What to expect from ‘Downton Abbey: The Exhibition’ in Atlanta

The exhibit, created by an Atlanta-based company, is open until January 2022.
Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is now open in Sandy Springs where the experiential, traveling show presents the television series' film sets, dozens of the fashions used in the PBS show and props, artifacts and cultural details from the post-Edwardian England in the display.  Atlanta is the largest showing on the national tour with two additional rooms on display as well as more fashion in the exhibit. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is now open in Sandy Springs where the experiential, traveling show presents the television series' film sets, dozens of the fashions used in the PBS show and props, artifacts and cultural details from the post-Edwardian England in the display. Atlanta is the largest showing on the national tour with two additional rooms on display as well as more fashion in the exhibit. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Tom Zaller, as he led media through Atlanta’s new “Downton Abbey: The Exhibition,” pointed out a picture of the opulent dining room. He stepped forward, pivoted, then with a wave of his arm, showed off a faithfully accurate replica of the room itself from the crazy popular period PBS drama.

“It’s all about the reveal,” Zaller said proudly.

Zaller, who runs Atlanta-based Imagination Exhibitions, is an “experience” veteran of 20-plus years. His company has created more than 40 different experiences ranging thematically from the Angry Birds video game to artist Leonardo da Vinci to multiple dinosaur exhibits. His company’s next big exhibition will be focused around Harry Potter in 2022. Zaller has done exhibits in dozens of countries for science centers, museums, zoos, aquariums and casinos.

This particular “Downton Abbey” stand-alone exhibition is based at the Perimeter Pointe strip mall in Sandy Springs two doors down from where the “Friends Experience” just wrapped. It costs $36 with free parking and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through January 17, 2022.

The experience has previously been shown in Singapore; New York City; West Palm Beach, Florida; Austin, Texas; and most recently, Ashville, North Carolina, at the Biltmore House.

Tom Zaller, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Imagine Exhibitions, oversaw the creation of "Downton Abbey: The Exhibition." He gave a tour to media on Sept. 24, 2021. RODNEY HO/rhO@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rh@

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Credit: RODNEY HO/rh@

“Downton Abbey” is by far PBS’s most popular scripted show in its long history, a worldwide phenomenon over six seasons that translated stateside as well. The series finale drew nearly 10 million American viewers in 2015, spawning a 2019 film and an upcoming 2022 sequel. Fans couldn’t get enough of the social dynamics between and among the rich and their help. And having Oscar winner Maggie Smith as the ever sardonic Dowager Countess never hurt.

“The character development is so amazing,” said Zaller, a fan of the TV show itself when it originally aired. “It’s rich and opulent with great storylines.” And he was fascinated by how the show revealed the period’s transition into modernity with the growth of automobiles and electricity and later, the telephone and radio.

The lush mansion itself became an enduring character in the series, which fictionally spanned from 1912 to 1925. The exhibition honors the edifice by painstakingly recreating many key rooms such as Mrs. Patmore’s busy kitchen, the servant’s hall and Lady Mary’s bedroom, which couldn’t fit in some of the earlier exhibit spaces.

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is now open in Sandy Springs where the experiential, traveling show has the formal dining room from the television series' film set and dozens of the fashions used in the PBS show on Saturday, Oct 2, 2021.  Atlanta is the largest showing on the national tour with two additional rooms on display as well as more fashion. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

icon to expand image

Credit: Jenni Girtman

“This is the best space we’ve had so far,” Zaller said. “We have the height. We have the width. We could spread out.” (With endless money and space, he would have loved to have also built out the mansion’s driveway, front façade and the foyer.)

More than 50 of the original costumes from the show are featured, from wedding dresses to maid outfits. And there are multiple videos, including immersive projection technology to showcase some of the show’s highlights in a room resembling the mansion’s library.

Elisabeth Corkran, a 51-year-old human resources business partner from Avondale Estates, began watching “Downton Abbey” during the pandemic and quickly became hooked. She saw the exhibit at the Biltmore in Asheville. “Those dresses are lovely on screen, but even more breathtaking in person!” she said.

For a fan like Kelly McCreary, a 45-year-old Stone Mountain wine shop manager, the show was a compelling blend of beauty, triumph, history and tragedy. “Seeing the exhibition will only solidify your passion for the show,” she said, after visiting the Asheville exhibit. “The attention to detail is incredible. Seeing certain pieces up close will take you back to your favorite scenes. But the showstopper for me was walking into Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen. I could only smile.”

NBCUniversal International Studios, which owns the rights to “Downton Abbey,” cooperated with the exhibition. As a result, the show creator Julian Fellowes, executive producer Gareth Neame, costume designer Gina Cromwell and set designer Donal Woods all consulted with Zaller to give the space authenticity.

Several of the key actors even taped specialized video, including Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley/Lord Grantham), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley/Lady Grantham), Jim Carter (butler Mr. Carson) and Phyllis Logan (lead housekeeper Mrs. Hughes).

"Downton Abbey: The Experience" in Sandy Springs features more than 50 costumes from the show itself. The exhibit runs through mid January, 2022. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

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Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

The just-concluded “Friends” pop-up experience allowed fans to “relive” moments on the show by allowing them to interact directly with the props and furniture and taking numerous Instagramable photos. In contrast, the“Downton Abbey” version is sleeker and more museum-like. Selfies are still welcome, but you can’t sit at the dining room table and fiddle with the silverware.

“They call us the sophisticated pop up,” Zaller said.


IF YOU GO

“Downton Abbey: The Experience”

10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. $36 with children 14 and under (accompanied by an adult) free. VIP packages and private event options available. 1155 Mount Vernon Highway NE, Atlanta. downtonexhibition.com.

The show’s six seasons are available for Netflix subscribers and on Peacock for free.

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is now open in Sandy Springs where the experiential, traveling show presents  immersive projections along the path to the television series' film sets and dozens of the fashions used in the PBS show on Saturday, Oct 2, 2021.  Atlanta is the largest showing on the national tour with two additional rooms on display as well as more fashion. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

icon to expand image

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Outside the servant’s quarters display at Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, now open in Sandy Springs, Cortney Shelford participates in the experiential, traveling show Saturday, Oct 2, 2021.  The exhibit presents the television series' film sets, dozens of the fashions used in the PBS show and props, artifacts and historical details from the fictional, iconic house.  Atlanta is the largest showing on the national tour with two additional rooms on display as well as more fashion items. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

In line to see the show, patrons of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition wait in Sandy Springs for doors to open at the experiential, traveling show Saturday, Oct 2, 2021.  The presentation in Atlanta is the largest showing on the national tour with two additional rooms on display from the television series' film set, as well as more fashion shown that was used in the PBS show and prop artifacts from the iconic house. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

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