Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey by Emma Rowley

If you snagged a copy of Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey by Emma Rowley before the broadcast of season four, did you foresee any storyline developments? Did you guess who the men in tuxes following the Earl of Grantham on page 32 could be? One of them is later shown dancing with Lady Mary on page 175. Did you imagine what would develop between publisher Michael Gregson and Lady Edith shown together on pages 106 and 107? Did you notice the tense conversation between Mr. Bates and Anna being filmed on the lawn on page 36? Did you laugh when you saw Daisy with the electric mixer on page 136?

It is, of course, much easier to know the stories behind these pictures now that season four is run. Teasing the faithful viewers was not really the intention of Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey. The book does not spoil any surprises for those yet to see the episodes. Instead, it is a lavish documentary of the making the series, all four seasons. Author Emma Rowley and photographer Nick Briggs recount how the series was cast and story lines developed and, more than anything else, how much effort is made to design authentic looking sets and clothing.

I was struck by the wisdom of what producer Julian Fellows says on page 122 about props. He states that a house in 1922 would not have all new 1922 things. Being authentic is not being cutting-edge up-to-date.

I also liked the photos and captions of the kitchen on pages 130 and 131. The author explains that kitchen scenes might be shot one week and the dining room scenes weeks later, but the roasts and pastries have to look exactly the same for continuity. Likewise, if in a scene an actor eats some of the food on his plate and the scene is retaken, he has to eat the same amount, sometimes again and again. A lot of food is cooked and never eaten, which is understandable as it is prepared more for appearance than taste.

I also learned that black ties were more casual than white ties in the 1920s and that it was improper for an unmarried woman to wear a tiara.

Knowing what I have learned from Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey, I now wish to see season four again. Maybe I'll try to notice hair styles, clothes, music, and how much food is on the plates.

Rowley, Emma. Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey. Harper Collins, 2013. 286p. ISBN 9781250047908.

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