by Jessica Fellowes & Matthew Strugis
(St. Martin’s Press, $29.99)
Reviewed by Larry Cox
“Upstairs, Downstairs” was a British television series set in a London townhouse in Belgravia during the early years of the past century. The 68 episodes depicted the lives of the servants, who lived downstairs in the house, and the wealthy Bellamy family, who occupied the upper floors. The series covered the period from about 1903 until the beginning of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and it was must-viewing both in the U.K. and America during the early 1970s.
Forty years later, a British TV series reminiscent of “Upstairs, Downstairs” has become one of the hottest programs on PBS. “Downton Abbey” also follows the day-to-day lives of servants and an aristocratic family in elaborate detail. There are differences, of course. Instead of being set in London, the story unfolds in the Yorkshire estate of Downton Abbey and follows a slightly later time, starting in 1912 in the post-Edwardian era.
A new book documents the first three seasons of the series with hundreds of photographs, closer looks at many of the colorful characters and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the drama and other aspects that make the program so popular.
It is the authenticity to detail that makes this series so intriguing. There simply is not a single misstep as far as costuming and set designs are concerned. Even the music occasionally played on the family’s old gramophone is genuine.
This gorgeous book is filled with images in full color and other pieces of memorabilia that place both the estate and its period of history in context. Short chapters focus on each of the characters, examining their motivations, actions and inspirations to provide new depth for viewers.
An evocative combination of history, story and characters, this guide brings fans even closer to Downton Abbey and the people who inhabit the grand estate.