Fans bloody excited for ‘Downton Abbey’ theatrical premiere
Not even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the real-life Duke and Duchess of Sussex in the United Kingdom, have caused this much British drama and excitement.
After 52 episodes of “Downton Abbey” aired over six seasons as a PBS Masterpiece television series from Sept. 26, 2010, through Dec. 25, 2105, diehard fans of the British historical period drama felt like part of the family — a family they weren’t ready to leave.
News that Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Laura Carmichael and other actors from the show were planning to reprise their roles in a big-screen spinoff of the TV series was met with enthusiasm and anticipation.
Focus Features released its first trailer for the film in May (with nearly 6 million views to date) and a movie poster with the tagline, “We’ve been expecting you.” After a long summer of rumors and speculation, the long wait until the movie’s opening is nearly over.
“Downton Abbey” will premiere in North American theaters on Sept. 20, following the film’s UK debut Sept. 13.
Michael Engler (“Empire,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) is directing the movie written by “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes.
The film picks up where the TV series left off, set in 1927, with the aristocratic Crawley family and their staff of servants in their English country manor anxiously preparing for a visit from King George V and Queen Mary.
New additions to the cast include Imelda Staunton (“Harry Potter”) and Tuppence Middleton (“War and Peace,” “Sense8”).
Pittsburgh’s ready to watch
More than 20 theaters in the Pittsburgh area and surrounding region – from AMC Waterfront in West Homestead to Westgate Cinemas in New Castle – have been selling tickets in advance for the movie’s release.
A special event combining a screening of the movie at the Manor Theatre in Squirrel Hill and a high tea at Mansions on Fifth in Shadyside set for 4 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 21 is sold out, according to Britsburgh.com, which is promoting the event hosted by Britsburgh’s Tea Society.
The high tea should be a tasty affair with some very English selections on the menu, including quiche, Cornish pasties, pork pies, Bakewell tart, Battenberg cake and Eton Mess, a classic British dessert made of strawberries, whipped cream and meringue.
After tea, guests will head to the theater to watch the movie. Hats and fascinators are encouraged for the ladies.
The Hartwood Acres Mansion in Indiana Township got into the spirit of the new movie at its latest Downton Abbey Themed Tea on Sept. 7, which also was a sellout. Guests were requested to dress in period attire if they chose to do so, with prizes given for the best costumes.
The Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh also held Downton Abbey-themed teas from Sept. 11-14, and the Scottdale Historical Society was scheduled to host two groupings of its Downton Abbey Tea on Sept. 15, with one sold out and limited reservations remaining for the other as of press time.
Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, attributes the popularity of “Downton Abbey” to the “amazing production values and beautiful scenery” in the TV series and the fact that “we tend to tie in to all things British and all their accoutrements.”
The series won numerous awards, including three Golden Globes, a Special Award presented by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and 15 Primetime Emmys, with 69 nominations, making it the most nominated non-U.S. show in the history of the Emmy Awards.
She predicts the movie will be as successful as the television show.
“It’s got a ready-built audience,” she says. “Everybody can’t wait to see it. In fact, a lot of people are rewatching the past TV episodes to see what happened.”
Asked if she’ll be checking out the movie, Keezer said, “Absolutely — probably with my girlfriends. I love that the Pittsburgh events are selling out.”
‘Downton Abbey’ tea party
At Blue Monkey Tea Shop on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill, owner Margaret Harris says she has all the ingredients needed for hosting a “Downton Abbey” tea party, including a line of official “Downton Abbey” teas. She also hosts tea classes and tea tastings at her shop and at other venues.
“Fancy tea cups, teapots, teas, sugar cubes and tongs, scone mix, clotted cream, small demi teaspoons, jams and biscuits — we have it all,” Harris said.
Downton Abbey memorabilia
PBS and WQED-TV, Pittsburgh’s local PBS affiliate, have past episodes of the TV series on their websites available for streaming for members, and PBS.org has a Downton Abbey Lady Violent Wit and Wisdom mug, a resin ornament depicting the Downton Abbey castle, and a 2020 “Downton Abbey” engagement calendar available for sale.
Amazon also has an assortment of Downton items, including Republic of Tea Downton Abbey Mrs. Patmore’s Pudding Tea teabags, a Downton-themed scone mix and TV series videos with a Prime membership.
Official Downton cookbook
A new collection of recipes for upstairs dinners (family and guests), downstairs dinners (staff and servants) and special occasions was released in time for the “Downton Abbey” movie written by esteemed British food historian Annie Gray.
“The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook” (Weldon Owen publisher, $35), which includes a foreword by Gareth Naeme, executive producer of “Downton Abbey,” offers more than 100 recipes showcasing the customs and cookery of the Crawley household between 1912 and 1926, when the series is set.
In a phone call from her home in East Anglia, north of Cambridge, England, the author talked about her extensive research to include historical facts about the era in which the series and movie take place.
“Food from that era was very interesting, not at all boring, especially during the 1920s and 1930s,” Gray says.
She also outlines suggestions for hosting an elegant Downton dinner, which could include seven to nine courses — with a few different dishes for each courses — or a more manageable menu of soup or fish, entrée or roast, vegetable and sweet entremets or dessert or savory.
The downstairs staff more likely dined on easy-to-prepare stews and puddings that could simmer on the stove while the cooks tended to the family.
“I was quite keen to write things from a British perspective,” she says, focusing on foods that may not be popular in the U.S., such as rich fruitcake, oysters, deviled kidneys and mutton, “a fantastic meat that’s very British.”
Her biggest challenge in writing the cookbook, she said, was in dealing with the “cultural divide” in converting ingredients from British to U.S. measurements.
“I must have looked up what’s a stick of butter 50 times,” she says with a laugh.
Before seeing the movie …
“Downton Abbey” fans might want to delve into “Downton Abbey: The Official Film Companion” (St. Martin’s Press, $20.99) before seeing the movie. The book by Emma Marriott includes interviews with the cast and crew, photos from during the filming and details of the history and geography of the time period.
Naeme said the book will extend the Downton experience for fans, giving them “an unparalleled glimpse behind the scenes.”
NBC-TV to air ‘A Grand Event’
NBC-TV and Focus Features will present a one-hour special “Return to Downton Abbey: A Grand Event,” at 8 p.m. Sept. 19, the night before the movie opens in the U.S..
Hosted by “World of Dance” judge Derek Hough, the program filmed at the historic Highclere Castle — where the movie and series were filmed in Hampshire, England – will feature interviews with cast members and celebrity fans sharing their love for the series.
Downton Abbey: The Exhibition
For those fans who can’t get enough of “Downton Abbey,” a traveling exhibition aims to connect them with their favorite characters, locations, costumes and historic events of the era. From World War I to the Roaring Twenties, visitors will have the chance to learn about British society, culture and fashion and see costumes worn by the show’s cast.
“Downton Abbey: The Exhibition” will be at The Castle at Park Plaza in Boston through Sept. 29, then it will travel to Biltmore in Asheville, N.C., for the holiday season. Additional locations will be announced. Details: downton exhibition.com
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.