Fans soak up majestic Downton feeling ahead of film

| AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 9 Sep 2019

Bedecked in 1920s dresses, feathered hats and three-piece suits, visitors from across the world have flocked to England's Highclere Castle, scene of the Downton Abbey smash TV drama - and now, at last - a film.

The majestic setting of one of the most popular TV series ever made will appear on the big screen when the very first Downton Abbey movie opens in Britain on Friday and globally about a week later.

It will be shown in Hong Kong from October 17.

Winner of dozens of awards since its British debut in 2010, the period drama about early 20th century aristocrats has mesmerized Yifan Gao, 25, a Chinese student attending university in Scotland.

"Everyone our age knows Downton Abbey" in China, Gao said, posing for a photograph in a vintage dress, a glamorous necklace draped around her neck.

"It's charming," she said, after taking a six-hour train ride from Edinburgh with two friends to attend a special weekend at the castle organized by the film producers. "I used that series to practice my English."

Boasting 200 rooms, four chefs and four gardeners, the 19th-century estate is now home to George Herbert, Eighth Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife, Lady Fiona Carnarvon.

The running costs of the estate, which includes 3,000 sheep, are huge, the earl said.

Before the TV series stopped production in 2015, "there were even more people working there, 20 gardeners, 16 people in the kitchen," he said.

The number of visitors to the castle has more than doubled to 90,000 people a year thanks to the series, whose tale began with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and ended in late 1925.

The film, which officially premieres today in London, picks up the plot in 1927, with the Crawley family anxiously awaiting a visit from King George V and Queen Mary.

The castle got all dressed up for the occasion as well, throwing open its doors to fans.

"It really captures a very special time in England, when the working class women were fighting for their rights," said Shayane Lacey, a 24-year-old Londoner.

Emily Dickmann, from Chicago, said she felt "almost emotional" after stepping inside the bedroom of Lady Sybil, one of the heroines of the show.

"I think we Americans are obsessed with the English. We don't have lords and ladies, that long history, and it is kind of fascinating for us," she said.

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