The Women of Downton

Downton Abbey

By Freya Granger

Downton Abbey, one of the most highly acclaimed period dramas on TV, showed its popularity in Cheltenham last month. The Cheltenham Literature Festival’s event, ‘Women of Downton’, welcomed the author Jessica Fellowes, actresses Lesley Nicols (Mrs. Patmore) and Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), the costume designer Caroline McGall and series producer Liz Turbridge, who shared behind-the-scenes secrets which were greatly relished by the audience.

One of the many highlights of the event was the fascinating insight into the preparation of costume. There is no doubt that Downton Abbey is visually captivating. Its portrayal of the post-war period in Britain is wonderful, and in hearing of the meticulous research that was done to make the costumes historically accurate, it is even more admirable. Responsibility for the sumptuous costumes is given to Caroline McGall, whom we had the pleasure of listening to at the event. The ‘most satisfying moment’ for her is when the composition of a scene was on point, and she achieves a perfect balance of colours and materials, each suited to the character. Caroline went on to say that interestingly, the precautions that she takes to make these scenes look good actually ring true to what was done in the time. Ladies would have their servants confer and choose their outfits for the dinner, in order to avoid the catastrophe of a ‘clash’ when sitting at the dinner table.

Unfortunately the ‘Downton women’ were reluctant to share any spoilers for the current series, but when asked what they found tiring about filming the series, both Lesley Nichols and Phyllis Logan delighted the audience with a series of anecdotes. Amongst which was the story of the ‘rotting lobster’, seen in the first episode, which told of the choking fumes of the beautiful but rotting food used as props in the kitchen, and another was the consensus that the corsets the servants were required to wear were completely torturous. When asked what their favourite item of clothing worn for costume was, it was discovered to everyone’s great amusement that Lesley Nichols has developed a strong affection for Mrs. Patmore’s little hat. All jokes aside, the evening was enlightening, and altered our perspective on the show.

The event at the Festival was greatly enjoyed by all who attended, and offered a wonderful insight in the series. After a prompt finish, the audience was encouraged to hurry home to watch the next installment on the TV. We watched with great pride, smiling smugly to ourselves whenever Mrs. Hughes or Mrs. Patmore came into shot, knowing just that little bit more about how it was created.

Downton Abbey’s third series has finished but you can catch up with episodes on ITV Player.

Photography: Biepmiep on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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