Gorgeous period piece films like the large screen transfer of creator Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey embody a specific level of difficulty, as transporting audiences back to a bygone era requires a lot of research and skill. Surely no one would know that better than the series’ costume designer Anna Robbins, as she’s been dressing the folks of Downton since Season 5, and made the award-nominated duds that helped see the feature film adaptation dazzle the world.
But like any task worth executing, there’s always that one piece to the puzzle that needs a little extra work to stick the landing. And in terms of Downton Abbey’s costuming, Robbins admitted the most difficult costume to design was the following:
The military aspect of the film was possibly the most challenging, and specifically the King’s costume.
As I was on hand at the Downton Abbey home video junket, on behalf of CinemaBlend, I was able to speak with Anna Robbins in person, with some of her most prominent costumes from the film on display. And yet, with all of the ball gowns and menswear that was on display in director Michael Engler’s feature film adaptation of this popular series, Robbins’ most intricate challenge ultimately came down to what was the film’s most expensive and complicated sequence.
On top of all of the logistical hurdles that saw Downton Abbey transporting its actors to a royal parade in the village surrounding the Crawley family’s estate, an essential part of that effort was Anna Robbins’ designs for the costumes that would not only dress the actual members of the Royal Artillery, but also King George V, played by actor Simon Jones.
If there are three words that govern the work that Anna Robbins puts into any outfit she designs, they would be accuracy, scale, and grandeur. So, of course, in a sequence where huge crowds greet the Royal Artillery on their way to the parade grounds that will show off their equestrian formation skills, there’s going to be a lot of difficulty when it comes to keeping everyone looking the part.
Which makes for an interesting juxtaposition when comparing those costumes to the ones that Downton Abbey is most famously known for. But as Robbins told me during our discussion, the ball gowns that are featured on Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, and the rest of the female cast are her “bread and butter.”
It makes total sense, when you think about how long Anna Robbins has been a part of the Downton Abbey family, and how the series has always made a name for showing the aristocratic style of the Crawley family as they move through the decades. It’s something that reflects in Robbins’ hopes for the future too, as when I asked her if there was any particular garments she was looking to dream up for a potential sequel, the styles of the 1930’s are of interest to her designing skills for the road ahead.
For those curious about the exact intricacies that went into King George V’s royal garb, as well as some of Anna Robbins’ thoughts on costuming for Downton Abbey, we actually have a video to share with you below. And while there weren’t any of the costumes from the royal parade on display, you should still keep your eyes open to see some familiar looking outfits in the background as you watch.
Accurately portraying the styles of the past is something that a good costume designer can do on a whim. However, to consistently revive those designs is something that only a great designer like Anna Robbins can do. Throughout two seasons, and now a lavish motion picture in the world of Downton Abbey, Robbins has moved through the years on display in ITV’s drama hit and has even made the jump from TV to the big screen with the sort of artistic flourish that the series deserves.
Her exemplary work is also starting to get noticed in this year’s awards cycle, as well, with the costuming in Downton Abbey receiving nominations throughout various guilds and awards bodies. Already a two time Emmy nominee for her work on the show, Robbins has already won “Costume Designer of the Year” with the Hollywood Film Awards, and has seen her work receive nods with the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Satellite Awards, and most notably, the Costume Designers Guild Awards.
With those sort of accolades, and the unique challenges met and surpassed by Anna Robbins’ work on the costumes for Downton Abbey, Oscar season might be a particularly fruitful affair. The gorgeously intricate styles such as those in this particular film are easily a shoo-in for another notable nomination, which means fans will have another reason to root for this crowd-pleasing film as the new year dawns.
If you’re not yet a fan of Downton Abbey, don’t fret. All of the show’s seasons are available on streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, and the motion picture is currently on digital HD, Blu-ray, and DVD. Though be warned, if you jump into the film without much backstory from the series, you might be a bit confused as to what you’re seeing.