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Fans flock to Downton Abbey castle ahead of film debut

Highclere Castle is all dressed up for period drama's film debut in Britain

HIGHCLERE, ENGLAND : 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 popular TV series Downton Abbey.

The majestic setting will appear on the big screen when the Downton Abbey movie adaptation opens in Britain today and in Singapore on Nov 28.

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

"Everyone our age knows Downton Abbey in China. It's charming. I used that series to practise my English," said the 25-year-old, who took a six-hour train ride from Edinburgh with two friends to attend a special weekend at the castle organised by the film's producers.

With 200 rooms, four chefs and four gardeners, the 19th-century castle is now home to Lord George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife Lady Fiona Carnarvon.

The running costs of the estate, which also includes 3,000 sheep, are huge, he said.

Before the TV series stopped production in 2015 after six seasons, "there were even more people working there - 20 gardeners, 16 people in the kitchen".

The number of visitors to the castle has more than doubled to 90,000 people a year thanks to the show, whose tale begins with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and ends in late 1925.

The film picks up the plot in 1927, with the Crawley family (played by Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Laura Carmichael and Elizabeth McGovern) anxiously awaiting a visit from King George V and Queen Mary.

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

With a sweeping oak staircase and rooms decorated with paintings, warmed by fireplaces and attended by servants in period clothes, it almost felt like home to especially devout admirers.

"It felt so familiar, like I have been there before," Mr Daniel Bissler, a 70-year-old Californian, said after admiring the various rooms and hallways.

"It really captures a very special time in England, when the working class and women were fighting for their rights," added Ms Shayane Lacey, a 24-year-old Londoner who came with her mother Roya, 54.- AFP

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