DOWNTON Abbey fever swept into Christchurch as a 1925 Rolls-Royce and five other classic cars parked up outside the town’s Regent Centre to mark the cinematic launch of the period drama.
And a spoof movie featuring Highcliffe Castle as Downton Abbey was released, which sees series actor Jim Carter wishing everyone a “happy Christmas”.
In a first for the High Street theatre since its 1983 renovation, the film version of Downton Abbey opened on its national release day, with a schedule of 52 performances over the next few weeks.
To celebrate the milestone, staff arranged for a display of six classic 1920s cars including the 1925 royal blue Rolls-Royce owned by the Regent Centre’s chairman, Gary Trinder, outside the art deco building. Meanwhile staff at the centre got in on the act by donning period costumes to hand out glasses of sparkling wine to arriving patrons.
BBC TV South Today also covered the event live from the Regent with presenter Alexis Green emerging from the Rolls-Royce to present the weather forecast.
The Regent’s general manager, Felicity Porter, said: “This really has been a momentous day for Christchurch and the Regent, having a first-run film here again for the first time in 46 years since the old cinema closed in 1973. It has been a long time coming, but we could not have picked a more popular film to achieve this with than Downton Abbey!”
With advanced ticket sales of 6,000, the film had broken previous box office records before the first frame was even screened.
There was also another opening night surprise for Downton fans after its creator Julian Fellowes sent the Regent a special ‘good luck’ video message which was shown just before the film. A collection for Dorset Blind Association was taken at the end of the screening.
Jim Carter, who stars as Mr Carson in the ITV series, was more than happy to add a Christmas greeting in the spoof movie which was filmed by Highcliffe Action Team (Hat) and stars the Highcliffe Charity Players.
Starting with a shot of the castle with snow cascading down Scrooge is shown asking a young boy where he is.
When he answers ‘Highcliffe Castle’ Scrooge moans ‘I thought it was Highclere’ – the historic stately home where Downton Abbey the TV series and also the recently filmed movie were made.
The young boy laughs and says: “Everyone gets those two mixed up!”
Scrooge then asks if there is a good butchers in town as he has guests coming for dinner, to which the young boy tells him there are 100 stores in the village including Chris Watson the excellent butchers.
Later a vintage 1925 Rolls-Royce comes down the drive to the castle and out steps Lady Mary Crawley, fresh from Downton Abbey where her family live.
She is with a young man wearing a dapper suit and straw hat. The couple greet Scrooge and then are surrounded by castle staff who begin singing a song which ends with the chorus “Thank you very, very much!”
The video can be seen on YouTube and the A&T’s website. Jane Dean, PR for Hat, said it had been made “to say a big thank you to the people of Highcliffe and the wonderful businesses who keep our village going”.
She said she was “thrilled” the castle had given Hat permission to film there and said it was wonderful to have the Highcliffe Charity Players involved.