Downton Abbey (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
For some fans of the television series, this is the biggest movie event of 2019.
Picks right up where the series left off and seeing these characters interacting among various subplots and situations feels like home again, if you are a “Downton” fan.
While everyone is terrific in the cast, Maggie Smith may earn awards recognition for a terrific performance, which really anchors the heart and soul of the film in the third act.
If you have never mustered much interest in the series, I am not sure you’re really going to get a whole lot out of the film.
For its diehard followers it is blasphemy to ask this question…but here goes: Did we really need this movie?
For those hoping a cinematic Downton Abbey would lead to something bigger, grander, and more profound - honestly, this feels like nothing more than a two-hour episode with a film’s budget.
Nostalgia is always a weakness for consumers, especially in pop culture. For six series, “Downton Abbey” was as beloved a television show as we have had in recent memory. Collecting 15 Emmys over its six-year run, Julian Fellowes’ creation was a critical darling and, in the era of streaming, has become a show, as much if not more than any other, to gain a massive following through on-demand viewing through PBS and Amazon Prime and other streaming services.
The movie was certainly inevitable, if Fellowes and the producers could bring everyone back. And once everyone was on board, Downton Abbey, the movie, became a reality. And for some dear friends and family, this movie is one of the biggest movie events of their respective lifetimes. For some people in my life, this is their Avengers: Endgame for 2019.
You should probably possess some knowledge of the Crawley Family to at least have an understanding of who they main players are, what’s at stake, and why the story of King George and Queen Mary of England coming to visit Downton is so significant. Owners of a sprawling estate, the Crawleys, inhabitants of the upstairs, are tended to and taken care of by the staff who reside downstairs. For those who may be familiar with Fellowes’ Oscar-winning 2001 film, Gosford Park, directed by Robert Altman, the essential structure of all of this is much the same.
Over the course of 52 episodes, Fellowes and his team wrote such engaging material and made the Crawleys and their servants transcend their time period of 1912 to 1927 to establish rapport with modern audiences. The connection fans felt to the melodrama and tension and surprises “Downton Abbey” offered made it appointment television in an era where most people just DVR things or wait until full series drop on their streaming platform of choice.
Though there are few surprises here, the film picks up in 1927 with that news of a royal visit. We learn that the sardonic matriarch of the Crawley Family, the Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), is in a row over the Queen’s future inheritance, which is potentially going to bypass going to Violet’s son Robert, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and instead go to cousin Maud’s (Imelda Staunton) maid, Lucy (Tuppence Middleton).
As excitement for the King and Queen’s arrival heightens, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) has grave concerns that head butler, Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), is unable to handle the requirements of the visit. This allows retired butler, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) to return and lead the downstairs servant residents through the manifestations of preparing for a proper visit.
That the King and Queen send an entourage ahead of their stay, including a personal dresser for both King and Queen and a royal chef to prep Downton for the visit, send Downton’s staff into tumult. The Downton staff learn they will be displaced by an official detail which travels with the King and Queen, leading to a series of amusing situations and something of a turf war between the servants and the new interlopers usurping the Downton staff.
Even more smaller subplots rise and fall. Downton Abbey, as a film, effectively works through its steps and scenes with extreme precision and familiarity. And though Fellowes’ script and Michael Engler’s directing glide along with ease, the film feels stuck at times in paying fan service to a vast array of characters. Perhaps this is simply a one-off and the film at times feels like one. A number of characters are rushed through, given a modicum of screen time, almost a nod and wink to Downton’s devotees that this character or that character remains in the picture.
With that said, I had a smile on my face the entire time. As a casual fan of the television series - I have missed more than my share of episodes - I found the film simply delightful. On the big screen, the exquisite production design looks more extravagant and beautiful than on the small screen. Costumes are perfect. The cinematography is sweeping and stunning. John Lunn’s subtle changes to his Emmy Award-winning score amplifies the film to something worthy of a large-scale production.
The film’s biggest takeaway is Maggie Smith. As the Dowager Countess, Smith won three Primetime Emmys and her caustic one-liners are turned all the way up in the film. Smith takes her character to another level however, and then steals the third act of the film away from everyone, anchoring an emotional series of scenes that underscore just how crucial and important her character has been all along this journey.
Everything conspires together to likely satisfy any “Downton Abbey” fan. And while to the uninitiated, Downton Abbey probably looks and feels no different than any other British period costume drama, the chemistry the characters share with one another, the connection this material has with the audience cannot be understated.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Matthew Goode, Jim Carter, Tuppence Middleton, Allen Leech, Robert James-Collier, Max Brown, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Kate Phillips, Imelda Staunton, Joanne Froggatt, Raquel Cassidy, Sophie McShera, Geraldine James, Brendan Coyle, Simon Jones, Lesley Nicol, David Haig, Kevin Doyle, Harry Hadden-Paton, Phyllis Logan, Stephen Campbell Moore.
Direcfor: Michael Engler
Written by: Julian Fellowes
Based on characters created by Julian Fellowes for the television series, “Downton Abbey”
Release Date: September 20, 2019