It was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
Sheela Bailey, an English expat and an Argyle resident who has owned and operated the British Emporium in Grapevine for almost 27 years, was on the Underground in London. She and her husband had crossed the Atlantic to attend the wedding of a niece.
“Someone had left a freebie paper on the seat near us,” Bailey said.
Bailey’s eyes fell on an advertisement in the paper. It was for the London premiere of the film Downton Abbey, for that very evening.
“Then I saw in really small type something that said ‘We are giving away 60 passes at 8 a.m.,’” Bailey said. “We saw this at 11 a.m. I figured the passes probably went about five minutes after 8 a.m. But my husband said, ‘We’re not far from there. Let’s just go and see if they have any.’”
Before Downton Abbey became a film, it was the most-watched drama ever to air on PBS. The series follows the aristocratic Crawley family, whose sprawling Edwardian country house anchors the family’s town. The series not only tracks the chess-like caste system that still ruled English life in 1912, but it also casts a sympathetic eye to the men and women who live downstairs at Downton — the servants who keep the estate polished, trimmed and stately.
The film adaptation of the series opened Friday in local theaters. The big-screen adaptation continues the story, and finds the Crawley family abuzz at the prospect of a visit from the royal family.
Bailey started watching the PBS series early on, but on the recommendation of her customers.
“I’m pretty busy as someone who owns a retail outlet, and I don’t always get to watch everything,” Bailey said. “But my customers kept asking me if I’d seen it. So I started watching.”
Like millions of others, Bailey got hooked on the historical drama. The Crawleys are wealthy and influential family headed by Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, and his American wife, Cora. Their daughters are navigating a new world — the Titanic has sunk, the British economy is shifting and Downton is showing a tiny bit of wear.
Bailey was a superfan of the series when she was on the Tube on Sept. 9. She and her husband went to the theater where the premiere was scheduled, and both were prepared for news that there weren’t any more passes.
“We walked into the theater where everyone was getting ready for this big red carpet event, and we asked the guy at the popcorn stand about the passes. He didn’t know anything about it, and went to find someone who could help us,” Bailey said.
Finally a woman approached them with good news — they had passes left.
“But that started a wild goose chase for this security worker,” she said.
The couple located the security officer only to get bad news.
“He told us, ‘You need another paper. You only get one pass per advert.’ We really started pleading with him. ‘We’ve come all the way from Texas, please let us have two passes,’” Bailey said.
The officer wouldn’t be moved, and Bailey’s husband sprinted for the subway for another three paper. Bailey said she shortly saw her husband racing back to her through the crowd.
“I started running toward him. The paper was crunched up like a relay baton,” she said. “But we finally got back to the security guard and got two passes.”
Then the couple waited five hours for the premiere to begin. Their passes afforded them a meeting with the actors and actresses. Bailey and her husband met Elizabeth McGovern (who plays Cora Crawley), Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) and others.
“They were all just lovely and asked so many questions,” Bailey said. “Hugh Bonneville was just lovely and was so pleased that I got to see it first.”
Bonneville also swore Bailey to secrecy about the movie, which she promised to do.
“What I will say is that it’s a lovely thing to see on the big screen. The diamonds and sequins sparkle,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful bit of escapism, which is sorely needed in the world now.”
Bailey’s business partnered with Alamo Drafthouse Las Colinas and WRR-FM (101.1) for a special screening of the film on Friday night. The screening included some videos the couple shot at the premiere.
British Emporium carries the Downton Abbey cookbook and some of the legacy brands of food mentioned by Mrs. Patmore, the character who runs the kitchen in the fictional mansion.