Downton Abbey: the Exhibition

If you're tired of Style, you're tired of Life — Mr. Carson

You may have seen advertisements recently for Downton Abbey: The Exhibition. It seems like the limited time exhibition is making a few stops along the East Coast, heralding and coinciding with the fall release of the Downton Abbey film.

When the TV series first came out, I saw an episode here and there, but didn't have a chance to really watch the full series until this summer.

Don't ask me why it took this long for me to come to my senses and watch this amazing slice of historical fiction. Did I have you at 'English historical drama'?

While the world of Downton seems so far removed from life today the writing of the show makes you feel like it's a possibility.

You laugh at the Dowager's wit (portrayed by none other than Maggie Smith — or Professor McGonagall), feel pushed aside and defeated alongside Edith, and heartwarmed by the friendship and pure affection between Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes.

The traveling exhibition has taken these very aspects of Downton Abbey and brought them to life.

You're welcomed to Downton by a CGI Mr. Carson, who invites you into a character display room with all main characters.

Each character's display shares a snippet of their character, some historical facts about the person (like what a maid or butler's life was really like), and some personal effects and props used on the show.

The Dowager had a whole display wall, with a TV playing her best quotes.

From there you enter 'downstairs,' and can visit Mr. Carson's study, the kitchen — which smells of cinnamon and allspice — exactly what you'd expect for Mrs. Patmore's kitchen.

Mr. Carson's Study

After the recreated wall of bells, you can sit in a room that is totally CGI'd — the blank walls have images of rooms of Downton projected onto them, making you feel like you're in the middle of the library or dining room, doors open to clips of the TV show with characters conversing, and then the scene evolves into the World War I scenes, complete with simulated crumbling ceilings and explosions.

I don't think I've ever experienced a gallery quite like that, where you are totally enveloped in the media.

Original cornflower blue dress, 1920s.

And then, you walk into what was easily my favorite part — the costumes.

Riding outfits, butler's livery, wedding dresses, flapper dresses, coat and tails — it's all here.

Details of Lady Edith's wedding dress train

Dresses of Lady Edith and Lady Mary, and Lady Sybil's harem pant outfit.

I'm easily enthralled by most costumes, but seeing the actual pieces used in the show up close was truly incredible. Not only were the costume designer's creating exquisite pieces, but some original early 20th century items were actually used in the show — meaning dresses and accessories that are over or nearly 100 years old were preserved well enough that the actors could wear them on screen. Talk about some serious art conservation!

Are you a Downton Abbey fan? Who's your favorite character?


If you aren't a fan — watch a few episodes and if you don't like it, you can tell me I'm wrong — but I might just like the Dowager on being wrong, "I'm not familiar with the sensation!"

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