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Edward Appleyard

A night at the movies: Downton Abbey première

Walking down a red carpet will always be thrilling, but even more so last night at the Downton Abbey world première of the film in Leicester Square.

With the Earl and Countess of Harewood, I waited with bated breath to see Harewood on the big screen and it didn’t disappoint. From beautiful sweeping shots of the house outside, to gorgeous drawing room scenes with Princess Mary (6th Countess of Harewood), and the final ball scene with such glamorous costumes … The grandeur of Harewood was captured by moonlight for a final romantic scene, demonstrating just how beautiful Harewood is.

As a charity, filming always provides such a vital income stream, in order to keep the house and collections open. But it is also a juggling act as I am determined to try and keep as much of the house and grounds open to the public whilst filming commences. It does pay off though, as glimpses of Maggie Smith walking back to the Base unit of over a hundred people in our main car park, give visitors an unexpected treat!

You may notice that throughout the film, the characters pronounce ‘Har-wood’ as it would have been known at that time. Today we are all one ‘Hare-wood’ whether it is the village, house or family. The truth is also skewed for fiction as you see the relationship between the 6th Earl and Princess Mary unfold … it makes for a good storyline, but in reality we know there was actually a great deal of affection between these two. In over 170 boxes of Princess Mary’s personal letters, objects and diaries, which Harewood House Trust is now responsible for, the Earl refers to himself as Princess Mary’s little ‘owl’ (she loved these birds) and she was his little ‘canary’. We’ll be giving all of our visitors a very special glimpse into this personal archive in an exhibition in the house this autumn.

It’s a hard job of course (!) as we spent a rather glamorous few hours at the after-party chatting to actors Jim Carter (Carson) Kate Phillips (Princess Mary), to the Director and Producer and of course to writer Julian Fellowes. They all praised Harewood for its beauty and how well we managed the filming. The lavish scale and opulence of the film far outstrips the TV series.

As Julian Fellowes said, it has been ten years since the beginning of Downton and none of them could have predicted where it would lead. America is next as they all get on the plane next week to New York. In the meantime we’ve invited Kate Phillips back to Harewood to delve into her character’s life – Princess Mary, sister to two kings and a fascinating, thoughtful Countess of Harewood.

Photography © 2019 Focus Features LLC