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Downton Abbey Movie: The True Story Of The King's Visit

Downton Abbey King George Queen Mary True Story

Warning: MILD SPOILERS for Downtown Abbey Movie ahead.

The King and Queen of England's visit in the Downton Abbey Movie is based on a true story, although creator Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) made some necessary changes to suit the film's story and characters. The movie is the big-screen continuation of the Downton Abbey TV series, which aired for six seasons on ITV in the UK and on Masterpiece PBS in the United States.

For the Downton Abbey movie, Fellowes needed a worthy central story that would also affect the TV series' many characters upstairs and downstairs. Although the film is set in 1927, Fellowes found his inspiration from King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary's (Geraldine James) real-life visit to Yorkshire in 1912 (which is, ironically, the same year the events of Downton Abbey the TV series began). Since a royal visit is a grand affair that also requires weeks of painstaking preparation for anyone hosting the monarchs, it was a perfect situation to bring back the Crawley family and give their loyal servants at Downton plenty to do. In the film, Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) quipped "Well, this won't help us economize" when faced with the expense of the royal visit while the servants, led by Carson the butler (Jim Carter), revolt at being usurped by the King's domineering household staff, headed by the Royal Butler (David Haig) and the Royal Chef Monsieur Courbet (Philippe Spall).

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Related: Downton Abbey Movie Ending Explained: What Happens & What It Means

In real-life, King George and Queen Mary made a 1912 progress across Yorkshire to show that the King had "the common touch" and could "understand the working man". The events of the Downton Abbey movie are based on when the Royal Family stayed at Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, on July 1912. (In 1917, the King and Queen visited Highclere Castle, which is where Downton Abbey is filmed). During their stay at Wentworth Woodhouse, the King and Queen were entertained by Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova and they dined on a 13-course dinner before enjoying an extravagant ball. (The Downton Abbey movie also closes with a ball honoring the monarchs.) Similar to the logistical predicament the Crawleys find themselves in, the real-life 7th Earl and Countess Fitzwilliam had a mere month’s notice to prepare for a four-day visit by their royal guests and their maids, valets, and chauffeurs, 75 people in all.

The real-life King George and Queen Mary were received at Wentworth with an extravagant parade, which the Downton Abbey movie depicts as the King arrives on horseback and is met with a grand reception by the Crawley family and the villagers of Downton. However, a different kind of disaster struck than the one Tom Branson (Allen Leech) personally prevents in the film; the same night the monarchs arrived at Wentworth, an underground explosion at Cadeby Colliery killed 35 men, which was followed by a second explosion which took the life of 53 more.

The next evening, the King and Queen went to the Colliery and shook the dirty hands of the miners who had spent the whole day recovering bodies from the mines. South Yorkshire residents were so charmed by the king and queen’s "charm offensive" that a crowd of 25,000 people gathered at Wentworth Woodhouse’s great lawn on the last night of the royal visit. In the Downton Abbey movie, the servants are thrilled to receive the compliments of the King and Queen.

The Downton Abbey movie makes its own alterations to the real-life story but the end-result also humanizes King George and Queen Mary, as well as Princess Mary (Kate Phillips), who also meets the Crawleys and finds herself owing Branson her gratitude. In the film, King George and Queen Mary prove themselves to be gracious guests who help solve a problem facing Edith, Marchioness of Hexam (Laura Carmichael) and her husband Bertie, Marquess of Hexam (Harry Hadden-Paton). While it's doubtful the King and Queen will return if there's a Downton Abbey Movie 2, their presence indeed gave the film the proper amount of splendor.

Next: Downton Abbey Movie Isn't The First Time The Crawleys Met The King & Queen

Key Release Dates
  • Downton Abbey (2019) release date: Sep 20, 2019
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