For Anglophiles and fans of the PBS series Downton Abbey, wait no longer – the characters, the costumes, the Old World glamour and melodrama are arriving in South Florida in time for season.
Just off a successful New York City run, NBCUniversal International Studios, along with Imagine Exhibitions, is bringing Downton Abbey: The Exhibition to CityPlace in West Palm Beach, opening Saturday, Nov. 10, and running through April.
Included in the interactive exhibition are never-before-seen elements and exclusive footage, more than 60 original costumes (including six wedding dresses, worn by sisters Mary and Edith), hunting garments, day and evening wear, hats, period jewelry, the original furniture, flatware, dishes, etc., from the series, and a complete recreation of the servant’s quarters below and the household above.
“This iteration is even bigger and better than the New York tour,” says Tom Zaller, CEO of Imagine Exhibitions, who was on site putting the finishing touches on the interactive exhibit in mid-October.
Although he declined to give the actual number of attendees for the New York tour, he did say it was an “overwhelming success.”
“This is an opportunity for fans to take a walk down memory lane,” says Zaller, who admits he watched the show and was on board immediately after learning of the prospect of creating a traveling exhibit, something he has done for other large shows.
“The fans want more. After six seasons, the viewers are attached to this family and their lives. They’re invested,” he says. “Having it come to an end, leaves them wanting more, more, more and we’re giving them more, more, more.”
By mid-October, the exhibit was 95 percent up and running, lacking only the gift shop, which Zaller promises will be fully stocked by opening night.
The historical drama, created by Carnival Films and PBS and set between 1912-26 during the reign of King George V, ran six seasons on Masterpiece on PBS from 2010-15, and occupied many a Sunday night. Written and created by Julian Fellowes, the show reached more than 26 million viewers in its final season in the U.S. With 15 wins and 69 nominations, it is the most nominated non-U.S. show in the history of the Emmy Awards. A followup movie is currently in production and being readied for a September 2019 release.
Zaller stresses the positive working relationship between Imagine and NBCUniversal, which made it possible to have the actors reprise their roles to create hologram introductions for the exhibit and for Fellowes to write the introduction.
With a combination of CGI and actual footage from the shows, Mr. Carson (the butler) and Mrs. Hughes (the housekeeper) extend their warm wishes to the visitors, and Lord and Lady Grantham welcome you to their manor: “We will teach you a thing or two about romance and laughter,” they say.
The storyline hinged on real-life events. The Crawleys/Granthams live through the sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of World War I and the impact it had on their privileged lives, the advent of technology and voting rights for women, the beginning acceptance of homosexuality, the tension between new money and old, the changing roles of the aristocracy and a vanishing way of life.
The series provided a glimpse into the manners, mores and affectations of the upper crust of English society, an escape fantasy for American viewers.
The Crawley lineage, representing the family’s long history and traditions, and the triumphs and tribulations of its extended relations are all intriguing elements to egalitarian American audiences. Whether it would have been a smash in the U.S., without the English accents and pretensions of the British upper class with its class distinctions, rituals and formalities, is speculative.
Be that as it might, visitors can wander by Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen (just as she left it in the last episode) with its elongated butcher block table, the iconic copper kettle featured in the opening credits, the sounds of a bustling kitchen and the scent of baked goods wafting into the air.
The exhibit is fanatically detailed; visitors can stop and read for themselves the letter Lord Grantham received about his nephew’s fateful crossing on the Titanic. One of Zaller’s favorite pieces of memorabilia is Lady Mary Crawley’s vintage metallic lace, sea foam satin gown with deco-rose motif and a cascading hemline.
The family dining room is as ornate and lavish as you remember and the servant’s quarters feature the original bell board, from which the lord and lady summoned their help. Lady Mary’s bedroom – the site of many memorable scenes – (including the seduction scene with Kemal Pamuk) is as it was – replete with Persian carpet, sleigh bed, and the wooden vanity where Anna Bates, her lady’s maid, curled her hair and shared her confidences.
In addition to the re-created rooms and vignettes, there are interactive panels where you can take a quiz to see if you’d qualify for a position at Downton Abbey, listen to the Dowager Countess on a candlestick telephone, discover personal trinkets in drawers or pick up a handset to learn more about the history of the era.
“Thanks to the support from NBCUniversal, we are able to bring a unique execution and an extraordinary experience of Downton Abbey to its fans,” says Zaller. “We hope fans will laugh and cry, reconnect and reminisce and get a piece of their favorite show back.”
Downton Abbey: The Exhibition will be located at CityPlace, 575 S. Rosemary Ave. (corner of Rosemary and Hibiscus). It will open daily between 10 a.m.-7 p.m., including Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Tickets are $35 and children under 14 are free. VIP packages and private hire options are also available. For more information on the exhibition, please visit downtonexhibition.com.