Downton Abbey - Movie Review

The Gang is back
The Gang is back(Focus Features)
Updated: Sep. 29, 2019 at 2:37 PM EDT
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One of the biggest television hits of the first part of the decade has spawned a movie and it’s sweeping up the box office. Downton Abbey, the series, which originally aired for six seasons between 2011 and 2016 in the USA, was not just a hit, but a phenomenon. Its American success seems even more astonishing when you consider: just how British the show is, it had no big American Stars and its original airing was on PBS, which isn’t known for its large audiences. But its success also demonstrates the importance of streaming and word of mouth in the overpopulated arena of television shows in the post streaming area. A quality show will find an audience.

How much you like the movie of Downton Abbey will depend on whether you were a fan of the original series. It seems unlikely that if you have never seen the series that you will like the movie. Conversely, if you are a fan of the series, I think you would find it difficult to dislike the film. It’s all very polite and classy and impeccably crafted, but the fare is fairly light.

The film takes place in 1927 and the drama begins when the King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) send an embossed royal note in the royal mail announcing their plan to stay at Downton Abbey on an official visit as part of a tour of Yorkshire. This sends the Crawleys and their household staff into a tizzy of fret and preparation. Much of the planning falls upon Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) who calls Carson (Jim Carter) out of retirement to oversee things because she is apprehensive that the current head of staff, Barrow (Robert James Collier) is taking the whole matter too frivolously. Of course this irks the irksome Barrow, who was never known to be warm and fuzzy. But soon it is a moot point, because the eager, hardworking staff learns that all of them will be replaced by the royal staff from Buckingham Palace during the visit. It seems the King and Queen, very much like Beyonce today, have a huge entourage that travels with them. The staff isn’t happy with being rendered useless.

The film works best in its moments, much like the series did. There is a terrific one in the third act when the Countess Dowager (Maggie Smith) confides in her granddaughter Lady Mary. Smith, who won three Emmys for her delicious portrayal of Violet Crawley once again, proves what a brilliantly subtle actress she is. Another great moment happens with Barrow’s character, also in the third act. This helps complete his character arc that built so nicely throughout the series. One of the reasons I loved the original series was these great character revelations, and here the film doesn’t disappoint.

All of the cast from the series is in the film, well those still living after the sixth season; including Allen Leach as Branson, Hugh Bonneville as Earl Grantham, Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Grantham, Golden Globe winner, Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates, Brendan Coyle as Bates, Leslie Nichol as the poor put upon cook, Mrs. Patmore. The costumes are gorgeous. The production design and cinematography and attention to detail are impressive as well. This is to be expected from creator Julian Fellowes’ team.

Full disclosure: I remember very clearly nestled in my hotel room in my favorite Catskill Mountain resort in the dead of winter, binge watching Downton Abbey. I called the front desk and blatantly lied when I asked for a late checkout. “I am in the middle of a very productive streak with my writing, could I have a late check-out, say one hour later to finish up my writing?” I wasn’t writing by the way, I couldn’t stop watching.

So for me, and other loyal fans, enjoy Downton Abbey the movie. It’s just what the doctor ordered.

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