The World of Downton Abbey
The World of Downton Abbey: Bringing Downton Abbey to War
In rich detail, The World of Downton Abbey provides historical context for World War I. Author Jessica Fellowes goes behind the scenes to reveal how the actors, producers and crew brought the war and its repercussions to vivid, sometimes devastating, life.
In the Trenches Dan Stevens (Matthew) says, "The war scenes were very exciting to film. There was a network of trenches and it was amazingly authentic and incredibly muddy. It really gave you a sense of the environment — going over the top, guns firing, bombs exploding, men shouting and all the while the cameras are rolling. The adrenaline really went — it wasn't so much the noise of the bombs as that you could feel it in your chest. And then you would look up at the end of the take to see the crew completely covered in ash."
In the Trenches Makeup designer Anne "Nosh" Oldham describes the process for getting the right look on the front. For poison gas wounds, "[T]he skin blisters are surprisingly easy to do. You apply silicone with a gun, then mold it into shape before putting a thin wash of color over it, a little red." For the bloody stumps of limbs wounded in battle, Nosh says, "We got the best effect with apples, using mushrooms for the exposed bone. Soft dried fruit was the best for the layer of fat around the 'bone' and it soaked up the blood beautifully. We held it all together with gelatin and stuck it on a popsock so the men didn't have to have it on all day but could just put it on when needed."
In the Trenches Amidst the hard work, there was some levity. Series producer Liz Trubridge recounts, "When filming in the trenches, Julian Fellowes was walking through the set between takes when he suddenly fell down flat in the mud. He was a very good sport about it — after using the cameraman's cleaning cloths to wipe off his face."
At Downton Abbey "[Historical advisor] Alastair Bruce experienced a similar situation when he returned home from fighting in the Falklands War in 1982, which meant he was well able to brief the cast on how their characters would be feeling... To help the cast better understand the atmosphere in which their characters would have lived, Alastair took to one side the male actors whose characters go to war, to discuss what their experiences would have been like. The men were then forbidden from discussing the details with the female actors, which helped to recreate the wall of secrecy that would have existed between their characters."
At Downton Abbey Jessica Brown-Findlay describes her relationship to her character: "The thing that shocked and attracted me to Sybil was that she's not like your usual period drama romantic figure and I relate to her a little bit. When I was at school all the other girls would talk about boyfriends and tra-la-la, but I wanted to get on and do something. Sybil struck a chord with me. She was saying — I need to do something, but what? She feels the unjustness — her generation is being wiped out. In the first series she knows she wants to do something, in the second series she finds her purpose."
At Downton Abbey Julian Fellowes on the outbreak of war: "The last scene of the first series, in which Robert announces that war has begun, is taken from an episode in my own father's life. When he was just over two years old there was a great garden party...and my father can remember this one moment when a man came out onto the terrace and said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you we are at war with Germany." I said to him afterwards, why do you think you remembered it? It was his first memory, you see. And he said that he could only suppose that the atmosphere changed in such an extraordinary way that even a baby would feel it."