site of the former Macy’s department store, with the arrival of “Downton Abbey: The Exhibition” which opened Nov. 10, and runs through April.
Fans of the historical drama, and there were many – 26 million viewers alone, in the U.S., in its final season – will be enchanted to see their many favorite characters come to life once more.
Mr. Carson (the butler) and Mrs. Hughes (the housekeeper), Lord and Lady Grantham and their three daughters – Mary, Sybil and Edith – were part of viewer’s Sunday evenings on MASTERPIECE on PBS from 2010-15.
“The show provided a warm, reassuring and relaxing atmosphere on many a cold winter’s night,” said Dominic Burns, SVP, Brand Management for NBCUniversal, who is producing the exhibit, along with Imagine Exhibitions.
The show comes to South Florida after its inaugural debut in New York City last year, although Burns says the South Florida exhibit is “the original vision for the exhibition.” He said the Crawleys would have approved of the locale, noting that many of America’s gilded age aristocrats had their winter homes in South Florida.
Written and created by Julian Fellowes, the show received 15 Emmy awards and 69 nominations, making it the most nominated non-U.S. show in the history of the awards.
Downtown Abbey producer and executive chairman of Carnival Films, Gareth Neame, flew in from England where he was on-site for the production of the Downtown Abbey film, scheduled for release next year.
“It’s almost surreal,” Neame says, joking about being on-set in England, then flying 10 hours and being on the same set again at CityPlace.
“Our goal with the series was to make a great show for the U.K., and for Anglophiles abroad,” he noted. “Downton Abbey broke through and became a mainstream hit on PBS in the States.”
He credits the combination of ‘quaint Brittish-isms’ and contemporary storytelling for its appeal.
More than 60 hours of clips and large CGI displays from the six seasons are projected on the walls.
“It is my happy duty to welcome you to the world of Downton Abbey,” Carson booms dryly in his unmistakable baritone.
The rooms, costumes and memorabilia are all exactingly recreated, along with never-before-seen elements and exclusive footage, more than sixty original costumes, (including Lady Edith’s Brussels lace, ankle-length, tiered dress with raised petal floral motif and pearl tiara), hunting garments, day and evening wear, hats, period jewelry, the original furniture, flatware, dishes, etc., from the series, and a complete recreation of the servant’s quarters below and the household above.
From Mrs. Patmore’s bustling kitchen and the tidy servants’ quarters, to the family’s ornate dining room and Lady Mary’s bedroom, everything is as it was.
The exhibit includes numerous panels to flesh out the era’s history and additional background information on the characters and the historical context in which they found themselves.
The series provided a glimpse into the manners, mores and affectations of the upper crust of English society, and delved into many of the social issues of the day, including class differences, the role of women in society, the Suffragette movement, the advent of technology and even anti-Semitism – topics still resonating in today’s world.
The story unfolds amidst the backdrop of historical events including the sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of WWI, the rise of socialism, the growing equality of women, the changing roles of the aristocracy and a vanishing way of life and how those events impacted the characters’ lives.
The Industrial Revolution brought about an end to the British aristocracy as the ruling class.
“Who lives as we used to, now?” Lord Grantham asks wistfully after circumstances and WWI have turned their gilded lives and manor into a convalescent home.
In addition to the re-created rooms and vignettes, there are interactive panels where you can take a quiz to see “Could you work at Downton Abbey?” listen to the Dowager Countess’s pithy one-liners, read the love letters from Anna to Mr. Bates, or from Mathew to Lady Mary while she was pregnant and he was visiting family at Duneagle Castle in Inverness in the Scottish countryside.
“Downton Abbey is the trials and tribulations of upstairs/downstairs relationships, but ones we can relate to,” Burns said. “Plus, it’s all done with classical British elegance.”
“Downton Abbey: The Exhibition” is located at CityPlace, 575 S. Rosemary Ave. It will open daily between 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Tickets are $35 and children under 14 are free. VIP packages and private hire options are also available. For more information, visit downtonexhibition.com.