This Part of ‘Downton Abbey’ Happened in Real Life But This Part They Totally Made Up

The Downton Abbey movie saw the royal family visit Downton for a night. King George (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are characters in the film. Perhaps for the sequel the Pope can visit. Downton Abbey director Michael Engler spoke about the historical accuracy of the film in his director’s commentary track.

Michelle Dockery and Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
L-R: Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey | Jaap Buitendijk / Focus Features

Showbiz Cheat Sheet got an early copy of the Blu-ray to hear Engler reveal which parts of Downton Abbey are based on historical elements and which parts they totally made up for the film. You can discover more for yourself when Downton Abbey is available on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD on December 17, or watch the film itself now on digital VOD platforms.

Making the royal household snooty towards Downton Abbey was dramatic licence

Historical Advisor Alastair Bruce confirms in the bonus features that the royal family did visit other manors when traveling. If Downton Abbey existed, they would have visited.

“The aristocracy used to invite themselves to each other’s houses as they were passing through,” Bruce said. “It was sort of a familial duty to provide a place to stay.”

Downton Abbey Blu-ray
Downton Abbey on Blu-ray December 17 | Universal Studios Home Entertainment

In his commentary, Engler said the idea that the royal household were snooty and condescending towards the Downton Abbey staff was just to make the film interesting.

“Really in reality, while they have to come and keep the standards up when they’re traveling with the king and Queen, they make a point of trying to be part of the word they’re working in and fold in, weave in with the world that they’re coming to be a part of,” Engler said.

This part of the ‘Downton Abbey’ was based on history

Part of the plot of Downton Abbey involves an assassination attempt on King George. Fortunately, the assassination is thwarted and history continues, but Engler says the dramatic incident was based on historical fact.

“It’s based on a true character who was from real society and had that upper crust British background and was a soldier,” Engler said. “He became very politicized about the Irish freedom movement and fought for it and was executed for it eventually after an attempt on the King’s life.”

It’s also true that Downton Abbey pales in comparison to other estates

The real Highclere Castle plays Downton Abbey. In the movie, the staff are worried they won’t measure up to the royals’ expectations. To casual viewers, the thought of Downton Abbey not measuring up to anyone is absurd, but it is true that other estates are grander.

Jim Carter in Downton Abbey
Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) at Downton Abbey | Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

“To most Americans you see that house and think of it as so extraordinary and the scale of it is so magnificent but the truth is it’s actually quite a modest property considering some of the ones that are there,” Engler siad. “Blenheim and Chatsworth and Arundel that are huge, really really enormous in scale. In the world of this show, this is actually quite a modest property.”

The actors are definitely not really like their characters

Another aspect of Downton Abbey that is totally made up is the characters. The actors concede that they are not like their roles at all.

“I’d like to be a bit more like Daisy,” Sophie McShera said in the bonus features. “She’s really ambitious and gets what she wants. I’m not that good in the kitchen. Me and Lesley [Nicol]  are both quite rubbish in the kitchen to the point where they can’t really give us much to do because we can even make whisking an egg look bad. Lesley just starts to do this with salt [between her fingers] all the time and she tastes things.”

Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville can’t really dance either. The Downton Abbey ball scene became painful.

Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville | : Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

“Not to mention shins being kicked underneath the frame of the camera,” McGovern admitted. “I kept yelling to Hugh under my breath as we danced, ‘Don’t show them the pain.’”

Joanne Froggatt added, “I’m very loyal like Anna. I probably like to have a bit more fun than Anna does. Poor Anna. She doesn’t get much Chance. I’m a hard worker, not probably as hard working as Anna.”