Get on Downton: Period drama recruits X Factor finalist for assault on hit parade
The Dowager Countess would no doubt disapprove. But Downton Abbey is to launch an assault on the pop charts with a "love theme" inspired by its leading characters and performed by a former X Factor contestant.
The third series of ITV's hit period drama, which launches tomorrow night, is more than just a domestic ratings winner. Downton Abbey has become a valuable international "brand", spawning books, DVDs and even a jewellery collection inspired by the series' characters.
The latest spin-off is Downton Abbey: The Essential Collection, an album of music featured on the series' soundtrack. As well as stirring orchestral themes, the album includes new pop songs, written to reflect Julian Fellowes' storylines, which will accompany key points in the drama.
Don Black, the lyricist behind the Bond theme "Diamonds Are Forever", has written the words to a new song, "I'll Count The Days", which will be used as the backdrop to the love story between the characters Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary. The thwarted lovers are, finally, to be married in the new series.
"I'll Count The Days" is sung by Rebecca Ferguson, a former X Factor finalist. Decca, the record company releasing the album, which hits stores later this month, has high hopes that the love theme will become a chart-topper. Despite Downton's Edwardian setting, the album also features somewhat anachronistic covers of the 1980s rock hits "With Or Without You" and "Every Breath You Take", performed by Belgian choir Scala & The Kolacny Brothers.
Downton's producers, Carnival Films, have been forced to step in to prevent unlicensed attempts to cash in on their property. The PBS network, which screens the series to five million viewers in the US, advertised souvenir earrings and necklaces on its website, including a "Lady Mary knotted pearl necklace and earring set". They withdrew the range after a complaint from Carnival. "Free Mr Bates" car bumper stickers have become popular in the US, in tribute to the valet who was incarcerated after being found guilty of murdering his wife.
An unofficial website offers T-shirts, pyjamas, mugs and even thongs emblazoned with the tart phrases uttered by Dame Maggie Smith's Countess, including "what is … a weekend?" and "Don't be defeatist, dear; it's very middle class." There are Downton baby bodysuits, clocks and ceramic travel mugs being sold by web suppliers.
Jessica Fellowes, the niece of series creator Julian, was awarded the contract for a lucrative series of official Downton books. Her latest, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, will "explore the lives of every important member of the Downton estate. Focusing on each character individually, it examines their motivations, their actions and the inspirations behind them."
The third series opens with Hugh Bonneville's Lord Grantham facing ruin after gambling his wife's fortune on a failed investment. The arrival of Oscar-winner Shirley MacLaine, who plays Lady Grantham's New York-dwelling mother, is intended to maximise the show's North American audience. Meanwhile, preparations are already under way for the wedding of Dan Stevens' Matthew and Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery.
Asia is also falling under Downton's spell, with the series picking up an award at the Shanghai TV Festival. Gareth Neame of Carnival Films, said: "It was remarkable that in the People's Republic of China, a show that's all about class, hierarchy and deference had people saying this is their favourite show they've ever seen."
Tea sets and white thongs: The brand
Lady Mary knotted pearl necklace and earring set (£102)
The "epitome of elegance, inspired by the character of Lady Mary Crawley" was withdrawn after a complaint from producers.
English crown tea service set (£51.40)
Includes a gold-detailed teapot and mug "elegant enough for any countess or lady"
"Why does every day involve a fight with an American?...The Dowager Countess" (£7.80)
Bon mot inscribed on a white thong from cafepress.com.
"What would Lady Mary do?" (£13)
Sold as organic baby bodysuit, but also available as a hoodie and large thermos bottle.
'The Chronicles of Downton Abbey' (£10)
Official series three tie-in book by Jessica Fellowes which invites readers to "wander the crowded servants' quarters and peek into luxurious bed chambers".
"Free Mr Bates" bumper sticker (£4.95)
An 11" x 3" durable vinyl sticker from Zazzle.
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