Downton Abbey

The official Tumblr for Downton Abbey, Carnival Films / Masterpiece costume drama, written & created by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes. Starring Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter and more.

All about Tom Branson…

All about Tom Branson…

From chauffeur to gentleman, Tom Branson has traversed the English class system to become an integral and much loved member of the Crawley family. However, his journey has not always been a smooth one…

Having moved from Ireland at the age of 23, Tom began his journey at the great house as a chauffeur to the Crawley family. He soon became interested in Sybil Crawley, the youngest of the three sisters, recognising in her a similar thirst for change and interest in politics.

As these passions became more developed in Sybil, she began to confide in Tom, knowing that no one else in the family shared her interest in politics, let alone women’s rights. He happily discussed all manner of opinion with her, chiefly his belief that the gulf between the English aristocracy and the working classes needed to be changed. This was an awkward topic of discussion for Sybil – her father Lord Grantham is exactly the type of aristocrat Tom believed should not have so much wealth. He swiftly made amends, telling Sybil he thought her father a good man.

During Series Two, Tom and Sybil became ever closer as her political opinions began to flourish. The outbreak of the First World War prompted a desire in Sybil to train as a nurse and he looked on in admiration as she attended baking lessons with Mrs Patmore. She also wanted to attend many a political meeting, to Lord Grantham’s dismay. This culminated in a rather dramatic event, when she lied to her family and attended a political rally in secret – only telling Tom the truth once he had driven her there. Political activists became violent during the gathering and Sybil was hurt, prompting Tom – along with Matthew – to rescue her from the crowd. A furious Lord Grantham believed Tom to be the cause of the situation and he found himself almost without a job. However, Sybil convinced her family that she had tricked him and that he had no part in the protest whatsoever.

Later in the series, Tom’s feelings for Sybil were truly revealed when Sybil was just about to leave to train as a nurse. Seizing the moment, Tom told her how much he loved her. Unfortunately, though, her reaction was not what he had hoped for, as she did not return his affections, saying instead that she was flattered by them. A hurt Tom replied, “Don’t make fun of me. It’s cost me all I’ve got to say these things.”

Despite this apparent rejection, Tom continued to follow his heart, his love for Sybil never wavering throughout the time she was training as a nurse away from the great house.

Consequently, Tom was called up for service and had to decide whether or not to go to war. Sybil rushed to beg him not to leave, affirming to him that her feelings were strong. However, much to Sybil’s relief, Tom – ever steadfast in his political views – decided he didn’t want to fight for the British Army and would conscientiously object. Luckily, he didn’t have to go through with this decision and risk the shame it would bring as a heart murmur meant his call to service was repealed.

Throughout Series Two, Tom and Sybil attempted to figure out their places within society, both as individuals and as a pair. He became increasingly frustrated with the machinations of the aristocracy and at one point almost poured a container of slop over an army General who was attending a dinner at Downton Abbey, only stopping short for Sybil’s sake. His love for her was the only thing keeping him at the great house, prompting him expressly to tell her his feelings again, asking whether or not she loved him in return. Sadly, again she didn’t give him the answer he hoped for and the discussion turned into an argument, culminating in one of Tom’s most memorable lines: “Look, it comes down to whether or not you love me. That’s all. That’s it. The rest is detail.”

Tom told her he would wait forever for her. Fortunately for him, he only had to wait until the war was over before Sybil realised how strongly she felt for him. Her ‘normal’ life as a Lady bored her and she found a sense of true belonging with Tom. The pair promptly decided to run away together to marry, but were stopped in their tracks by Lady Mary and Lady Edith. Tom was now a journalist and Sybil no longer wanted the life of a Lady, so although they decided not to run away, the pair announced their relationship to the Crawley family. As expected, the reaction was not positive and Lord Grantham demanded they break off the relationship. But after waiting so long for Sybil, Tom wasn’t willing to relinquish his love so easily; Sybil’s resolute decision meant that eventually, after an amicable goodbye, the pair departed, to wed in Ireland.

Having already faced a plethora of challenges, Tom faced the most heartbreaking challenge of all during the next Series. At the beginning of Series Three, he and Sybil returned to Downton Abbey for Lady Edith’s wedding, having stayed in Ireland over Christmas. Tom struggled to accept the aristocratic life at the great house and his relationship to his former colleagues downstairs. They in turn struggled to accept his presence as Sybil’s husband and a member of the family, especially since his return was amid a flurry of drama - having been involved in the destruction of property in Ireland, he was wanted by the police.

The Crawleys were horrified to discover that he had left a pregnant Sybil in Ireland while he fled to England. However, she arrived the next day, safe and sound, much to the relief of a worried Tom. Although he was outraged, Lord Grantham agreed to help Tom and all charges were dropped against him, on the condition that he never return to Ireland. This development meant that he and Sybil remained at Downton Abbey throughout her pregnancy and he had to learn to live in an environment in which he felt most out of place.

Having said this, Tom was blissfully happy to be wedded to Sybil, and the couple grew more and more in love. Complications arose, however, when Sybil fell dreadfully ill during and after the birth of their baby. While the whole family was concerned, it was Tom whose entire world revolved around his wife, so when Sybil tragically took her final breath and passed away, she left a distraught husband in total disbelief. Grief engulfed him and he struggled desperately to understand how life could continue without her.

Now Tom had to reimagine his place within the Crawley household. He agreed to be the agent on the Downton Abbey estate, much to Matthew’s joy, but still struggled to understand how he fitted into the structure of the family as a whole. He had to stay strong, though, for the sake of Baby Sybil – whom he had painfully and poignantly named after his beloved wife.

At the beginning of Series 4, we meet Tom in a state of melancholy. Whilst he isn’t as deep in mourning as Lady Mary, he is reminded every day of what he has lost, whenever he looks at his daughter. It remains to be seen whether Branson will be able to reconcile his positions within the Crawley family, as a member of the team in charge of running the estate and as a father, son and brother-in-law. Will his political leanings raise their head and challenge his situation once again?

All about Isobel Crawley…

All about Isobel Crawley…

The journey that Isobel Crawley has taken has not been a simple one since she first arrived at Downton Abbey. A distant relative of the family, she was shocked and somewhat uncomfortable at the idea that her son Matthew was Robert Crawley’s heir and therefore next in line to inherit the Downton Abbey estate.

Matthew was a solicitor and Isobel trained as a nurse, so neither was accustomed to the Crawley family’s more luxurious lifestyle; at first Matthew considered turning down the inheritance. But on learning that the estate and title were automatically conferred, the pair moved to nearby Crawley House and began forming relationships with the family. This, however, was more difficult than Isobel first thought, as was made plain during her first encounter with Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham.

Isobel Crawley: What should we call each other?
Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: Well, we could always start with Mrs. Crawley and Lady Grantham.

The ingrained traditions of Downton Abbey soon began to irk Isobel, whose more pragmatic, forward thinking demeanor propelled her to challenge what she saw as strange and, at times, unfair customs. One such tradition with which she took issue was the yearly tradition of Lady Violet winning the Downton Village flower competition. Having voiced her opinions rather forcefully – Isobel is never one to hold back – Lady Violet was persuaded to be fairer and award the prize to another gardener.

Isobel really found her place, however, once she established an interest in the Downton Cottage Hospital, and her profound knowledge of medicine shone through when she saved the life of a farmer, John Drake, who was dying of Dropsy.

During Series 2, Isobel further exercised her medical expertise and forward-thinking attitude. After the onset of World War I, she persuaded Robert and Cora to turn Downton Abbey into a convalescent home for injured soldiers. Taking up a position of authority for the first time since she arrived at the great house, Isobel came into her own, inspiring Sybil to follow suit and volunteer as a nurse.

However, her new-found authority wasn’t always well-received by members of the Crawley family, and Isobel found herself clashing with Cora on how best to run the home. Things turned from bad to worse, and Isobel eventually left to work in France for the Red Cross, feeling as though her services would be better appreciated overseas.

On returning from France, Isobel was introduced to Matthew’s fiancée, Miss Lavinia Swire. Ever supportive of Matthew, Isobel suggested that their wedding be delayed due to Lavinia falling ill with Spanish Flu. Tragically, soon after, she passed away.

Now very much a part of the Crawley family, alongside other family members Isobel supported Anna Bates during the trial of her husband John. Offering help and advice, her nurturing tendencies were out to good use and much appreciated.

Then came, at last, the engagement of Matthew and Lady Mary. At first, Isobel was unsure of Lady Mary’s feelings, since she hadn’t been entirely certain of how she had felt about Matthew in the past. However, she shortly developed a love for the couple and applauded Matthew’s decision to have Tom Branson as his best man, to the surprise and dismay of Robert.

Forever looking for her next challenge, Isobel began helping poor and destitute women in the village. On finding that one of Downton Abbey’s former housemaids, Ethel Parks, had been reduced to prostitution, she took it upon herself to try and elevate her circumstances, with the help of Mrs Hughes. She took Ethel in as her housemaid and attempted to ease the tense relationship between Ethel and her son Charlie’s adoptive parents.

Relishing the opportunity to help others, Isobel was a rock to many at Downton Abbey, until the tragedy that occurred at the end of Series 3. The death of her son, Matthew, plummeted Isobel into a spiral of grief and reclusion and we meet her at the beginning of Series 4 still suffering from this loss. Unsure of her place within the Crawley family, Isobel’s next challenge is to establish her new identity as a grandmother without a son.

Composing for an ever-changing series.

Guest post by John Lunn, the Emmy Award winning composer of the theme and soundtrack music for Downton Abbey.

When a TV series starts out nobody really has any idea how long it will run for or how it will evolve. With Series 1 of Downton Abbey I think I had the scripts for the first four episodes so I had a rough idea of the developing story lines. In the possibility that it might be successful, Julian Fellowes had written what’s known in the industry as a ‘Bible’ which is basically a sketch of ideas that might be explored were a second or even a third series to be commissioned. So while working on Series 1, we knew that Series 2 would involve the First World War, but that was about it.

Writing music for such a series does require a certain amount of flexibility. Each thematic strand must stand out and be distinctive, but ideally each one must be able to transform itself into another. There are always a few constants - the House, the Crawleys, although even they change, and the Masters and Servants; but the development of the music is about the relationships between people.
Inevitably the title music is associated with the house itself but it didn’t start out that way. In a previous blog, I described how the music was originally composed from the very beginning of the first series - the train, the telegram, the lone man - and how the same music also fitted the subsequent scene where the servants are seen bringing the house to life early in the morning. There’s an underlying harmonic movement and several distinctive themes that I knew would lend themselves to further development. And that proved to be the case - the material is still extremely useful even now after four series, but sometimes I have to admit I’m relying more on instinct than design.

For example the music that became associated with Sybil and Branson actually started out as a theme for her maid, Gwen, who didn’t want to spend her life in servitude and trained herself to become a secretary. Sybil was very sympathetic and decided to help her. The music began to encompass Sybil as well as the concept of emancipation and then finally developed into a love theme between her and Branson. Even now in Series 4, long after the death of Sybil, it is used to conjure up the ghost of her as she continues to haunt Branson.
Likewise, after the death of Matthew, who unfortunately has taken most of my best tunes with him to the grave, I have been able to use distant strands of those melodies to help establish the gradual emerging of Lady Mary from her grief, by allowing them to disappear and finally metamorphose into an entirely new melody unassociated with him.

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Downton Abbey Fabrics: The Dowager Countess

Downton Abbey Fabrics: The Dowager Countess

The Long Road to Downton

Capturing the essence of an era, especially one as grand and rich in tradition as that of Downton Abbey, takes a historic approach, a lot of research and inspiration. Andover Fabrics’ Creative Director Kathy Hall had no small task or journey (literally) ahead of her when she set out to create the first collection of Downton Abbey fabrics. Over the course of the collection’s creation, Kathy would travel from New York to the set of Downton Abbey at Highclere Castle, bringing with her relics of an elegant, adorned past.

Uncovering Beauty

Just as in the Downton manor itself, everything about the fabric collection needed to be just right. Historical accuracy was of utmost importance to the Downton Abbey production team, with whom Kathy worked extensively to procure each individual pattern.
Before Kathy made her trip to London, she therefore exhaustively researched hundreds of historical prints from the early twentieth century. Dresses, accessories, home décor and even wallpapers from the era served to inform what she would eventually bring across the sea as inspiration. When the time finally came to make the trip to meet with the production team on set, there were just over 70 patterns from the era to choose from.

Creating the Characters

After a tour of the Downton set, Kathy sat down with the head costume designer of the show, who selected each individual pattern and coloured them to fit the characters’ styles and personalities.

The Dowager Countess

The Dowager Countess’ prints date back furthest of any of the characters’ designs, from just before the 1910s. Her collection is one of traditional yet timeless beauty and it reflects the values of an older and sometimes often wiser generation. Often dressed extravagantly in crowns, diamonds, and jewellery, The Dowager needed to be represented similarly in fabric.

The Dowager’s Damask

The Dowager’s Damask is drawn from the woven patterns and embroidery from The Dowager Countess’ apparel. Big and bold prints were a must in order to match The Dowager’s immeasurable personality and attitude.

The Dowager’s Lace

The Dowager is also quite partial to dressing in floral and lace. This paisley print, The Dowager’s Lace, was inspired by embellishments on The Dowager’s clothing and hats.

Just as the Dowager dresses in black and purple throughout the show, the fabrics in her collection are similarly coloured. As Kathy explained to us, “Violet was in mourning after the death of her husband. Black was worn for a year of mourning, and after that purple was worn for half mourning. For this reason, these colours were chosen for all of her prints.”

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It’s all about Lady Edith Crawley…

Lady Edith, played by Laura Carmichael, has had her ups and downs throughout the three series of Downton Abbey.

We first meet her as the middle Crawley sister at Downton Abbey. Not as confident as younger sister Sybil and with tensions building between herself and Mary, she is unsure of her place at the great house and wishes most intently to find love.

She quickly learns, however, that the course of true love never runs smooth. “In the beginning Edith… didn’t see that she wasn’t going to bag Matthew Crawley, that of course he would have ended up with Mary,” says Laura Carmichael of her character. Edith attempts to win Matthew’s heart, but painfully must recognise that he only has eyes for her sister Mary. But her youthful naivety in matters of the heart means she continues to vie for Matthew’s attention, especially since Mary seems to have no interest in him.

Bickering then ensues between the sisters, as Mary becomes aware of Edith’s fondness for Matthew; and choosing to embarrass her younger sister in front of a potential suitor, Sir Anthony Strallan, Lady Mary escalates the tension to breaking point.

We now see a darker side to Edith’s character, as hurt and embarrassment fuel her revenge. She decides to write to the Turkish Ambassador, disclosing that Mr Pamuk – a wealthy Turkish diplomat – has died in Mary’s bed. Prompting an abundance of rumours that spread like wildfire through the upper echelons of English society, it is a scandalous act indeed; and one that causes Lady Mary to take revenge in the most hurtful of ways.

On finding out that the rumours of herself and Mr Pamuk were instigated by Edith’s letter, Mary destroys Edith’s chances of an engagement with Sir Anthony Strallan. Confused and upset by Sir Anthony’s sudden change of heart, Edith sees the error of her ways most poignantly, and her fragile, vulnerable side re-emerges.

It is during Series 2, however, that Edith truly grows and evolves, as the war puts their sisterly arguments into perspective. Carmichael says, “In the war she evolved and realised that she could go out and make something for herself.” Indeed she does. Edith learns to drive a tractor, almost succumbs to a kiss from the married farmer Mr Drake, and begins to enjoy her newfound independence.

Lady Edith truly develops into a confident, compassionate young woman while working as a volunteer at Downton Abbey, when it is a convalescence home during the war. Her trusting nature is shown most poignantly when an injured soldier, claiming to be her deceased cousin Patrick Crawley, arrives to be treated at the house. Most of the other members of the family are critical and cynical of him, but Edith listens and empathises with his plight.

Her most dramatic series to date, however, is series three, which brings with it a combination of extreme highs and lows. After their initial setback, Sir Anthony Strallan and Edith’s relationship blossoms, and despite Lord Grantham’s reservations about the age difference, Edith is smitten. Strallan, however, starts pulling away from her, feeling he is too old and that she needs a younger man in her life. She doesn’t accept a word of it, though, and the couple become engaged.

After Mary and Matthew’s marriage, Edith is dreaming of her own special day and it arrives in a flurry of excitement. It swiftly turns sour, though, when Anthony Strallan halts the ceremony to announce that he cannot go through with the marriage. Distraught and highly humiliated, Edith returns to the house and mourns the loss of her relationship. She is vulnerable and alone - we truly feel for her.

While it is undoubtedly a low point for Edith, it also marks a turning point for character. Having written a letter to The Sketch magazine, Edith is offered the job as a columnist. It is a positive endeavour for Edith in more ways than one, as the Editor of the magazine soon expresses his affection for her. At first Edith is shocked, but she soon returns his affection and the couple begin to see more of each other, their fondness growing with every meeting.

As is always the case with Edith’s romances, her relationship with Gregson doesn’t come without complications - he is already married. However, his wife is mentally ill and in an asylum, and he is attempting to divorce her in order to release himself from the shackles of an unhappy marriage.

Carmichael says of Edith’s latest romantic interest: “The relationship with Michael Gregson comes out of a passion for writing and for work and being good at something – really good at something – that is artistic and sexy and glamorous. We’ll see how that still manages to get her into trouble, but at least she’s embraced all of that change and really really grown up.”

At the beginning of the fourth series, Edith has become quite the city girl due to her frequent visits to London. Gregson is certainly quite the bohemian and he opens Edith’s eyes to all that London has to offer.

Carmichael resonates with Edith’s wide-eyed excitement: “I get the same excitement as Edith would have from having the chance to see things a little differently. Even the smallest things, like I didn’t wear gloves in a scene we were editing. It sounds like nothing but that was just really thrilling because we never do that at Highclere. Suddenly you feel slightly more on show.”

This bohemian, fashion-forward Lady Edith is quite a different woman to the youthful, naïve girl we met in Series one; and with the whole of London ready and waiting for her to explore, Series four looks set to be her most transformative yet.