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Behind the scenes at ‘Downton Abbey’ west, a.k.a. Ealing Studios

August 29, 2014

As members of Downton Abbey-Nation begin to make preparations for the start of series five (September in the UK, January 2015 in the States), there are those few that may not be aware that not all of what you see on the telly is actually filmed at Highclere Castle. For those that don’t necessarily want to know ‘how the sausage is made’ for fear of ruining the magic that is telly, do not click play on the video below. Ealing Studios, the television and film production company and facilities provider which is located approximately 60 miles from Highclere at Ealing Green in West London has been in the film and telly business since 1902, making it the oldest continuously working studio facility for film production in the world.

Much of Downton Abbey‘s downstairs sets are built, filmed and housed at the Ealing soundstages including the servants’ quarters and attic bedrooms scenes which are shown on stages 3A and 3B. Here’s quick look at how the kitchen set is constructed…

Probably the best take on the distance between Highclere Castle and Ealing Studios and the continuity issues this causes comes from the brilliant minds of Red Nose Day that stars Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Harry Enfield and Victoria Wood.

So, whether you watch in September or January think about how difficult it is for poor Thomas who might be filmed leaving the kitchen with a plate of food for upstairs and would then appear two weeks later in the dining room.

A ‘League of Gentlemen’ 20th reunion in the making?

August 28, 2014

There is no explanation that would do justice to The League of Gentlemen, which was made up from the combined twisted mind palaces of Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Jeremy Dyson and Reece Shearsmith. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 20 years since we have visited the home of Edward and Tubbs Tattsyrup in the sleepy little town of Royston Vasey, the setting for the brilliant but darkest of dark comedies, The League of Gentlemen. That said, it’s probably a good thing that Papa Lazarou has not crossed our paths for that length of time.

While portions of the group have found ways to collaborate over the years beginning with Shearsmith and Pemberton’s brilliant Psychoville series (who needs Krusty the Klown when you have Mr. Jelly) and their recent collaboration of the anthology series Inside No.9 and then Shearsmith, Pemberton and Mark Gatiss appearing in the children’s sketch comedy show Horrible Histories, this would be the first attempt to ‘get the band back together’ given the extremely busy schedules of the three above plus off-screen writing partner Jeremy Dyson.

Speaking with the Radio Times, Shearsmith wasn’t promising a return to Royston Vasey but did say that a creative collaboration is in the works so one can always hold out hope for maybe a short detour to Ravenhill Hospital?

Alastair Bruce in ‘The Manners of Downton Abbey’ on PBS

August 27, 2014

When one thinks of Downton Abbey, the names of Julian Fellowes, Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery immediately come to mind. Right up there are the likes of Laura Carmichael, Allen Leech, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle and Jim Carter. Probably the one with the least visibility who should get much of the credit for making Downton Abbey as it appears on your home telly is the series historical adviser, Alastair Bruce.

Alastair Bruce on the set of Downton AbbeyWhile you may not be familiar with the name Alastair Bruce, you see his work every moment that Downton is on the air and, sometimes, you even see him as a ‘supporting artist’. In the first series, in 2010, Bruce played a butler for the Dower House, where Dame Maggie Smith lives as the Dowager Countess of Grantham. In the second series, Bruce was in the car beside the General visiting Downton Abbey during the First World War and then returned as a guest for the Downton shoot in that year’s Christmas Special. For series 3, in the Christmas special shot at Inveraray Castle in Scotland, Bruce was disguised with an incredibly itchy beard and acted as the river ghillie and stalker for the Duneagle Estate. And, in last year’s Christmas special, Bruce played the Lord Chamberlain to King George V in the scenes where Lady Rose is presented at Court.

As the individual that is in charge of both historical accuracy and etiquette on Downton Abbey, Bruce’s primary purpose is to make sure every period detail is correct, which means such things as being able to advise on the minutiae of early 20th century protocol, in such subjects as dress, posture, the serving of food and even on matters that might initially appear trivial, such as the use of vocabulary or the correct way to walk out of a car. It also should not be overlooked that every time the Downton Abbey credits roll, those are Alastair Bruce’s hands holding the ruler over the knives and forks on the table! How great is that!

Viewers can get an up close and personal look at the painstaking work of Alastair Bruce on the set of Downton Abbey when The Manners of Downton Abbey comes to PBS’ Masterpiece series on Sunday, January 4, 2015 at 8pET / 7pCT immediately preceding the season 5 premiere of that little drama series, we call, Downton Abbey. Set. DVR. Now.

It’s a ‘Sherlock’ sweep at the 2014 Emmys…almost.

August 26, 2014

The 2014 Emmy Awards have come and gone with British entries more than holding their own for nominations and winners. Most of the categories from a British standpoint were dominated with twelve nominations apiece by the usual suspects involved both in front of and behind the camera with Downton Abbey and Sherlock. Especially in the drama arena, this years Emmy’s really solidified the thought that the heavyweights of good American television are primarily from the cable side of the spectrum. Both UK imports were up against formidable cable competition such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, True Detective, Homeland, House of Cards, Fargo and Game of Thrones.

Before we get to the ones that will, no doubt, say it’s an honor to just be nominated, the big winner of the evening was from a British perspective was Sherlock, who will try to get three Emmys through security at LAX on their way back to the UK. Tonight’s very deserved winners were:

Outstanding Writing in a TV Miniseries or Movie
- Steven Moffat (Sherlock)

Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie
- Martin Freeman (Sherlock: His Last Vow)

Best Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
- Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock: His Last Vow)

Others East of the Atlantic that were nominated included Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dancing on the Edge), Idris Elba (Luther), Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Maggie Smith and Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, Helena Bonham Carter (Burton And Taylor) and Minnie Driver (Return to Zero).

In the earlier “Creative Arts Emmys”, Sherlock editor, Yan Miles won for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Mini-series or Movie while Magi Vaughan and Adam James Phillips won the Emmy for Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single-Camera series for their work on Downton Abbey. In more Sherlock news, the Emmy for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Mini-series, Movie or Special went to Doug Sinclair, Stuart McCowan, John Joyce, Paul McFadden, William Everett and Sue Harding while the Emmy for Outstanding Musical Composition for a Mini-series, Movie or Special (Original Dramatic Score) went to David Arnold and Michael Price and, finally, Sherlock Director of Photography, Neville Kidd, won for Outstanding Cinematography for a Mini-series or Movie.

Congratulations to all nominees and winners. Can’t wait for December 2015 for the next installment of the Emmy award winning series, Sherlock!

P.S. In non-British television news but still Emmy-related, I’m not sure Breaking Bad deserved to win tonight. Seemed more of a lifetime achievement award for the series that concluded last year and all those involved. Both True Detective and star, Matthew McConaughey, were much more deserving, IMHO.

Sue Johnston to trade the Royle’s for the Crawley’s in Downton Abbey 5

August 25, 2014

In a bit of a different role than viewers are used to seeing her in, Sue Johnston trades in her matriarch status in The Royle Family and Coronation Street for the role of Denker, lady’s maid to Dame Maggie Smith’s Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, in the just-around-the-corner series 5 premiere of Downton Abbey. In her new role, the 70-year-old actress will mercifully take over from poor Mr. Molesley, who had the unfortunate task of looking after Lady Grantham in the absence of a maid in series 4.
The Royle Family's Sue Johnston joins the cast of Downton Abbey for series 5

The former Waking the Dead star will not be alone when it comes to new inhabitants of Downton. Johnston will also be joined by Richard E. Grant and Anna Chancellor in the upcoming trials and tribulations of the Crawley family. Chancellor, known for her roles in Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Hour and Fortysomething, will play the Dowager Lady Anstruther while Grant will leave Minty behind and attempt to dial up his best Simon Marchmont when he joins Downton as house guest, Simon Bricker. Series five will also feature 24 star, Rade Sherbedgia, as a Russian refugee who has fled the revolution after World War 1.

While American audiences will have to wait just a bit to see if the Dowager Countess has met her acerbic match in Denker given the PBS broadcast has been set for some time with a Sunday, January 4, 2015 premiere, the rumor is the new series of Downton Abbey will hit UK telly’s this Autumn on Sunday, 14 September.

‘Downton Abbey’ meets ‘Mad Men’ in ‘Queen of the Earth’

August 24, 2014

Ok, technically, it’s not actually Downton Abbey meets Mad Men. It’s actually not even Lady Mary meets Peggy Olson, but it is Michelle Dockery meets Elisabeth Moss in an upcoming film, Queen of Earth, written and directed by Alex Ross Perry. Most recently, Perry directed Listen Up Philip which premiered at Sundance this year and also starred Moss alongside Jason Schwartzman. For the few non-Mad Men fans that may be in the house, you might recognize Moss from the BBC2 drama, Top of the Lake, and the film, Girl, Interrupted.

Lady Mary leaves the manor house for the beach house

The independent psychological thriller centers around two women (Dockery and Moss) who grew up together but drifted apart. They take a trip to a remote beach house in hopes of escaping the daily grind and other pressures in their busy lives. Though they’re lifelong best friends, the pair eventually acknowledge the growing disconnect between each other, allowing their suspicions about one another to cross over into reality.

No word yet as to when production will begin but it may be some time as Moss is tagged to star in HBO’s anthology series, True Detective 2 which starts shooting in September.

Judi Dench joins Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘Richard III’ as part of Hollow Crown sequels

August 23, 2014

From the Department of When it Rains, it Pours…

As if the three forthcoming Shakespeare adaptations under the title The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses couldn’t have gotten any better given the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Bonneville and Sophie Okonedo already signed up to star. Now comes the official announcement that Dame Judi Dench will join the cast of Richard III as part of the sequel to last years successful run of The Hollow Crown.

You might remember their close encounter earlier this summer at the Hay Festival where the Sherlock star positioned himself in the audience during her Q&A session with Sir Richard Eyre. “Would you like to be in Richard III with me?” he asked. “Yeah,” Dame Judi replied after a theatrical pause, prompting cheers from the crowd.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Dame Judi Dench at the Hay Festival

Hugh Bonneville, known for portraying Robert Crawley in Downton Abbey, will play Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in the first part of a two-part adaptation of Henry VI. Benedict Cumberbatch will play Richard III with Dame Dench playing Cecily, Duchess of York.

Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda, After Earth) will portray Queen Margaret across all three films with Keeley Hawes (Upstairs Downstairs, Ashes to Ashes, Spooks) signing on to play Queen Elizabeth in Henry VI part 2 and Richard III. Tom Sturridge (On the Road) has been cast as Henry VI in both parts of that production.

The first go-round of the BBC Shakespeare adaptations under The Hollow Crown title, which included Richard II and a two-part Henry IV, was not only a hit in both the UK and the U.S. on PBS, it sported an equally as impressive cast with Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston and Ben Whishaw starring.

Look for The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses on BBC Two and PBS, hopefully in 2015.

50 Things Every ‘Doctor Who’ Fan Should Know before Saturday night

August 22, 2014

Are you ready for some Doctor Who? The beginning of the Peter Capaldi era is just around the corner! Actually, it’s not even ‘just around the corner’. It’s TOMORROW NIGHT people. By now, there is precious little time to binge watch enough past series of Doctor Who to catch you up before the series 8 premiere so here’s a quick infographic from the Horror Channel that will make you the life of any impromptu gathering or Doctor Who Watching Party that you might just happen by tomorrow night. Check out the bit of Tom Baker trivia. That will definitely be a hit at any party.

50 Things Every Doctor Who Fan Should Know

50 Things Every Doctor Who Fan Should Know [Infographic] by the team at HorrorChannel

PBS’ Masterpiece will leave you ‘Breathless’ this August

August 21, 2014

Call the Midwife meets Downton Abbey?

Ok, so Breathless IS a period drama set in a hospital but that’s probably where the similarities end. I guess it partly makes sense given there are a couple of Kevin Bacon connections between the newest addition to the PBS drama line-up and Downton Abbey. Breathless will have two former Downton Abbey alumni walking the hospital halls in Zoe Boyle, who played Lavinia, Matthew Crawley’s sickly fiance, in the second series of Downton Abbey and Iain Glen (Game of Thrones), who played Lady Mary’s one-time fiance, newspaper mogul Sir Richard Carlisle.

Breathless, which stars Jack Davenport (Coupling, Pirates of the Caribbean), follows the lives of a group of doctors and nurses working in a London hospital, a world in which everything and everyone has their place. The series opens in 1961, a time when Britain was on the brink of the Sixties revolution. Abortion is illegal and the pill is only just becoming available to married women. Set in and around a busy gynaecology unit, medicine becomes the perfect backdrop to play out the shifting and complex moral codes of early 1960s society.

Like all good telly dramas, Breathless is full of lies, deception and guilty secrets, all conveniently driven by love, ambition and sex. Breathless premieres on a number of PBS stations this coming Sunday as part of PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! series. With the August fundraising campaign winding down, a number of stations will be premiering on Sunday, August 31. As they say, check local listings for the station in your area.

Ever wondered what the Oxford Circus tube station tastes like?

August 20, 2014

From the Telegraph:

The latest and, perhaps, greatest  Tube map spin-off is a particularly tasty little number. James Wannerton, a 54-year-old systems analyst from Blackpool with synaesthesia (a neurological condition in which your senses get mixed up) has recreated the iconic map with how he thinks each of the Tube stops taste. Mr. Wannerton, who is also president of the UK Synaesthesia Association, has been coming down with his mother to London for school since the tender age of 4 and has spent virtually his entire life creating the Tastes of London map. For a larger version, click here for the Telegraph story and then click on the accompanying map.
The Taste of the London Tube

In what seems like somewhat of a gross understatement given this project has been 49 years in the making, Mr. Wannerton said: “This actually became a bit of an obsession – not unlike standing on breezy railway platforms collecting train numbers.

From now on, I’ll try to think about the Notting Hill Gate Station (sausage, potato and bacon) in the AM, the Charing Cross Station for apple pie in the afternoon and, finally, Highbury and Islington Station for Dr. Pepper. Think I’ll stay away from any thoughts about Bond Street, Kilburn, Arsenal and Bermondsey. When you look at the map, you’ll understand why. FYI, if anyone can find a tube station that tastes like Guinness, let me know ASAP.

BTW, the Oxford Circus Tube Station tastes like….Oxtail Soup.