Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is finally here in the United States, starting with a limited engagement in New York City. With rumors of a movie still circling, Downton Abbey fever is coming back to the United States this winter. Starting with what the producers are calling "a limited engagement" in New York City, the Exhibition opened on Saturday, November 18th, 2017, and will run daily, 10am – 8pm.
Sarah Cooper, the NBC executive who worked on bringing this project to life, spoke at the High Tea at New York City's Plaza Hotel ahead of the opening. For her, it was a rewarding experience it was to take this television show and turn it into an interactive museum piece.
"It's interesting. You take something as successful as the show, you sort of put it all back in the bottle. You shake it up and then you... you know, pour it back out in a completely different medium. Making it feel like a story and like it has a beginning and middle and end and imagining it in a completely different way is such a conjuring trick. And we were very keen to use modern technology... cutting edge technology to make it happen."
Visiting the Exhibition is something else quite entirely. One part museum installation, one part interactive experience with CGI (14 video sequences were filmed for the exhibition specifically), and sometimes feeling a little like a walking theme park ride through the estate, this very modern way to experience the world of Downton is definitely worth the trip.
The exhibits were created over a series of months overseas and first debuted in Shanghai last spring. Bringing it to New York actually only came together in the last two months, when the producing was lucky enough to find a turn of the century era space that happened to be devoid of tenants at the time. (The building the exhibition is housed in was built in 1897.) Comprising three full floors of the space, and eight "themed zones," the experience covers the world below stairs, before taking one round to the world of above stairs.
Walking in, the first thing that hits you is the music, the theme song to Downton (which is called "Did I Make the Most of Loving You?") Some of the highlights from the series play in the lobby, while fans have a chance to step up to the green screen photo opportunity, and be made part of the world of Downton.
The first floor is the world of downstairs, complete with the staircase from the upper floors, Carson's pantry, and Mrs. Patmore's kitchen, lovingly recreated, and filled with all the props from the original series.
The second floor recreates the Upstairs world of Downton. Not only are the rooms you would expect to be there represented, including the dining room and Lady Mary's bedchamber, but this is also where most of the CGI portions of the exhibit are housed, including a room dedicated to the changing world of the series.
There is also a display dedicated to Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, before passing through to historical exhibits based on the lives and times of our characters and their experiences.
Have we talked costumes? Let's talk costumes. There are 56 outfits from the run of the show on display here, dotted across all three floors.
The first two floors have the costumes appropriate to downstairs and upstairs. But it's when you get to the third floor that the exhibit really knocks your socks off. The top floor is dedicated to nothing but the clothes worn on the series, including 26 hats, every wedding gown worn (including Mrs. Hughes!), all the gloves, and jewelry, accessories, and, of course, Rose's Royal Court Presentation Dress.
As for where the Downton Exhibition will be heading after New York City, Cooper admitted they weren't sure yet, but that the US fandom was such that it would most likely be traveling through the US for at least a few more stops.
Some of the actors from the series were also in attendance. Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates) admitted she wasn't sure if she would be excited to see the Exhibition, but after walking in and seeing everything "exactly as it was," she was overcome. Also on hand was Allen Leech (Tom Branson), who reminisced about how the sets in Highclere Castle were so disconnected from the soundstage sets below stairs (now on display) that there were sometimes minor continuity issues when a character walked through a door. Sophie McShera (Daisy) and Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) were also present, admitting that after years of working together, they like to travel as a set to Downton-related events when they can.
Executive producer Gareth Neame said they rounded up as much as they could from the original sets and props to create the exhibition, including costumes, hats, and other props like the 12 full place settings from the main dining hall (with 48 wine glasses) and everything seen in Mrs. Patmore's kitchen, all of which are displayed throughout the three-floor experience.
As for a movie, don't worry fans, that's still something that they're working toward. Neame says it's still a definite possibility. As he put it: "There's a will to get it done." It's just a matter of getting the actors rounded up, and schedules in place, so fans should not give up hope anytime soon. (He did agree though it was just a little bit like herding cats.)
Until then, Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is on in New York City for the next few weeks. Tickets are on sale now.