After years of relentlessly mocking the looniness of Downton Abbey while never missing an episode of the series, there was no way that I could pass up a chance to spend an afternoon at “Downton Abbey: The Touring Exhibition” while I was in New York.
It was a treat.
Throughout the New York show, you’re greeted by some of the principal Downton actors, in costume and in character, via HD video. The exhibition covers three floors and contains hundreds—or, more likely, thousands—of props, costumes, and furnishings from the TV series. Snippets of dialog from the series play at related parts of the exhibition. The use of technology to enrich the experience is flawless.
The first floor of the exhibition focuses on the servants and the “Downstairs” portion of the house, starting with the kitchen.
The informative signage that explained the roles and duties of the various members of the household was particularly good.
The servants’ dining table.
Mr. Carson and Mrs Hughes in Mr. Carson’s Office.
Mr. Carson’s Desk shows an attention to detail that’s typical of the exhibition.
If you looked closely at the pictures, you might have noticed something peculiar about the representation of the servants. I think that it must allude to a particularly dark episode in the Crowley family history. During the 1926 General Strike, Lady Violet was left in charge of the Abbey while the Crowley men went off to shoot some random strikers. As the hours wore on and her consumption of sherry grew apace, she became increasingly unhinged, until, fearing a violent revolution was about to bring down the Abbey and all it symbolized, she had the entire Downton underclass decapitated and stuffed.
The next morning, in the cold light of day—cold, because she’d offed the servant responsible for seeing that the rooms were warmed before the family awoke—she expressed extreme regret for her impetuous actions, once she realized there was no one left to prepare her morning tea.
Churchill helped the family cover up the incident, and the TV series tactfully ignored it.
Leaving behind the Morlocks who labour below the earth, we ascend to the golden, carefree world of the Eloi….
Oh, wait. Wrong story,
The second floor is all about The Family and everything here—the clothes, the furniture, the people—is brighter, richer, and more colourful.
The Dining Room was a show-stopper.
Lady Violet has a little display area entirely to herself, where the audio features some of her better-known witticisms, including the one that has always seemed to me to be an excellent example of the series getting things hopelessly, unforgivably wrong.
Viewing a well-set dining table like the one in the picture above, she says, “Nothing succeeds like excess”, at which point I’ve been known to shout “No. No. No!” at the TV screen. A tacky sentiment like that would never come from Old Money. It’s something a Trump would say.
The third floor has a small display of miscellaneous costumes. After the richness of the rest of the show, it’s a bit anticlimactic.
So that was my afternoon at Downton. The show is beautifully put together, and I had a delightful time.