Maggie Smith won a Golden Globe this week for best supporting actress in Downton Abbey for her role as Violet, Dowager Duchess of Grantham. Fans of the ITV show now wait patiently for series 4 – but in the meantime a clever spoof of the show named Dollshouse Downton is available to watch on YouTube with haughty Violet played by a duck with a bonnet. She joins a cast of other characters played by the Sylvanian Families animal characters and Beatrix Potter figurines.
This parody of the ITV period drama was created by north London schoolgirls Grace Venning, 17 and Tanvi Punatar, 18, who re-set the drama in a giant doll's house made by Venning's dad, Philip, when she was a young child. The pair do all the filming and voiceover work themselves – it takes two days to film each short series. Casting is easy – most of the Grantham family are rabbits and other characters are played by hedgehogs, moles, and cats.
It was the brainchild of Venning – the pair have so far done the first series (three episodes) and the second series (two episodes) and notched up nearly 150,000 views on YouTube. Not only that but Downton's writer Julian Fellowes is a fan as are the rest of the Downton cast, including actor Hugh Bonneville, who sent Venning a tweet on her birthday.
The pair will next work on the third series, which has just aired on TV. "We will bang it out in a day during February half-term," says Venning. "The main difficulty is shooting it. It's such a small space to hold up the figures, make them balance and move them around without getting our fingers in the way. Our catch phrase is 'amateur charm'. We are not trying to be perfect," she says.
For series 3, they will need a church for the wedding of Lady Mary and Matthew as well as a new figurine of Shirley MacLaine who plays Martha Levinson, mother to Cora, Countess of Grantham. "It's really good fun going to a Sylvanian Families shop in north London to cast figures for the next season," says Venning.
After the duo have knocked out the script, which includes classic lines such as ('I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, strikingly beautiful, if bitchy and selfish eldest daughter…' says Lord Grantham to Lady Mary) – Punatar acts as the cameraman. "I boss Grace around behind the camera but I knock everything around if I'm trying to fiddle with figurines, " says Punatar. "Setting up shots is laborious. We use little tricks like taking one long shot of a character and cutting back to it several times to avoid having to move the figures around all the time."
Series three of 'Dollshouse Downton' is due out at the end of February. To watch (youtube.com/user/amyaproductions)