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highclere castle, Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey the film – a truly moving experience!

It’s a wrap! As Downton hits the big screen, what better time to remind yourselves of all those London locations that featured in the TV series? Local Blue Badge guide Penny Bowden explains how walking in the footsteps of the fictional country estate’s upstairs-downstairs folk to indulge in a bit of pure nostalgia could lead you to wonder if they were really where they were supposed to be!

The camera never lies – or does it? In the world of film, yes! Many of the scenes in the television series of Downton Abbey depicting York were shot in central London with clever photoshopping to complete the illusion.

In the film version, continuity of location to eagle-eyed Downton fans will be just as important as the lives, loves and rivalries of the fictional people of the grand country house, their friends, acquaintances and servants.

York Minster

York Minster. In film fantasy land it’s just a five-minute walk from this iconic London area featured below.

Entrance to Legal London

An enticing view of Legal London

So here are a few hints how you can walk into the frame of these particular provincial Downton Abbey locations without ever leaving the capital:

  • York Minster pops up more than 200 miles south in EC4, obliterating an equally familiar London legal landmark;
  • York’s most famous tea room, Betty’s, turns up yards away around the corner;
  • But it isn’t just York that makes this miraculous journey south. A naughty weekend at the fictional Grand Hotel in Liverpool between Lady Mary and ardent suitor Lord Gillingham features the transformed entrance to the former London HQ of a prominent political party;
  • Downton’s servants clearing the tea away to the kitchens below stairs in real life would have had to travel 60 miles east to Ealing Studios – making continuity important so the same food, cutlery and crockery appeared in both shots;
Somerset House

Somerset House: not always as glamorous in filmland as it looks here!

  • Part of Somerset House is transformed into the dingy side of York– and gets a visit from the haughty Dowager Countess seeking out a past love;
Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

  • Interior scenes of Buckingham Palace are filmed yards away from the Queen’s London home inside a well-known 19th Century venue;
  • The exterior of the Granthams’ London pad belongs to the family of a multi-millionaire Greek shipping magnate.

But some of the scenes were genuine glittering London landmarks featuring sumptuous food and surroundings:

Interior of Simpsons on The Strand

Interior of Simpsons in The Strand

  • Simpsons in the Strand was where Charles Blake, another of Lady Mary’s suitors, took her for dinner but tried distasteful tactics to ensure he got her all to himself;
  • Rules restaurant in Covent Garden features three times in the TV series;
  • And pulling out all the stops, the inside of Highclere Castle, Downton’s real-life alter ego, was abandoned in favour of the London Ritz for the very last tear-jerking 2015 Christmas finale.

The smoke and mirror effects of montaged scenes weren’t lost on the makers of the 2011 charity spoof, “Uptown Downstairs” with a stellar cast including Harry Enfield, Olivia Colman and Jennifer Saunders. One hilarious excerpt features a line of servants struggling upstairs from the kitchens in Ealing studios, crunching into the ceiling, then emerging in a walking crouch from behind a barrier into the Downton drawing-room.

The film starts in 1927 with a royal visit. It may have a bigger budget than the TV series, but with that winning three golden globes and being dubbed into more than 150 languages, it’ll still be a hard act to follow.

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