Farewell Dan Stevens...
Shock and awe surrounded the death of Matthew Crawley at the end of Season Three. At Downton Abbey Online, we certainly got our fair share of sad and angry letters. We gently reminded viewers that sometimes actors determine the plot of television shows, as was the case with the death of Matthew Crawley. The actor who played Matthew Crawley, Dan Stevens, wanted to leave the show and there was nothing Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes could do about it except write him out of the show.
Julian Fellowes explains that in America, it’s quite common for an actor to sign onto a series for five to seven years. In England, you can only sign an actor like Dan Stevens up for three years. Thanks to the success of Downton Abbey, Dan Stevens was offered opportunities too good to refuse and wanted out. Fellowes harbours no ill will against Stevens, remembering he did something very similar during his early theatre days in London.
But why was Matthew’s death so grisly?
If a servant actor wants to leave the show, Fellowes writes the script to include a job offer in Dublin or India, in the case of nasty O’Brien. But if a family actor wants to leave Downton Abbey’s cast, their exit must be final or it’s simply not believable. A family member like Matthew wouldn’t leave Downton for any other reason except death. And because Dan Steven’s exit in real life was final, there needed to be no doubt among viewers that he would return. Hence, the grisly final death scene.
Season 4 of Downton Abbey opens six months after Matthew’s death, after the shock wears off. Presumably, nobody really wants to see Mary grieve for an entire season. And halfway through the first episode, Mary changes out of her black clothes and feels some degree of closure. Mary decides to live without Matthew Crawley, and so do we…
As far as leading ladies and lines go, Mrs. Patmore is the downstairs version of the Dowager when it comes to wit. Mrs. Patmore dispenses some sauciness along with her cooking, cutting to the heart of the issue every time. Daisy is usually the object of her sharp tongue, but Mrs Patmore spares no one as she delivers her own flavour of commentary.
Mrs Patmore rocking the dark glasses after her surgery
Downton Abbey is filmed at Highclere Castle
Downton Abbey is filmed at Highclere Castle, an estate now forever recognizable as the iconic Grantham home. In real life, Highclere Castle is home the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. It’s been in the family since 1679 but real estate prices have gone up since then. If Highclere Castle were for sale today, its estimated value is about 150 million British pounds. And Downton Abbey’s set needs about 11 million pounds in repairs. Rumour has it, next door neighbour Andrew Lloyd Webber, offered to buy the estate. “Cats” must have been pretty lucrative.
Located about 50 minutes from Heathrow airport, the Highclere estate is over 1000 acres, bigger than New York’s central park. The Tatler referred to the area around Highclere as “Downtonia”. The house is estimated to have about 50 bedrooms. The countess of Carnarvan, a blonde dynamo, isn’t quite sure how many rooms the castle boasts. “I suppose if you know how many rooms you’ve got, you haven’t got a very big house”, the Countess said in the “Telegraph”. The countess is writing a book about the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. He and Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Egypt’s boy king Tutankhamun in 1922.
Get hitched Downton style
While filming Downton Abbey at Highclere, the estate is only open to the public on certain dates. However, the castle is available for Downton-esque weddings starting at about $30,000 for the day. And what a day it would be… “You enter the Park gates and drive through the undulating, spectacular landscape to arrive eventually in front of a romantic, Victorian Castle. The Saloon, which lies in the heart of the Castle, is licensed for the civil ceremony. Brides can prepare for their wedding in a bedroom in the Castle. The music begins and the bride walks around the Gallery above the guests, before walking down the sweeping Oak Staircase.” The latter is quoted from Highclere’s website. Imagine coming down the staircase… A girl would be jumpier than a deb at her first ball.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Highclere, only the exterior will be recognizable. Most of the indoor scenes in Downton Abbey are filmed at a London studio, particularly the kitchen and servants’ quarters drama. Most of Highclere’s interior has been modernized. The production designer Donal Woods says, “There’s a lot of great houses in England, but all the below-stairs stuff has gone. So we realized we had to build it ourselves.”
Highclere Castle has been featured in other notable filming beside Downton Abbey. The saloon was a location in “The Four Feathers” starring Heath Ledger and Stanley Kubrick’s last film, “Eyes Wide Shut”. The exterior appeared as Lord Graves’s house in “King Ralph”. In Hallmarks’ Hall of Fame 1987 version of The Secret Garden, both the interior and exterior were used as Mistlethwaite Manor.