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Tag Archives: Downton Abbey

Please join Julian Fellowes, creator, sole writer, and executive producer of the hit television series Downton Abbey and the author of the new novel Belgravia, who is touring the blogosphere with a progressive blog tour from April 14 to June 16, 2016!

(This is carolyn posting for Risky Amanda!)

Image of Julian's Book Cover

Belgravia Blog Tour


Similar to a progressive dinner party, where a group of friends each make one course of a meal that moves from house to house with each course, this progressive blog tour features eleven bloggers and authors, each offering a recap and review of one episode from the book.

Visit Luxury Reading to learn more about Episode 5, and read on for our review of Episode 5: The Assignation.

Don’t forget to enter for a chance to win 1 of 3 hardcover copies of Belgravia–details below! 

I was so excited when I was asked if the Riskies would host one of the stops for the blog tour of “Belgravia,” Julian Fellowes’s new serial novel about scandal and romance in 1840s London!  I’ve been suffering some “Downton Abbey” withdrawals since the last episode of that show (sniff!), and this seemed like a good way of recovering.  I wasn’t wrong.  “Belgravia” is so much fun!

It’s much harder than I thought, though, to just review ONE episode, considering all the complicated twists and turns of the relationships in the story, and the way the scandalous past comes to haunt the present.  Episode 6: A Spy in Our Midst was a good episode to draw, though.  So much happened!  As the scene opens, James Trenchard is nervously awaiting word whether he will be accepted into the Athenaeum Club (not really a spoiler: he is), when he is visited by his secret grandson Charles Pope, who says his investment scheme is very close to becoming a reality, thanks to Lady Brockenhurst’s interest (which is already being remarked on and gossiped about in Society).  James fears once the truth is known, his brand new club membership will be revoked (“Anne’s pity for the countess would be their undoing”), but he enjoys his time with Charles anyway, and takes him to lunch at the club, which leads to awkward confrontations with an officious club butler, and a fight with his drippy son Oliver.

In fact, there were many confrontations and near-confrontations here, as well as new layers of forbidden romance (Maria Grey, almost betrothed to John Bellasis, has a new crush on Charles Pope, and John is having an affair with Oliver’s wife Susan, ouch).  There is a real sense in this chapter of matters building to a head, rushing toward a big blow-up that can’t be stopped, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.  (And yes, there IS a spy, a rather unexpected one, but you have to read to the end of the episode to find out who/how/why!)

There is so much to enjoy in this story, much of it the same things I loved about “Downton.”  Complex characters, with complex relationships; family secrets; snappy British dialogue; scandal and sadness and hope.  You can wait and order the full story, of course, but I think it’s a lot of fun to read as they are released now, in installments.  What do you think will happen next???


Win a Copy of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia

In celebration of the release of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, Grand Central Publishing is offering a chance to win one of the three (3) hardcover copies of the book!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the stops on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour starting April 14, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, June 22, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on June 23, 2016. Winners have until June 30, 2016 to claim their prize. The contest is open to international residents and the books will be shipped after July 5, 2016. Good luck to all!

Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour Schedule

April 14 – Episode 1: Dancing into Battle

April 14 – Edwardian Promenade: Episode 2: A Chance Encounter

April 21 – Fly High: Episode 3: Family Ties

April 28 – Calico Critic: Episode 4: At Home in Belgrave Square

May 12 – Risky Regencies: Episode 6: A Spy in our Midst

May 19 – Book Talk and More: Episode 7: A Man of Business

May 26 – Mimi Matthews: Episode 8: An Income for Life

June 02 – Confessions of a Book Addict: Episode 9: The Past is a Foreign Country

June 09 – Laura’s Reviews: Episode 10: The Past Comes Back

June 16 – Gwyn Cready: Episode 11: Inheritance


As you may know, I’m not at all shy about sharing my feelings about Downton Abbey (summarized as deep loathing). But the clothes in the series are fantastic. Yesterday I took a trip up to Winterthur where there is an exhibit of the costumes that ties in the similarities and differences between the fictional English household and the duPonts in the early twentieth century. Each display had a video clip or montage from the series and a script excerpt. It was a brilliantly done exhibit. I would have liked to have known a little more about the clothes–fabrics, for instance, and sometimes it was a bit difficult to tell what was extant and what was created. Quite often the designers took a surviving scrap of beading, or even part of a garment, and added to it.

So here are some pics. I’m assuming everyone will know who wore what when. Here’s an original gown, very short and daring, and I would have been terrified to wear it since beads were falling off it. Notice how deep the arm openings are–they added in a matching slip.


Here’s a detail of some of the beading on an evening gown.

gown detail

Gloves! The red ones were worn by one of the characters, the rest are extant.

gloves Coats, featuring some exquisite embroidery.

coatsSummer dresses against a montage of the series (love Hugh Bonneville who I think was wasted in this role, don’t get me started. He’s a terrific comic actor too, and it says worlds for his professionalism that he didn’t play it for laughs). The center one is original and the pattern is very Japanese-inspired.

summerHere are some of the servant’s costumes. I’m sure the maid’s print dress and apron were original because they looked very worn. The designers used a slightly metallic fabric for the cook’s dress to make it pop for the camera.

kitchenAnd this hat. How I love this hat:

hatWinterthur is an astonishing place. It is huge, and you’d need days to see everything it has. Henry Francis du Pont expanded a fairly large 18c house by building on another 175 (I think) rooms to house his collection. He bought 18c and early 19c furnishings and even entire rooms from the period at a time when such items were not popular or even considered particularly valuable. There’s one room, for instance that incorporates two doorways, two windows, and a fireplace salvaged from a fairly small Philadelphia house whose owner wanted to install a shop window. There’s another room hung with 17c Chinese wallpaper that required him to raise the ceiling to accommodate it. A complete set of silver tankards made by Paul Revere. And much, much more.

Have you visited any historic houses or museums that you’d like to tell us about?

I am immensely relieved that Downton Abbey is over for the moment, although I am sure it will be back with a vengeance, bigger, better and all the rest of it. I tried to like Downton Abbey and I couldn’t. I tried to watch it and couldn’t stomach a full episode although one time I did fall asleep. Yet I was hit upon all sides by cries of adulation and delight and the declaration of it being the best and greatest thing to hit Romancelandia. Ever.

Now considering I couldn’t/wouldn’t watch the whole thing I know I’m not qualified to give an unbiased opinion. But here are the things I found objectionable:

1. A waste of good acting talent. Hugh Bonneville can do more than utter Brideshead Revisited-type platitudes; Maggie Smith can do more than throw out a one-liner. I’ve no objection to good actors making a quick buck, but they must have very bored and for the most part the script was dreadful.

2. As the granddaughter of household servants and someone who’s researched servants for several years, I found the oversentimentalized, syrupy representation of employer-servant relationships offensive. Some households may have been run on such democratic and caring/sharing principles, but most probably weren’t.

3. History cleanup. Oh dear oh dear. After attempting to watch an episode which included a world war one scene, I ended up at the history channel watching a series about archaeologists excavating the trenches. They’d found human remains, pitiful bones in the clay. The contrast between this and the sanitized “war is hell” of Downton was shocking and made me feel very sad.

4. People cleanup. Such nice clean polished servants. Really? No red hands? No stained clothes? No sweat?

It may be fun but it’s not history and it’s not the truth, tho I will grant you the clothes are nice even if the women are too skinny to carry them off. They liked their babes a bit more bootilicious then. What I find interesting is that the series was compared favorably to Upstairs Downstairs, which for the most part worked, even though it too was sentimental and twisted history around. I wonder if it was because of the origins of the show, the brainchild of Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh (who both appeared on it). Fay Weldon wrote the first episode. But it appears the show from the beginning had a feminist, definitely downstairs focus, which Downton never really had.

If you haven’t seen them, Red Nose Day (a comedy fundraising day in the UK) did two episodes of Uptown Downstairs Abbey: here and here.

And here’s some more fun stuff, first a list of signs for travelers, and if you have a yearning to own a real Austen-BBC costume the Jane Austen Centre of Bath is selling some on ebay.

If you want to share unfashionable negative feelings about Downton Abbey, this is a safe place to do so. Or tell us about a tv series that got it right.

urlI’m a great fan of Downton Abbey and have faithfully watched each season. In fact, at this year’s Washington Romance Writers Retreat in April, I’m going to do a workshop on what Downton Abbey can teach us about writing Historical Romance. You’ll be hearing more on that later.

This week’s episode featured more on one of my favorite characters, Thomas, finely acted by Rob James-Collier.  (Don’t worry, though. I won’t give any spoilers in case you haven’t seen it yet)

imgresIn season one, Thomas was a scheming footman who would manipulate anyone to put himself in a good light. He’d get the dirt on the other servants and use the information against them, if he thought it would serve his own ends. He had it in for Mr. Bates from the beginning, never missing an opportunity to make Bates look bad. He even put the moves on one of the handsome houseguests, the foreign royal who seduced Mary and dropped dead in her bed.

In other words, Thomas was a villain. Along with O’Brien, Lady Grantham’s ladies maid, Thomas was the character we were supposed to hate, the quintessential bad guy.

In season two, though, something changed. Thomas went from being a character I loved to hate to someone more complicated. By the end of the season he was one of my favorite characters and still is.

If you want to make a villain sympathetic, this is how to do it.

Motivate him

In season two it became clearer that Thomas was a lonely man who wanted better for himself and who really had nobody who cared about him and no opportunities to aspire to more than service in an country house. I suddenly understood why he connived and clawed his way in life. When he is duped in his profiteering scheme and he loses everything, he has to go back into service. By this time you know what a difficult thing that is for him.

Make him vulnerable

In season two we saw a different side of Thomas from the smart-talking conniver. He went to war and was terribly traumatized by battle, so much so he lifted his hand out of the trenches and waits for it to be shot. That fear and desperation touched my heart.

Show his pain

Also in season two Thomas fell in love with an injured soldier who he tried to nurse back to health. His kindness and sympathy towards this man was unexpected, but showed that he, too, could have feelings for another person. When the soldier killed himself, Thomas was shattered. In season three he also breaks down into tears when Sybil dies, telling Anna, “There are few people in my life who’ve been kind to me. She was one of them.”

Now I know what makes Thomas who he is and I can see beyond his scheming facade. That is the trick to making a good villain. Show who he is, why he is the way he is, and show something of his humanity. If you do it right, you can even make the villain a character I can love.

Do you have a favorite villain? Why is he or she a favorite?

Are you watching Downton Abbey?

I’ll be selecting Anne Gracie’s winner at midnight tonight, so there’s still time to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Autumn Bride.



People Magazine (1/9/12) gave Season 2 of Downton Abbey a rather negative review:

“What’s that new building next to Downton Abbey? The proportions are off, the materials look cheap–is it prefab? Oh: It’s season 2.”

Our own Janet is less enamored of the series than I am. But I must say, I enjoyed the first episode of Season 2. The obvious reason (besides the beautiful settings and fashions, which do not disappoint!) is to find out what will happen to Lady Mary and Matthew, Bates and Anna, but one thing I particularly liked about this episode was the way the writers threw more complexity into the characters.

For example, I didn’t have much sympathy for Thomas in Season 1. He was a pretty thorough villain, but in this episode, we see another side of him, something of his personal pain. Same for O’Brien. For both Thomas and O’Brien, it was a glimpse of their personal pain that captured my interest, as well as a kindness in them that had not been evident before.

I saw an unexpected side of Edith, too, one that made me like her better and one that made me want to cheer her on.

So, building from Megan’s blog of last Friday, about sexual tension between romantic characters, I realized that there were other elements of story that hook me. Show me the character’s pain. Show me a glimpse of their good side and suddenly I care and I want to know what happens to them, whether it be in a movie, a mini-series, a soap opera, or a book.

What about for you? What hooks you into a story? Have you ever been hooked on a show or a book series that you’d reluctantly confess to even your closest friends?

What did you think of the first episode of Downton Abbey?

I’ll announce Anne Gracie‘s winner after midnight today! So keep your comments coming on her guest blog, as well.

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