I’m just back from a recent trip to England … at least it felt like that’s where I was.
In reality, I toured “Downton Abbey: The Exhibition” in Manhattan and was transported into the world of the wildly popular British television show. Over six seasons, the period drama created by Julian Fellowes traced the saga of the fictional Crawley family from 1912 to 1926, captivating viewers around the world.
The exhibition is an incredible, immersive experience designed to delight the show’s fans at every turn – and it certainly did just that. The North American premiere engagement was originally announced to conclude Jan. 31, but tickets are now being sold through April 2 to meet what the organizers say is an “unprecedented demand.”
I went with a friend who’s paid numerous visits to not only Highclere Castle – the Hampshire country house where much of the series was filmed – but other sites and attractions associated with “Downton Abbey” and other British shows as part of the Sterling Silver Tours team.
Advance materials told us to expect to spend an hour to 90 minutes touring the three floors of the exhibition; we were surprised to realize we had spent a solid three hours on site.
We delighted in the countless galleries and the costumes, the video portions and the interactive elements. It was the chance to relive key moments, remember favorite storylines and savor so many aspects of the show that concluded its PBS run in March of 2016.
In a promotional video showing cast members on site in New York, Michelle Dockery (“Lady Mary”) notes, “It took my breath away when I walked in” to the costume gallery.
Indeed, we delighted in the dazzling period jewelry and clothing – especially Lady Sybil’s daring harem-pants outfit – as well as the trove of supplemental materials that added more background and historical context to the show’s timeframe. It was also a bit of a surprise – and compliment to the precise execution – to truly feel as if you were looking into the actual rooms, from Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen, where steam rose from the pots, to Lady Mary’s bedroom, site of so many pivotal scenes, to the Crawley dining room, its table elaborately set for another memorable gathering.
It was also no surprise that a vignette devoted to Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess (the sharp-tongued matriarch portrayed by Dame Maggie Smith) drew not only a crowd but repeated laughs as scenes featuring some of her most barbed comments were played.
We’d have to agree with Allen Leech (“Tom Branson”), who commented in the promotional video that, “What I had expected has been surpassed, 100 times over.”
“Downton Abbey: The Experience” continues through April 2 at 218 W. 57th St.
In related news, Tarrytown-based catering company Abigail Kirsch, subject of a 2012 WAG profile, continues its association with the exhibition. Tickets are now also on sale for additional dates of “The Downton Abbey Soirees.” These elegant evenings, set for Jan. 12 and 26, include additional features led by Edwardian-inspired food and drink from Abigail Kirsch.
– Mary Shustack