If You Like Downton Abbey…
Highclere Castle, where the show is filmed
Downton Abbey Genealogy: Memoir + Movie
Below Stairs is the memoir that started it all, written in 1968 by actual kitchen maid Margaret Powell who toiled in an English estate in the 1920s. This book was the inspiration for the 1970s television serial Upstairs, Downstairs and its 2010 reboot, which has subsequently ceased production. But for Fellowes, his lifelong interest and exposure to England’s upper crusts inspired his screenplay for Robert Altman’s 2001 film Gosford Park, which netted him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Like Downton Abbey, the film is set in a stately country manse with aristocrats and the help getting up to no good (think murder and mayhem). Also starring Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren and enough English acting luminaries to give the Harry Potter franchise a run for the money. His screenplays for Vanity Fair and The Young Victoria also kept him abreast of all things aristocratic.
Call Him Lord
And not just on set of Downton. Perhaps it was all those years of research and society mingling – on Jan. 12, 2011, Fellowes was elevated to the Peerage as Baron Fellowes of West Stafford. He is a member of the House of Lords and sits on the Conservative bench. His title is a mouthful: the Right Honourable the Lord Fellowes of West Stafford.
And we’re not just talking about Shirley MacLaine’s much ballyhooed appearance during season 3. No, we mean Fellowes’ latest creative venture – The Gilded Age. This American period drama is set among New York’s finest and wealthiest during the late 19th-century (Edith Wharton fans should also tune in). While only at the pilot stage for NBC at this time, we have high hopes for a similar soapy romp in the colonies.
It’s a grand time to be in England if you’re over 60, a man and a television writer. The unprecedented success of the Emmy Award-winning Downton Abbey was sure to spawn other period piece miniseries and, with the 63-year-old Fellowes at the helm, it paved the way for other men of letters and longevity to take the reins.
Create Your Very Own Downton Abbey Library
You may not have a lab named Isis at your feet or a butler named Carson to bring you a snifter of brandy but you can settle into your wingback chair and peruse this collection of books fit for the most ardent Downton fan.
• Snobs Julian Fellowes’ best-selling novel set in modern England.
• The World of Downton Abbey and its follow-up, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era by Jessica Fellowes (Julian’s niece) promises the secret history and behind-the-scenes drama of the series.
• Beyond Downton Abbey: A Guide to 25 Great Houses is a guidebook to the grandest houses, castles and palaces in England and Wales.
• The Real Life Downton Abbey: How Life Was Really Lived in Stately Homes a Century Ago is a reference book that examines the morals, etiquette and style of the Edwardian period, using the TV show to reel you in.
• Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle is the tale of the stately pile where the show is filmed. Written by current resident, the Countess of Carnarvon.