What is not real in ‘Downton Abbey’: the non-existent relations with the service and the importance of the social hierarchy


The second film in the ITV series that wowed audiences for six seasons has just hit cinemas.

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For Julian Fellowes, the creator of downton abbey, it was “very important” that his series, which ran for six seasons to great acclaim on Britain’s ITV, be as historically accurate as possible. This was stated in an interview in abcnews years ago, when the series was still on the air and was a real hit all over the world. According to the screenwriter, winner of the Oscar for Gosford Parkhis wish is that anyone, regardless of their knowledge of history, could feel that something real was taking shape in it: “That you might think: ‘I believe it, I understand how it works’ even if you don’t know anything about that period” .

And the truth is that he succeeded. Throughout its six seasons and the two films released in theaters, downton abbey has told the story of the Crawleys, an English aristocratic family, and their servants against a backdrop full of real historical events between 1912, the date the Titanic sank, and 1928, the year in which the second film takes place Downton Abbey: A New Age.

During all this time, specific places and some personalities have also been part of the real story, but not everything is 100% real or accurate in describing how an aristocratic home like Downton works. We find several examples that life inside those mansions of the time and the relationships between the aristocracy and their servants were not always as reflected in the series, in fact, in the book Never in front of the servants, by Frank Victor Dawes, which has just been published for the first time in Spanish by the PerifĂ©rico publishing house. In it, the testimonies of hundreds of servants dismantle the idealized vision of those dynamics. What else wasn’t real in famous British historical fiction?


The real story behind ‘Downton Abbey’: a tour of the events that accompany the masterful series

The real Crawley family

In the Fellowes series, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery and Elizabeth McGovern, among others, play the leading family, the Crawleys, who They are a fictional family. Like the plots of each of the characters that make it up and their respective relationships with each other and with the service.

However, it is interesting to mention that, according to the interesting article by History Extra used as a source for the writing of this text, lThe Crawleys are based on the Earls and Countesses of Carnarvon., still residing in the Highclere Castle used for the filming of the series. This castle is located in Hampshire, although Downton Abbey locates it in Yorkshire, where the family resides. In the books of the current Countess of Carnarvon, Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey Y Lady Catherine and the real Downton Abbeydescribes how Almina Herbert, the illegitimate daughter of Baron Rothschild, and an American named Catherine Wendell married two Earls of Carnarvon in succession, bringing new wealth and prospects to the estate.

Lady Almina transformed Highclere into a hospital for the wounded in the First World War, while Lady Catherine welcomed the visit of various royals, both events introduced in the British series or in its successive films. Although both women were born out of the British aristocracy, their relationships with their servants remained hierarchical.

The true relationship between aristocratic families and their servants


if you have seen downton abbey you know what the personal lives of the Crawley family and their servants are intertwined from the beginning of the series. Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham, hires John Bates (Brendan Coyle), as his valet and, although other members of the clan and even the service itself question him, a relationship of trust is created between the two. Likewise, Cora Crawley, Lady Grantham, and her daughters, Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil, also establish their own bonds with other servants over the course of the series. In fact, Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) herself was marrying the chauffeur, Tom Branson.

This interaction, so usual and almost natural in the series, however, simply did not happen.

Although downton abbey devotes most of its plots to establishing a relationship of interdependence between the aristocratic family and the servants, lMemories shared by people who worked as servants at that time suggest that these noble clans rarely took an interest in the lives and opinions of the people who worked for them. It is possible that friendships or even romantic relationships arose between the different social classes, but, as they maintain in History Extrathe usual thing was that among them there was a strict social hierarchy in which the servants were expected to always know their place.

The role of service during gala dinners

Black-tie dinners are a recognizable element in downton abbey and it is precisely in them that the close relationship between the Crawleys and their servants is evident. Dressed in their best clothes and before the most delicious dishes, the main clan sits various guests at their table, who are attended by the servants while listening to all kinds of conversations.

However, in real life, far from being the trigger for the servants to have their own debates -and of course to even dream of being part of the conversation-, this type of dinners and similar celebrations were the maximum expression of the existing inequality between both social classes.

The lively conversations between the servants shown in the series were not even common in real life., according to the experiences of people who worked in large mansions at that time that have been collected by historians. In fact, far from the usual support of the Crawleys to theirs, the families were usually not satisfied with the emergence of romantic relationships between the people who worked for them.

In short, historians who have analyzed the relationship between classes shown in downton abbey have concluded that the plots are not so aligned with historical reality as with the series’ own goal of connecting with the audience. Something that Fellowes and his team undoubtedly achieved.

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