Book review: 'Chronicles of Downton' a treasure trove of popular PBS series

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6 2013 3:00 p.m. MST

"THE CHRONICLES OF DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era," by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis, St. Martin's Press, $29.99, 322 pages (nf)

Filming at Highclere is a challenge for cast and crew members because they are surrounded by antiques and artworks. The dining table is so valuable that tablecloths continued to be used, although historically they were out of style.

Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, is patterned after Julian Fellowes' own great aunt, Isie Stephenson, “in whom there was a mix of severity and a kind heart.”

A Humber Roadster, purchased by Matthew Crawley Esq., was a typical motorcar of the period, when motoring was considered a smart, even aristocratic, pastime.

If you’re amongst the 17 million Americans who watched the first two seasons (or “series” in Brit-speak) of Downton Abbey, the PBS import from across the Pond, “The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era” is a treasure trove.

But even for those not fascinated by the entanglements of the Crawley family and their motley crew of devoted servants, the book will still be worth a look-see for its detailed view of the British era between 1912 and 1920.

“The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era” carefully reviews each character’s motivations and actions, along with the inspirations behind them, and the actors’ views on the roles they play. It’s a wholly unique combination of the story behind “Downton Abbey” and behind-the-scenes details, whilst examining the time period in which it is set. The book includes on-set photos and shots from filming. Like the show, the language is clean and there isn’t anything offensive in the book.

Written by Jessica Fellowes, a niece of the “Downton Abbey” creator, writer and executive producer, this new book follows her previous book on the series “The World of Downton Abbey.”

“Absolutely amazed” was the reaction after Fellowes' first "Downton Abbey" book propelled her name at the top of the U.K. Sunday Times' best-seller list, which is framed and hanging in her loo. Yet “World of Downton” was not Fellowes’ first success, having also penned “Is There a Psycho in Your Life?” and “Mud and the City: Dos and Don’ts for Townies in the Country.”

Fellowes collaborated with Matthew Sturgis, a historical biographer and art critic, who assisted with the impeccable research.

“The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era” both promises and delivers small teases to the new episodes without any real spoilers to the anticipated colorful drama. There are two portraits of the bride and groom, with actress Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary looking stunning. (And let’s face it: Dan Stevens, the actor playing Matthew Crawley, is a dashingly handsome chap.)

Just remember that while surrounded by so much Britannia if when speaking you’re prompted to sound well, more posh, don’t say “cheers” with too much enthusiasm. Unlike with Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins,” the expression must be delivered laconically.

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