Yesterday I wrote about trench construction (which you can read here) during World War I. While fragments of the original trenches on the Western Front still exist today and are preserved as reminders of the war, most are long gone, grown over with grass and wildflowers, reclaimed by the earth they were dug from.
But there is one man, a farmer named Jeremy Hall who lives just outside of Ipswich, England, who can walk out on his property and step back in time. Several years ago Taff Gillingham, a military historian, approached him with the idea of creating accurate trenches along a stretch of fallow land on his farm. Jeremy Hall agreed, and in ten days’ time they had reconstructed an Allied trench using a 1916 British Trench Building manual. The structure includes latrines and a system of communication trenches. In 2006 they added a German trench (making sure that it was dug deeper and on the high ground). Between the two is an accurately depicted no man’s land complete with shell holes, and trees shattered by shellfire.
Gillingham was charged with instructing the Downton Abbey actors about life in the trenches. Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) described the experience of filming:
The war scenes were very exciting to film. There was a network of trenches and it was amazingly authentic and incredibly muddy. It really gave you a sense of the environment–going over the top, guns firing, bombs exploding, men shouting and all the while the cameras are rolling. The adrenaline really went–it wasn’t so much the noise of the bombs as that you could feel it in your chest. And then you would look up at the end of the take to see the crew completely covered in ash.
Downton Abbey was the first drama filmed at the Ipswich site, but several documentary films have utilized the reconstructed trenches.
You can learn more about the Ipswich site here, as well as see a video of the trenches here.
Admit it, one of the reasons we love Downton Abbey is the eye candy (and I’m not just talking about Dan Stevens, aka Matthew Crawley).
Sorry Matthew, I couldn't resist.
The gowns worn by the three sisters of Downton are not only gorgeous, but they help set the tone of the times and tell a story themselves.
Susannah Buxton is the costumer of Downton Abbey. In an interview (which you can read here) she discusses how the costumes convey the personalities of the characters she is dressing. Mary’s a no-nonsense sort of girl, and her wardrobe reflects this with very few lacy frills. Edith’s dresses seem overly elaborate for her character, and after reading this interview I understand why. She lacks the confidence of her older sister, so one would think she’d wear something that helped her blend in to the scenery. But Buxton purposefully avoided this in order to prevent Edith’s character from becoming too cliche. She would have had access to the same wealth as her older sister, so of course she would wear the latest fashions as well.
Sybil, Mary, and Edith
That leads us to Sybil, my favorite of the Crawley sisters. She’s the youngest, and we see her grow up a great deal in the first series. Buxton dresses her in a lot of floral prints to show her youth. But Sybil’s progressive thinking and interest in women’s equality begins to shine through. One of my favorite scenes in the first series is when Sybil enters the room, dressed for the evening meal in this:
Everyone’s jaw drops as she shows off her (gasp!) legs AND ankles. In Buxton’s interview she explains that her inspiration for costumes came from Paul Poiret, a Parisian designer who took his inspiration from the Russian ballet company Ballet Russes. Poiret introduced “harem” pants in 1911, a design highlighting American and European fascination with Turkish dress. Here is a 1910 photo of a Ballet Russes costume designed by Leon Bakst:
I love how Sybil even strikes a similar pose when she shows off her new look to her family.
I have no doubt that costumes will play a major role in telling the story of the second series of Downton Abbey. And I can’t wait to write about it!
Until then, I'll just have to wait...