Visitors attend a 1920's themed event at Highclere Castle, the setting for the 'Downton Abbey' film. Photo: AFP / Isabel Infantes

Bedecked in 1920s dresses, feathered hats, and three-piece suits, visitors from across the world have flocked to England’s Highclere Castle, scene of the Downton Abbey smash television drama – and now, at last, a major movie.

The majestic setting of one of the most popular series in history will appear on the big screen when the first spin-off film opens globally later this month.

Winner of dozens of awards since its British debut in 2010, the period drama about early 20th century aristocrats has mesmerized Yifan Gao, a Chinese student attending university in Scotland.

“Everyone our age knows Downtown Abbey [in China],” the 25-year-old said, posing for a photograph in a vintage dress, a glamorous necklace draped around her neck.

“It’s charming,” she added after taking a six-hour train ride from Edinburgh with two friends to attend a special weekend at the castle organised by producers of the film. “I used that series to practice my English.”

Boasting 200 rooms, four chefs and four gardeners, the 19th-century estate is now home to George Herbert, Eighth Earl of Carnarvon, and Lady Fiona Carnarvon, his wife.

The running costs of the estate, which also includes 3,000 sheep, are huge, the earl pointed out, without going into specifics.

Before the TV series stopped production in 2015, “there were even more people working there, 20 gardeners, 16 people in the kitchen,” he said.

The number of visitors to the castle has more than doubled to 90,000 people a year because of Downton Abbey, a series which began with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and ended in late 1925.

The film, which officially premieres at London’s Leicester Square this week, picks up the plot in 1927, with the Crawley family anxiously awaiting a visit from King George V and Queen Mary.

The castle was dressed up for the occasion as well, throwing open its doors to fans and filling its driveways with immaculately kept antique cars.

Its sweeping oak staircase and airy rooms decorated with paintings, warmed by fireplaces and attended by servants in period clothes meant that the castle almost felt like home to devout admirers of the shows.

“It felt so familiar like I have been there before,” Daniel Bissler, 70, a Californian dressed in a sky-blue and white striped suit and bow tie the colors of the Union Jack, said after admiring the various rooms and hallways.

“It really captures a very special time in England, when the working class, women, were fighting for their rights,” Shayane Lacey,24, a Londoner who came with her mother Roya, said.

Emily Dickmann from Chicago felt “almost emotional” after stepping inside the bedroom of Lady Sybil, one of the heroines of the show.

“I think we Americans are obsessed with the English. We don’t have lords and ladies, that long history, and it is kind of fascinating for us,” she said.


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