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Downton Abbey’s Costume Designer Has Been Working With The Franchise For Years. However, A New Era Came With ‘Weirdest’ Challenges

Costume designer Anna Robbins has been in the business of making bespoke costumes for productions for years. In fact, in the world of Downton Abbey alone, she’s worked with the franchise for quite some time, having designed for the series across its last couple of seasons as well as for the first Downton film. However, the latest sequel A New Era presented its own set of challenges, namely due to the movie’s filming timeline, which took place in the summer of 2021 and led to some particular difficulties for Ms. Robbins and her team. 

Covid was an time for a lot of film productions and we’ve heard from films as varied as Mission: Impossible 7, which went to wild lengths to manage safety protocols, to Jake Gyllenhaal’s The Guilty – which filmed some on Zoom– about challenges the filming industry has faced. Speaking ahead of Downton Abbey: A New Era’s big streaming and Digital debut, Anna Robbins shared some of the particular challenges her department faced, which really goes to show that every portion of productions have been affected over the last couple of years.

This film particularly was challenging because it was much bigger than the last one, in terms of costume it was much, much more prolific. The number of story days and the number of costumes that were required, it wasn’t double but it was significantly bigger than the last – we made 350 costumes in the workroom, something like that. There were 24 story days – not everyone is in every single scene –but it’s Downton, there’s a lot of principal cast and as an ensemble piece, so that was challenging.

During a visit to the UK ahead of Downton Abbey: A New Era’s Digital, streaming, Blu-ray and DVD release, we were actually able to visit Belchamp Hall, which was where Tom and Lucy’s large wedding scene took place. Charles Raymond and his family, who own the property, also described to me tents that covered the lawn in order to accommodate Covid testing and more to ensure the big ensemble moments could happen, so it wasn’t just the costuming team that saw challenges with filming a much larger film this time around. 

Likewise for Anna Robbins, the “weirdest challenge” wasn’t simply the sheer number of costumes that needed to be created to accommodate a storyline set in both the UK and in the French Riviera. She said Covid challenges also really complicated her job this time around, as well. 

I think the weirdest challenge was prepping during Covid. You know, I’m a designer. I like to touch fabric and look at it in natural light and see how it’s going to behave on camera. We weren’t able to visit fabric shops. We weren’t able to visit vintage stores. So we sort of source the job digitally, on our phones. So then, there were some amazing surprises where things arrived and they were more beautiful than I thought they would be. And there were some nasty surprises where things just didn’t look the way we thought they would online. So, that was a challenge, but I guess the silver lining from it was we had to cast a much wider net and found things we wouldn’t have found otherwise from all corners of the world.

Anna Robbins certainly knows how to turn some sour lemons into lemonade, here, and it actually reminds me a little bit of what director Simon Curtis also told me about taking the movie’s original somber ending and turning it into something that could be celebrated, which also became a silver lining moment  at the end of the film. Ultimately, there may have been more challenges on Downton Abbey: A New Era than the previous movies, but A New Era is a delightful sequel and manages to hit a bunch of solid notes for its fans. 

If you haven’t gotten the opportunity to watch it yet, you can do so with a Peacock Premium subscription or order your own copy now (opens in new tab). Blu-ray and DVD copies of A New Era  are already available for pre-order (opens in new tab) and will officially hit homes on July 5, though the Digital is available now.

Jessica Rawden
Jessica Rawden

Amazing Race & Top Chef superfan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. Theme park junkie. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.