Living with Style, The Newport Diary


Reuniting with Downton Abbey

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Our beloved Downton Abbey television series ended in March of 2016 and since then millions of Americans (including this writer) have been patiently anticipating some sequel or follow-on. Finally, on September 20th the movie debuted…and it does not disappoint!!

As Downton Abbey’s creator and executive producer, Julian Fellowes, expressed it…”parades and balls and banquets and spectacular clothes.” Of course, within those elegant settings that we have come to love. And as importantly, the entire original cast (with the exception of cousin Rose, played by Lily James) has been reassembled. Fellowes’ talent for character development is so superb it is reason alone for heading to the theater…but I’m not going to spoil it for you.

Photo Credit: Focus Features

The movie also had a personal significance for me, prompting again a deep appreciation for what living in Newport makes possible. In addition to its many natural assets, parts of the town seem romantically encased in a time capsule– The Gilded Age mansions with their period landscapes…

the gas lights along Bellevue Avenue (with no distracting power lines)…

the banquets and balls that occur within this preservation-driven neighborhood– which often recall the Downton Abbey life. In fact, the family that built Miramar (below) in 1912-15 provided one of the story-lines for the movie, “Titanic.”

And the “parades” that Fellowes mentions? Coaching Weekend (which takes place every three years) is enough to sate the Downton Abbey follower’s desire to be transported back to the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Living the Downton Abbey Life: Highlights of Coaching Weekend and Downton Abbey Comes to Newport: A Weekend of Coaching.

Photo Credit: Kenneth Lindh

But be assured, the Newport within which we live is not a movie set…although its resident’s stories have inspired re-tellings in their own way. One of our more celebrated mansions, Marble House, was once the actual home of the young Consuelo Vanderbilt, daughter of Wm. K. and Alva Vanderbilt.

Photo Credit: Michelle Pugliese for Private Newport

Her’s was the most prominent and storied example during the Gilded Age of enterprising social ambition on the part of newly wealthy parents. Among the American heiresses married off to British aristocracy, Consuelo’s aristocratic title carried the highest ranking of these “Dollar Princesses.” She reigned as the Duchess of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace, noteworthy as the only non-royal palace in Britain. Surely she was an inspiration for Cora, the Countesss of Grantham.

Painting by John Singer Sargent

Appreciating that many of you would enjoy reading additional details than only one posting can present, I’m providing links to other Downton Abbey posts that I’ve created over the past 5 years, The REAL Inspiration for Downton Abbey? Gilded Age Newport, and The Return of Downton Abbey (in addition to the 2 noted above in the second paragraph). Also, Ringing in the New Year with Downton Abbey (entertaining tips and period menu suggestions) will give you much food for thought as we head into the holiday season!

And lastly, what is a post without a stunning sound byte from Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) — “I never argue, I explain.” Enjoy your return to Downton Abbey and the pleasure of seeing all the luxurious trappings and sets glamorously transported from television to “the big screen”.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

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