DIRECTED BY: MICHAEL ENGLER
When I found out that I would possibly be reviewing the film Downton Abbey, my first thought is that I would simply watch the television show and then go to the screening. After starting to watch the show, I quickly realized that there are too many episodes to watch and still make the screening, so that led to me being able to pace out the viewing and truly get to know this world before going to the theater and experiencing the film. What follows is a review “after the show” where certain spoilers may exist, especially considering the film has been out for a month now. So grab some tea, or ring for someone else to bring it to you, as we discuss Downton Abbey.
Director Michael Engler, who had directed episodes of the television series, is handed the key to the estate for the film by series creator, and film screenwriter, Julian Fellowes. The continuity of the film to the series that preceded it is its greatest strength as the story plays out as a double-episode might, or a longer Christmas special that served as the usual ninth episode in a particular season.
Downton is still surviving in 1927 largely on the measures enacted by the late Matthew Crawley to help make the estate more self-sustaining after many such large estates were seen as relics of the gilded age following World War I. Leading the Crawley family is still Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), his American wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), along with his daughter Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) and her husband Henry (Matthew Goode), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and her husband Bertie Hexham (Harry Hadden-Paton), and Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the widower to the Crawley’s daughter Sybil. Of course there is the fiery grand-matriarch of the family, the Dowager Countess of Grantham Victoria Crawley (Maggie Smith), and her arch-friend/enemy Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton).
Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) is still retired, and his wife Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) continues to serve the Downton estate. Also still serving on staff is the head butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his wife Anna (Joanne Froggatt), Mrs. Patmore (Leslie Nicol), Daisy (Sophie McShera), Mr. Mosely (Kevin Doyle), Andy (Michael Fox), and Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy).
The film is basically a giant episode centered around the visit of the royal family to Downton. The staff of Downton, at first so excited for the honor to serve the King (Simon Jones) and Queen (Geraldine James), find themselves usurped by the servant staff of the palace. As for the Crawley’s, they must help arrange the visit, as well as deal with a family quarrel that is reignited when they discover that traveling with the queen is Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), a cousin of Robert’s who his mother had a falling out with when she decided to not make Robert (Maud’s closest living relative) the heir to her family fortune, instead naming her maid Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) as the heir. Other side stories emerge that seek to complicate the visit of the royals, but nothing will truly shake up the world of Downton Abbey, at least for most of this royal visit.
The film of Downton Abbey has been a large success primarily because it doesn’t seek to venture off script. Series Creator and Writer Julian Fellowes delivers exactly what the large fan base craves…namely, just another glimpse at how the Crowley family and estate staff are doing these last couple of years since the show ended its run. For this reason, the film as a whole is a satisfying one and one that feels wholly authentic to the world fans have grown to love about these characters. It is not groundbreaking in any way, and much like the Crawleys, seeks to stand by the tradition they’ve established over the years, rather than forge new ones. The fact that this glorified 2-episode special is playing in a theater is about all of the progress we will receive.
So if you were a fan of the show, it is time to visit old friends, walk up the long drive much like Mr. Carson does in the trailer, and enjoy the estate. As Mr. Carson muses to Mrs. Hughes in so many words, I have a feeling Downton Abbey is going to be in good hands. We may even get to check in on them from time to time, answering the prayers of many long-time viewers of the show. If you doubt it, the Dowager Countess of Grantham Victoria Crawley will “put in a word”.