Downton Abbey fans have two reasons to rejoice this fall — the much anticipated movie came to the big screen in grand style — and Biltmore in Asheville is hosting the new immersive exhibit: Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, through April 7.
Downton Abbey appeared on PBS’ Masterpiece for six seasons from 2011-16. The multi-award winning series had the most viewers of any drama in PBS history.
Downton fans can’t get enough of the aristocratic Crawley family and the saga of privileged life, their staff in service and world events in post-Edwardian England.
A setting like no other
The parallels of the fictional Downton and the real-life Biltmore Estate are remarkable.
The Biltmore Estate bears a resemblance to the show’s film setting at Highclere Castle in England. While the Biltmore Estate predates the Downton series (Biltmore opened in 1895 and Downton spans the years from 1912 into the 1920s), the grand lifestyles portrayed are similar.
“There are many parallels between Downton Abbey and Biltmore’s story of the Vanderbilt family, their friends and staff,” said Biltmore director of entertainment and event programming Travis Tatham. “We know the world of Downton Abbey really resonates with our guests. With Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, we’re excited to provide a new, interactive experience unlike any we have had at Biltmore.”
Biltmore guests may have visited the Downton costume exhibit in 2015, but, this is a different experience. Visitors will see set recreations, costumes and multimedia presentations that will feel like a journey into the grand Downton Abbey.
Step inside into the world of the titled Crawley family and get an up-close view of recreated sets and actual artifacts from the show.
Amherst immersive display
The Downton Abbey: The Exhibition at Biltmore exhibit is so expansive, it is staged in two venues on the Biltmore estate. Biltmore’s Amherst at Deerpark showcases never-before-seen before multimedia elements, detailed reconstructed sets of the exquisite dining room, Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen, Lady Mary’s bedroom, Carson’s pantry, plus artifacts tied to history and the culture of the TV show and film.
“It is my happy duty to welcome you wholeheartedly to the world of Downtown Abbey,” Downton head butler Charles Carson says, as he welcomes guests in an opening video presentation. “Now you are cordially invited to explore the world of Downton Abbey — upstairs and downstairs. Although I think it’s slightly odd that you concern yourselves with the kitchen and servants’ quarters.”
After Carson’s introductory video, guests enter elaborately staged interpretive areas, exploring each main Downton Abbey character. See Mrs. Hughes’ household keys; Tom Branson’s driving gloves; the Dowager Countess Violet’s writing table; and artifacts used by each main character. Interpretive panels guide visitors through the artifacts and tie-in the history of the time, including World War I, the women’s campaign for the right to vote and the Irish Rebellion of 1916.
Visitors then walk through several recreated sets, so beautifully detailed, guests will feel like they are in the rooms. In the servants’ hall set, see the famous bell board, used to summon the staff to various rooms in Downton.
Lady Mary’s bedroom is beautifully recreated, with an interpretive panel describing moments from the TV show, including the infamous Mr. Pamuk incident.
A three-sided video surround display takes guests through many memorable moments at Downton — from the expansive library to World War I and the use of Downton as a hospital during the war.
Biltmore staff has been working for more than a year to bring the exhibition here.
“It’s special to see this high quality in an exhibit, said Leslie Klinger, Biltmore curator of Interpretation. “The exhibit is so evocative of the period. The way the team put it together is true to the era.”
Audio guides are available at the Amherst portion of the exhibit, as well as a guest photo booth that puts visitors “into” the Downton sets.
Legacy costume display
At Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village, exhibit guests can see more than 50 costumes from the show, including those worn by Michelle Dockery, as Lady Mary; Hugh Bonneville, as Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham; and Dame Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham.
At the entrance to Legacy, see costumes from the 2019 movie, including King George, Queen Mary, Princess Mary and footmen Moseley and Andy.
The beautifully designed costume exhibit features wedding dresses worn by the characters, everyday clothes worn by the cast and exquisite evening wear that amazes with its intricacy and attention to detail.
“It took my breath away, when I walked in, seeing all the costumes all together in one room,” said Dockery in a promotional preview, upon seeing the exhibit for the first time. “It was incredible.”
Visitors should note that there is no special ticketing for the costume portion of the exhibit. Biltmore Passholders may come back as many times as the wish to see the costumes at Legacy Antler Hill Village.
This is the fourth stop of the exhibition in the U.S, which included in New York, West Palm Beach and Boston. The New York Times noted the exhibit as “a cleverly immersive experience mounted with the same exacting care as the show itself.”
“Biltmore is an estate that is rich with history, so it makes for the perfect home for Downton Abbey: The Exhibition,” said Gareth Neame, executive chairman of Carnival Films and executive producer of Downton Abbey. “For those only just embarking on the Downton journey or fans who have longed to experience its splendor, this is the ultimate opportunity to immerse yourself in the real sets and get up close to more than 50 costumes and artifacts from the series. You can also see the historical context and subject matter behind the show, which you wouldn’t see otherwise, and learn more about the society, culture and issues, which led to the stories we told.”
Visitors should note that the current Downton exhibit is not in the Biltmore house.
Downton Abbey: The Exhibition was produced by NBC Universal International Studios and Imagine Exhibitions, Inc.
As the fictional Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham quipped, “You’ll find there’s never a dull moment in this house.”And the same goes for the new exhibit at Biltmore. It’s a must-see for Downtown fans.
Admission to “Downton Abbey: The Exhibition” is included with daytime admission to the house, Candlelight Christmas Evenings admission or an overnight stay that includes daytime admission. Biltmore Annual Passholders may purchase tickets to the exhibition for $20.
For information, visit www.Biltmore.com or call 800-411-3812.