Home
Guest Posts
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Downton Abbey Dog: Right Breed, Wrong Color
And more flubs in period films

In period movies, dog breeds, just like fabric on the furniture, should be accurate to the period. Only a few contemporary breeds look exactly as they did 100 years ago.

Downton Abbey, the early 20th century story of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, with its authentic Yorkshire country house and period decor, is accurate down to thread in the costumes. But oops. No one thought to research what Lord Crawley’s loyal dog would actually have looked like. And Pharaoh (played by Roly) would not be a light cream–colored yellow Labrador Retriever.

Ben of Hyde (above), born in 1899, was the first recognized light-colored Lab—not really yellow but rather a dark butterscotch color. Prior to Ben, Labs were black, usually with white markings. The light cream–colored coat we see in every opening episode as Pharaoh trots along side his master, is a much later 20th century look.

When it comes to dogs in period films, historical inaccuracy is a pet peeve of mine. Here are some winners and losers:

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)—Set in 1757, takes place in the Hudson River Valley, includes two American Black and Tan Coonhounds pretending to be Blue Gascony Hounds.

Mrs. Brown (1997)—The story of widowed Queen Victoria, her servant, Scottish Highlander John Brown, and their extraordinary friendship that apparently left no time for any of her 88 dogs. Nary a single dog appears on screen. We don’t even hear a proxy dog barking off screen.

Howard’s End (1992)—A typical Merchant Ivory production, historically accurate from turn of the century wardrobe to wallpaper, is a tale of social class, theosophy and two poorly placed four-month-old yellow Labrador Retrievers.

Apocalypto (2006)—The story of the demise of the ancient Central American civilization features two hungry Xolo dogs that check out a smoldering campfire for leftovers. Accurate depiction, but seconds of screen time is hardly enough.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)—At a time when Spaniels were a soupy mix of similar shapes and sizes, the movie depicts Spaniels just that way.

Spaniels were a generic sort of working bird dog until the end of the 19th century.

Amazing Grace (2002)—The story of religious social reformer and abolitionist William Wilburforce. The 18 historically accurate Regency period dogs include in order of appearance: Papillion, Border Terrier, Collie, little black dog, little Terrier dog, another Collie, yellow Lurcher, grey Lurcher, little white dog, Irish Red and White Setter, and another field dog that looks suspiciously like a contemporary Springer Spaniel groomed with an electric trimmer. I didn’t say the movie was perfect.

This is what Reverend Wilburforce’s Collie would have looked like.

To read my entire diatribe about historically inaccurate dogs in period films, click here.

Print|Email

Jane Brackman, PhD, is an authority on the cultural history of canine domestication and the author of two books on pets in 19th-century America. See her new pup, Barkley, and watch him grow on her blog.

doctorbarkman.blogspot.com

Photos: Ben of Hyde from Wikipedia; Collie, engraving by Wm. Lizars, “The Naturalist’s Library,” 1830-1840.

CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Kathryn Graham | April 5 2012 |

I did not think the Welsh Pembroke Corgis in "The King's Speech" looked like corgis of that period. If you look at English champion bloodlines like that of Rozavel Red Dragon (born 1932), I think the corgis of the film depict contemporary standards. Also pictures of Queen Elizabeth as a child with her first corgi show a very different looking breed.

Submitted by Jane Brackman | April 7 2012 |

I agree Kathryn. I actually have a photo of those corgis and I just posted it on my blog (doctor barkman speaks). Thanks for bringing it up.

Submitted by Anonymous | August 19 2013 |

The dog's name is Isis. This is stated towards the end of season 2.

Submitted by Laurie N. | January 23 2014 |

I was so happy to read this article! Although I'm a big fan of "Downton Abbey", I kept thinking to myself that the yellow lab just didn't seem right; it seemed way too "modern". Thanks for confirming my hunch.

More From The Bark

By
Lisa Wogan
By
Kate VandenBerghe
By
Julia Kamysz Lane
More in Guest Posts:
Play Ball
Hope Needs a Forever Home
Dogs and Lipomas
Pittsburgh Symphony Goes to the Dogs
Mean Seed Season
Affordable Cure for Parvo
You are Invited to a Canine Science Conference
Southern Dog Rescues
Drop Outs and Bloopers: Behind the Scenes of Canine Science
A Proposal to Stop Breeding Dogs