Last year, The Manners of Downton Abbey went behind the scenes during the filming of Downton’s Season 5 with Alastair Bruce, the series’ historical advisor, to explore the elaborate code of conduct that governed British life during the years depicted in the television mini-series. Bruce, who has been with Downton Abbey from the start, worked to assure that the characters’ behavior above stairs and below stairs was true to the period of 1900s Britain.
Now in 2016, in the final season of one of television’s most beloved dramas, we have More Manners of Downton Abbey: A MASTERPIECE Special. The program navigates the social protocol of aristocrats and servants in the 1920s – including the manners, rituals and fashions that governed the lives of those at Downton.
This one-hour documentary features revealing interviews with leading cast members, including Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle and Sophie McShera. We discover the secrets of how the aristocratic set dined and dressed, how they married and made money, how they interacted with the servants, and above all why they behaved as they did. Illustrated with memorable moments from Downton Abbey, the program is a treat for fans and anyone fascinated with the customs of early 1900s Britain.
An expert on the British monarchy and aristocracy, Alastair Bruce was also the historical advisor to The King’s Speech and The Young Victoria, and has worked indirectly helping on Indian Summers, which he said “is all about British power in India and the conclusion of that story in the 1930s.”
Willow and Thatch can’t imagine a more charming – or more accurate – guide to the (glamorous upstairs / difficult downstairs) worlds of Downton. In fact, Bruce has been given the name “The Oracle” because he is all-knowing about the detailed customs of the time period. In a radio interview, he said he was excited to have the chance to talk more about the customs and to “unwrap the code” that we see in the costume drama because he had much more to share than was able to fit into the first “Manners.”
The PBS documentary More Manners of Downton Abbey is broken into topical sections, like How to Keep House, How to Have Style, How to Speak, and How to Raise Children. Here is the trailer:
The manners of Downton are not just about how to address a Duchess…it’s much more important than that. It’s key to how these people lived and exactly what they believe in… their manners held the old order in place when everything else seemed to be falling apart.
Willow and Thatch loved the bit where Bruce talks about tea, which starts as we see Carson carrying in the tray for the afternoon tea upstairs:
It is absolutely not normal for the butler to bring in tea, and that is why it is noticed and acknowledged by the family immediately. The family notice any change to the rigid structure of this household process. It’s all done meticulously to time. Tea is brought in at ding, ding, ding, 5:00. And the whole house knows that. Anyone who is late for tea is in terrible trouble. Interestingly, people drank tea differently below stairs than they did above. Below stairs, they put the milk in first, whereas above stairs, they put it in second. Now, the theory goes that because below stairs the china was of an inferior quality, by putting the milk in first, you protected it from cracking when you poured in the hot tea.
Also lovely are the parts on the dressing gong, the relationship of both family and servants with the children, the bell board, pleasure for those below stairs, and about Daisy when she was the scullery maid and had additional duties of lighting the fires and waking the others.
I’ve always been interested in courts and how power works and how there is always some sort of performance around the delivery of power. In a sense a great king makes sure that he is surrounded by rituals and utilitarian processes by which his position is enhanced and elevated in amongst the people that he lives, because if you are king you need to be elevated. The whole subject of studying the courts of England means that you know something about how the aristocracy of England works, because the aristocracy of England followed what the courts did, but did it at a slightly reduced scale. Therefore you can almost trip over a very considerable knowledge of how these houses [like Downton Abbey] worked. – Alistair Bruce
If you were watching the Oscars, you may have missed the new documentary, but you are in luck: More Manners of Downton Abbey aired Sunday, February 28, 2016 on MASTERPIECE, but is available to stream on PBS until March 13, 2016. Amazon Prime members can now stream all five past seasons of Downton Abbey. New episodes of Downton Abbey, The Final Season can be purchased the day after their broadcast premieres through Amazon Instant Video. There is no word yet on when the DVD will be released.
Speaking of the Oscars, congratulations to the period and costume drama nominees and winners of the 88th Academy Awards: Carol, The Danish Girl, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, Cinderella and Brooklyn.
It has been a terrific journey with the Crawley family and everyone below stairs, and it may be hard to say goodbye, but by all reports the two-hour long series finale is the perfect farewell. “It all comes down to this! See the scandal, friendship, and romance come to a dramatic end in the Downton Abbey series finale.” Willow and Thatch may just have to start over again from the beginning, soon. What about you?
Lest you go in to a dark place when Downton ends, Julian Fellowes is releasing his new novel, Belgravia, in April 2016.
Belgravia is a story of a secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s in the Victorian era when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond’s now legendary ball, one family’s life will change forever.
The tale will be told in a prologue and 10 installments (with the first episode free to download) published week by week in the tradition of Charles Dickens, delivered in text and audio versions – you can read it, or listen to it, or jump between the two.
And Downton Abbey: The Movie may actually be happening. According to executive producer Gareth Neame
We’ve had some conversations about it. Julian (Fellowes) and I are keen. There is no script and no firm plan but it’s certainly something there is talk of; we’re not in denial about anything. We’ll know more next year.
At the close of February, Roger Friedman of Showbiz 411 said “I’m told Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame are negotiating right now so they can get underway quickly. They’ve got to make the film while all the actors are still available.” Woo-hoo!
The final episode of the final season of Downton Abbey airs on PBS MASTERPIECE Sunday, March 6, 2016 at 9/8 central.
The Manners of Downton Abbey is available on DVD and to stream.
There is a nice radio interview with Alistair Bruce on the manners of the period drama here.
Downton Abbey is a Carnival Films/MASTERPIECE co-production written and created by Julian Fellowes. The series is executive produced by Gareth Neame.
A follow up to the hugely popular Manners of Downton Abbey for US broadcaster PBS, More Manners of Downton Abbey delves further into the rules and conventions that govern life in the Grantham household.
Presented by Alastair Bruce, historical advisor on the set of Downton Abbey, the documentary uses footage and cast interviews shot on location, and archive from the iconic series, to unravel the secrets behind the strict rules governing the role of the servants downstairs and the aristocratic masters above. Along the way the documentary also touches upon world events and how these impacted the way of life in Edwardian and 1920s England.
If you enjoyed this post, you might want to read Downton Abbey Upstairs 2016 and Downton Abbey Downstairs 2016. And you’ll want to wander over to the Period Films List – the best costume dramas, heritage films, documentaries, period dramas, romances, historical reality series and period inspired movies, sorted by era and theme.