Review By Connie Ogle
The wise Lord Grantham suggests that we all have "chapters we would rather keep unpublished." So true. But what we're happy to see published is The World of Downton Abbey, a fascinating companion to the hit PBS series about an aristocratic family and its army of servants.
The British series' second season premiered on PBS recently, luring 4.2 million viewers (more than double the average for PBS), and many of these viewers will want this book if only to while away the time between episodes.
Written by Jessica Fellowes (the niece of series creator Julian Fellowes, who wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park and the foreword to this book), The World of Downton Abbey goes behind the scenes of the show and of real life in a great house at the beginning of the 20th century. That means you can read the actors' thoughts on their roles (eldest daughter Mary "feels she should have been a boy and then everything would have been so much easier," says Michelle Dockery) and learn about the real-life American heiress who inspired Lady Cora (played by Elizabeth McGovern).
There are other great tidbits here, on fashion, etiquette, war and social history. The bells that ring when a member of the family wants a servant may seem a terrible imposition, but creator Fellowes assures us that "they were hailed as an absolute liberation." Before, footmen had to carry messages all over the house; with the advent of the bells, everyone knew who was needed immediately and where they had to go.
Other good stuff: Cook Mrs. Patmore (Leslie Nicole) wears a corset; Allen Leech, who plays the chauffeur Branson, struggles with the 1920 Renault's clutch; dining scenes can take 10 hours to film; the upstairs portion of the show is filmed at Highclere Castle, downstairs scenes on a boisterous London set.
"I think we probably drove the directors mad because we're all so noisy," says Siobhan Finneran, who plays the evil ladies' maid O'Brien.
The World of Downton Abbey won't tell you if Mary finally accepts Matthew Crawley or if valet Mr. Bates and sweet housemaid Anna get married. But we can tell you this: If you're a fan, buy this book.
The World of Downton Abbey
By Jessica Fellowes
St. Martin's, 304 pages, $29.99