Fans gather for return of 'Downton Abbey'
LATHAM Sheila Kiehle has been on pins and needles since the last episode of “Downton Abbey’s” season three aired nine months ago.
“I woke up nights wondering about the characters,” she said. “I was so involved in the story.”
At 9 p.m. Sunday, the World War I-era British historical drama — the most popular series ever to run on PBS — returned to television for a fourth season.
Earlier that evening, Kiehle sat with some friends wiling away the last hours of their months-long wait with shepherd’s pie, cups of carefully prepared tea and raspberry jelly roll modeled after a dessert from the show.
Sunday night, Kiehle and more than 60 other enthusiasts gathered at Tailored Tea in Latham to eat period foods, drink period tea, and generally immerse themselves in “Downton Abbey,” before, during and after the premiere.
“Downton Abbey” details the life and romances of the British upper class Crawley family and their servants around the time of World War I. Tailored Tea owner Annie Misir said its historical accuracy, character arcs and English accents have garnered the show a huge following this side of the Atlantic.
Before her premiere event, she made sure the teahouse looked its part. Misir leases a restored farmhouse built in 1806, so there wasn’t a whole lot to do. The smells were right, the furniture old and elegant, and the wait staff all wearing puffy white maid’s hats. Even a number of the guests were dressed in century-old fashions.
“Costume dramas are my favorite,” said Leslie Wright, straightening her pre-war black lace hat, “and British costume dramas are my favorite favorite.”
Earlier in the afternoon, workmen rolled in three great big flat-screen TVs, but most other things looked pretty much dead-on Great War-era.
“This is really the perfect place to have one of these,” Misir said.
As the meal, which Misir called a high tea, progressed, people chattered about what they thought might happen in the show. They talked about characters as people actually living and breathing somewhere.
“I bet Mary goes back to being mean,” said Amber Frank.
For many, the premiere meant more than just the return of good entertainment. The episode meant resolution to tragedy.
At the end of season three, two main characters died, including Matthew Crawley, played by Dan Stevens, who spent the closing seconds of the final episode plummeting into a ditch in his automobile. That was the last thing Kiehle saw of a family she has come to think of as friends. She wasn’t happy about it.
“I was really mad,” she said.
Misir is as big a fan of the show as any of her guests. As such, she was overjoyed to get an early sneak peak Dec. 12, when she catered tea and scones for a WMHT members’ gathering. As the local TV station airing “Downton,” they had the recordings a few weeks early and showed their members, Misir along with them.
“It’s not a real downer,” she said, “Even after what happened last season.”
She described how show writers had to kill Matthew because the actor wanted off the show. It wasn’t the most delicate resolution of a personnel departure ever carried out on television, but she said it was necessary.
“Think about it,” she said. “If he had been a servant, he could have just gotten a job elsewhere, but he wasn’t a servant. They sort of had to kill him.”
Despite general dissatisfaction with the end of last season, more than 60 people turned out to Tailored Tea on Sunday to watch the first episode of the new season. Misir held a similar party last year, and said it’s becoming a tradition for fans of all ages.
The dining rooms filled with a mix of the young and less young, all trying equally hard at “Downton Abbey” trivia.
“Why was Mr. Bates in prison before he came to work for the Crawleys?” Misir read from a sheet of multiple choice questions.
“What is this, Double Jeopardy?” said Colleen McGuirk.
Most were women, “but we have a few brave men here,” Misir said, referring to maybe half a dozen male fans accompanying their wives.
A couple of them were engaged fans, but most of the men at the party just seemed to be along for the ride.