15 Proper Facts About Downton Abbey

Masterpiece
Masterpiece

Like Upstairs, Downstairs for the Twitter generation, Downton Abbey brought a bit of British history into the homes of millions of viewers for six seasons, and reinvigorated interest in 20th-century propriety. Though the series ended its small-screen run in March 2016, it's still garnering a lot of buzz thanks to repeated viewings on PBS and today's official announcement that the Crawley family will be making its way back into viewer's lives via a new movie featuring the original cast.

“When the television series drew to a close it was our dream to bring the millions of global fans a movie and now, after getting many stars aligned, we are shortly to go into production," producer Gareth Neame said of the upcoming film, which was written by original creator Julian Fellowes and will begin production this summer. "Julian’s script charms, thrills and entertains and in Brian Percival’s hands we aim to deliver everything that one would hope for as Downton comes to the big screen."

Though fans will likely need to wait until 2019 to see the big-screen version, here are 15 fascinating facts about the lords and ladies of Downton Abbey to tide you over.

1. E.R. AND CHICAGO HOPE INSPIRED ITS STRUCTURE.

In developing the structure for Downton Abbey, creator Julian Fellowes found inspiration in some unexpected places. “Constructing Downton, I was consciously thinking in terms of those American structures,” Fellowes said in Rebecca Eaton’s book, Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Prime Suspect, Cranford, Upstairs Downstairs, and Other Great Shows. “I had liked E.R. There was something called Chicago Hope that I liked very much, and thirtysomething, with all these stories going at once.”

2. HUGH BONNEVILLE THINKS IT’S MORE LIKE BREAKING BAD.

When asked to sum up the series’ appeal at a party for Downton Abbey’s third season premiere, star Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley) joked that, “It’s Breaking Bad with tea instead of meth.”

3. GILLIAN ANDERSON COULD HAVE BEEN THE COUNTESS OF GRANTHAM.

While promoting her role in Masterpiece’s 2012 version of Great Expectations, The X-Files star Gillian Anderson expressed her hope that, “people will embrace [Great Expectations] with the same love that flowed toward Downton Abbey," then shared that she was offered the role of Cora Crawley.

4. ELIZABETH MCGOVERN AND HUGH BONNEVILLE HAVE BEEN MARRIED BEFORE.

Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville in 'Downton Abbey'
Masterpiece

On screen, that is. The actors played husband and wife on the 2008 BBC series Freezing.

5. CORA WASN’T CREATED FOR AMERICAN AUDIENCES.

Some critics of the show have questioned Fellowes’s motive in developing a British series around an American character, with some assuming it was a strategic creative move in order to attract American audiences. “We weren’t thinking in those terms about foreign sales,” Fellowes told the Independent. “The advantage for me of having the American wife was it gave me a central character who was not dyed in the wool of the upper middle class upbringing, so you could have one of the principal characters who didn’t take all that stuff for granted, and questioned it, as Cora did. She was not consciously written for America. The fact that we would have a central character for American sales was much more clever than we were really.”

6. DOWNTON ABBEY IS REALLY HIGHCLERE CASTLE.

The cast of 'Downton Abbey'
Masterpiece

Much of the series is filmed at Highclere Castle, an estate in Hampshire, England that is home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. In addition to being open to the public, the home can be rented for weddings and parties and occasionally operates as a hotel. In addition to its iconic exterior, the library, dining room, drawing room, and grand hallway seen in Downton Abbey belong to the real-life Highclere Castle.

7. THE SERVANTS’ QUARTERS ARE IN LONDON.

Because the servants’ quarters at Highclere Castle have been modernized, the series' downstairs kitchen and attic living quarters were built at London’s Ealing Studios. Which means that the show’s producers needed to pay particularly close attention to continuity. “For example,” explained The World of Downton Abbey author (and niece of the show’s creator) Jessica Fellowes, “Thomas might be filmed leaving the kitchen with a plate of food for upstairs and would then appear two weeks later in the dining room!”

8. ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER TRIED TO PURCHASE HIGHCLERE CASTLE … FOR HIS ART COLLECTION.

In 2010, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (who lives in a neighboring estate) made an offer to purchase Highclere Castle, apparently as a home for his art collection. The Carnarvons kindly let Webber know that the property was not for sale. “I think it has more to do to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s desire to hang his art collection somewhere,” Lady Carnarvon told the Los Angeles Times. “Maybe it might help with his estate duties. He was not a friend and, therefore, might not be aware of our own art collection.” FYI: The estate is valued at approximately $240 million.

9. THE CASTLE REALLY DID OPERATE AS A HOSPITAL DURING WORLD WAR I.

During season two, Downton Abbey was turned into a convalescent home for soldiers. In real life, during World War I, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon did turn Highclere Castle into a recovery hospital for soldiers.

10. EACH EPISODE COSTS MORE THAN $1 MILLION TO PRODUCE.

Given the show’s strict attention to detail and authenticity, it’s probably unsurprising that it was an expensive series to shoot. According to The World of Downton Abbey, each episode costs about £1 million (or about $1.5 million) to produce.

11. THE COSTUMES COULD USE A CLEANING.

Lesley Nicol, Sophie McShera, and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Downton Abbey'
Masterpiece

In keeping with the show’s dedication to authenticity, the producers maintained a “no-wash” policy with some of its costumes in order to keep within the period look. “We do stink, as they don’t wash our costumes,” Sophie McShera (who played kitchen maid-turned-assistant cook Daisy) told The Daily Mail. “They have these weird patches, which are sewn into the armpits and which they wash separately.”

12. IT’S THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SHOW IN MASTERPIECE’S MORE THAN 40-YEAR HISTORY.

“Nobody in their right mind could have predicted what happened, when it sort of went viral,” Julian Fellowes told The New York Times in 2013 of Downton Abbey's unprecedented popularity. It’s estimated that more than 120 million people around the world have watched the series at one point. The show was broadcast in 250 territories worldwide, and became a major hit in Russia, South Korea, and the Middle East.

13. ISIS WAS NOT KILLED OFF BECAUSE OF HER NAME.

One of the show’s most beloved stars was its faithful pooch, Isis, who passed away in season five. Though many thought the Labrador got the boot because of her name, star Hugh Bonneville set the record straight on that matter. “To clarify recent speculation, the Labrador that appeared in Series One (1912-14) was a dog called Pharaoh,” wrote Bonneville. “From Series Two (1916-1920) onwards, the Labrador has been a bitch named—in keeping with the Egyptian theme—Isis. Anyone who genuinely believes the Series 5 storyline (1924) involving the animal was a reaction to recent world news is a complete berk.”

The “Egyptian theme” that Bonneville refers to is a nod to George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who was one of the individuals who discovered King Tut’s tomb.

14. IT RECEIVED A RECORD NUMBER OF EMMY NOMINATIONS.

Maggie Smith in 'Downton Abbey'
Masterpiece

With a total of 69 nominations and 15 wins, Downton Abbey is the most nominated non-U.S. series in Emmy history.

15. THE QUEEN LOVED IT, AND LIKED TO LOOK FOR ANACHRONISMS.

Among the show’s many famous fans are several members of the British royal family, including Queen Elizabeth, who “loves to pick out the mistakes,” said At Home with the Queen author Brian Hoey. “They do tend to get it right. However, the Queen did notice on one episode that there was a young so-called British officer wearing medals which had not been awarded when he was supposed to be alive. He was fighting in the First World War and the medals on his chest did not come in until the Second World War.”

6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars

getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)

Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards's more than 90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. Best Actor // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Beery won for The Champ (writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. Best Documentary Short Subject // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. Best Actress // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. Best Documentary Feature // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. Best Short Film (Live Action) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars current Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. Best Sound Editing // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened in 2013, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg told the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

10 Game of Thrones Fan Theories About How the Series Will End

HBO
HBO

Our faces are longer than Jon Snow’s right now. It's been more than a year since the last season of Game of Thrones ended, but season 8—the series's final one—is coming back on April 14, 2019. To tide you over until then, we’ve collected some of the most plausible as well as the most bonkers fan theories about what could go down in the final episodes. They predict everything from a new contender for the Iron Throne to a new species classification for a major character. On the bright side, we'll all have plenty of time to debate these before the first episode airs.

1. Jon Snow will kill Daenerys.

Almost since the series began, fans have been predicting that Jon Snow is the Prince Who Was Promised—a reincarnation of the legendary hero Azor Ahai. But most predictions have overlooked a central piece of the Azor Ahai legend, which may spell doom for Daenerys: Azor Ahai, a lousy metallurgist, had a tough time forging his fabled flaming sword Lightbringer. Then he realized he needed to temper the blade by plunging it into the heart of his wife, Nissa Nissa, to imbue it with her power. (Because in the logic of this legend, killing a powerful woman turns a mediocre man into a hero.) If Jon Snow is Azor Ahai, the theory goes, then Daenerys will be his Nissa Nissa—the one true love he must kill in order to save the realm.

2. The Lannisters' repaid debt will be their downfall.

Lena Headey in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

You know the family creed: A Lannister always pays his debts. In season 7, Cersei stayed true to her family name when she paid off a large debt to the Iron Bank. Most viewers read this as a play to buy the loyalty of the bank and its mercenary soldiers, but one Machiavellian Redditor has predicted that paying off the debt will have the opposite effect. "While the Lannisters were in debt to the Bank, the Bank had a vested interest in their success," one Redditor wrote. Now that the debt is paid, the Iron Bank will invest in the side that seems to have the best chance of winning—and right now, that doesn't look like Cersei's.

3. Euron Greyjoy is the father of Cersei's child.

Somehow this seems more disturbing than Jaime being the baby's incestuous father. PopSugar rolled out this hot take based on some circumstantial evidence. First, Euron and Cersei cooked up a plan to betray Jon and Daenerys without telling Jaime, which "raises the question about what else Cersei was doing with Euron behind Jaime's back." Then there's the fact that Cersei just let Jaime ride north to fight the White Walkers, which doesn't seem like a risk you'd want your unborn child's father to take. She has no idea when or if he'll be back. But on the other hand, she knows exactly where Euron will be. Perhaps she's keeping an eye on her baby's true father.

4. Daenerys will die beyond the wall.

Redditor Try_Another_NO reached all the way back to season 2 to substantiate this theory about Daenerys's demise. While Daenerys is in the House of the Undying, she has a series of possibly prophetic visions. She walks through the throne room in Kings Landing, which is damaged and filled with snow. Before she can touch the Iron Throne, she's called away by a sound and suddenly finds herself walking beyond the wall. There she meets Khal Drogo who says he has resisted death to wait for her. According to the theory, these were clues about the series's end: The White Walkers will threaten Kings Landing. Daenerys will turn away from the throne to fight the White Walkers. Death awaits her beyond the wall.

5. Cleganebowl will finally happen.

For years fans have eagerly awaited a fight between Sandor and Gregor Clegane, which has been affectionately dubbed "Cleganebowl." In the season 7 finale, the Hound hinted that the much-hyped fight is coming when he told his brother, "You know who's coming for you." The cryptic message also spawned a fan theory about the real origin of the Clegane brothers' beef. Our only version of the tale comes from noted liar/sleazebag Littlefinger, who claimed Ser Gregor burned his brother's face over a stolen toy. But Redditor 440k11 thinks the Hound has always had a talent for reading the future in the flames. In fact, the theory goes, the Hound saw his brother's death foretold in a fire and told him about it. Enraged, young Gregor pushed his brother's face into the fire he was reading, burning Sandor and cementing their lifelong enmity.

6. Varys is actually a merman.

The case for this one is watertight. The books make several mentions of merlings living alongside dragons, giants, and White Walkers—mythical creatures we know exist in Essos. Varys, meanwhile, constantly covers his lower body in long robes. What is he hiding? According to Redditor nightflyer, it's his freaky fish body. In the books, it would explain his cryptic response when Tyrion threatened to have him thrown off a ship: "You might be disappointed by the result." In the show, it might explain how Varys traveled from Dorne to Daenerys's ship in Mereen seemingly overnight in the middle of season 7. (It wasn't lazy writing—he swam there!) In general, it might explain why he's such a slimy weirdo.

7. The maesters are colluding with Cersei to beat Daenerys.

Finally, a fan theory fit for our political age! According to this theory, the maesters are natural enemies of magic. The strange forces that bring the dead back to life, reveal the future in fire, and allow Arya to wear many faces are beyond the maesters' powers of rational explanation. But if magic were eliminated, the maesters' monopoly on knowledge would continue unchallenged. It follows, then, that the maesters would feel comfortable with Cersei's cruel reign but threatened by Daenerys's magical dragons. Maybe that explains why a former maester built Cersei a weapon meant to kill dragons. And maybe the maesters will intervene in the conflict more directly in the next season.

8. Arya will kill Cersei ... wearing Jaime's face.

Maisie Williams in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

Predicting that Jaime will kill Cersei is so mainstream. Seeing Jaime kill Cersei for the good of the realm would reprise his role as the Kingslayer (or Queenslayer). It would neatly fulfill the Volanqar prophecy—the prediction a witch made to a young Cersei, that she would be killed by a volanqar (which translates to "younger sibling" in High Valyrian). And it would be so easy. Reasoning that George R.R. Martin would never do something so obvious, and that Arya's assassin character arc has to led to a more consequential target than Walder Frey, Redditor greypiano predicts that Arya will be Cersei's killer. If she first kills Jaime and uses his face to catch Cersei unaware, then the volanqar prophecy will be confirmed (even if it's on a technicality).

9. Viserion will come back to life.

Here's a fan theory for moms, from a mom. Redditor Cornholio_the_white wrote that after the season 7 finale, their mom called to say she was sad about Viserion's death. But she had a prediction: "I think it's going to remember its mother." She explained that Daenerys's love would free Viserion from the Night King's spell. Cornholio_the_white scoffed. That wasn't possible. The dragon was dead. But then Mom dropped a compelling counterargument: "Not if the Red Woman brings it back. They're keeping her around for something."

10. Gendry is the legitimate child of Cersei and Robert Baratheon.

This theory throws another contender for the Iron Throne into the mix. It maintains that Gendry was not Robert Barathean's bastard son—in fact, he was the only legitimate child of the king. We know that Cersei and Robert had a child—a "black-haired beauty"—who supposedly died shortly after birth. Curiously, Cersei says she never visited her firstborn child in the crypt, even though we know she is a fiercely devoted mother. Perhaps that's because she knew her son was actually in Fleabottom as a blacksmith's apprentice. And perhaps it was Cersei all along who was looking out for Gendry, securing his apprenticeship and protecting him from Joffrey's purge of Robert’s bastards. Gendry, for his part, remembers only that his mother had yellow hair. If that yellow-haired woman was Cersei, Gendry would have the most legitimate claim to the Iron Throne of anyone in Westeros.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER