A newly created exhibition that brings the world of hit British series Downton Abbey to life has kicked off at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, with a five-year world tour to follow.
Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, a project by NBCUniversal International Studios and Imagine Exhibitions, immerses guests in the world of the post-Edwardian period drama that captured the imaginations of millions of viewers across the world.
Taking place between 1912 and 1926, the programme follows the lives of an aristocratic family and their servants against the backdrop of the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the Spanish influenza tragedy and the Irish War of Independence.
Attractions industry consultancy Grant Leisure assisted in the planning and implementation of the touring exhibition, including preliminary economic, feasibility and operational studies and managing the tender process with the host locations.
In the 15,000sq ft (1,394sqm) tour, visitors cover nine zones depicting the stately home of Downton Abbey, engaging with the show’s well-loved cast, which includes actors Hugh Bonneville and Dame Maggie Smith. Visitors watch exclusive footage filmed with key cast members, including Lord and Lady Grantham (played by Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern), and see costumes and props that defined the show. They also learn about Edwardian cooking and the way the house operated.
The multi-million-dollar exhibition was designed in the UK by Mather & Co and built by Kingsmen in Singapore, so it made sense to launch the tour in the Asian city.
“When you take any kind of intellectual property and try to develop it into an attraction, it’s like taking a large novel and adapting it for a screenplay,” says Andy Grant, founder of Grant Leisure. “You’ve got to know exactly what you want to show and how it relates to the six-year history of one of the most acclaimed dramas in the world – a drama that the world fell in love with.”
The NBCUniversal-owned Carnival Films production, which was written and created by Julian Fellowes, has been broadcast in over 250 territories and is the most nominated non-US show in the history of the Emmys with 69 nominations. Downton Abbey: The Exhibition follows the success of Dressing Downton, a costume exhibition which toured the US last year.
As a television series that has attracted well over 120 million viewers, Grant says market research helped determine which audiences to target and what made the show appeal to them. After Singapore, Downton Abbey: The Exhibition will head to locations in the US and UK, a number of Asian countries, Commonwealth countries and other worldwide destinations.
“Our research also showed us that one of the most important things to the audience is authenticity,” Grant says. “Downton Abbey is the most authentic, Edwardian experience ever portrayed in a drama.”
Downton Abbey has been recognised for achieving the highest levels of authenticity and detail, down to the mannerisms and behaviours of the actors. Set during World War I and the post-war years, like the TV show, a team of advisors was involved in ensuring the exhibition experience is as historically accurate as possible.
Grant says: “The way you dressed, the way you spoke, what you served on the menu, how the flowers were arranged, the people you invited – it was all a direct reflection of your status in those days.”
Expert in the field Alastair Bruce of Crionaich, the royal, religious and events commentator for Sky News, was an historical advisor for the ITV series and the exhibition. Many others from Carnival Films were also involved, including Fellowes, executive producers Liz Trubridge and Gareth Neame, set designer Donal Woods and costume designer Anna Robbins.
“We had to take this off the screen and create a successful brand extension,” Grant says. “Every single thing in this exhibition had to be vetted for its authenticity, just as the show was. We made sure everyone at Carnival Films was comfortable because it’s a direct reflection upon their work.”