Review: Downton Abbey (2019)

Downton Abbey

Rating

Director

Michael Engler

Screenplay

Julian Fellowes

Length

2h 2min

Starring

Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Matthew Goode, Tuppence Middleton, Imelda Staunton, Joanne Froggatt, Elizabeth McGovern, Mark Addy, Allen Leech, Kate Phillips, Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Stephen Campbell Moore, Max Brown, Sophie McShera, Robert James-Collier, Geraldine James, Philippe Spall, Penelope Wilton, Raquel Cassidy, Susan Lynch, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Brendan Coyle, Simon Jones, David Haig, Harry Hadden-Patton, James Cartwright, Alice McCarthy, Kevin Doyle, Lesley Nicol, Michael Fox, Andrew Havill, Perry Fitzpatrick, Douglas Reith, Richenda Carey, Fifi Hart, Oliver Barker

MPAA Rating

PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and language

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Soundtrack

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Source Material

Review

Like a well-oiled machine, the vaunted television series about the Crawley family and their English countryside estate Downton Abbey makes a successful foray onto the big screen with a two-hour cinematic special that tries to open up the narrative to a wider audience, but remains intimately connected with the entire family.

Everyone is back again for the new excursion into 1920s English history giving each of your favorite characters some small storyline to follow as Downton Abbey hosts King George V and Queen Mary on a tour of Yorkshire. Some characters are given little to do while some that didn’t quite get their due in the series itself are given a bit more of a plot to go on.

While the estate prepares to receive the king and queen, there are several side plots meandering through the narrative in what boils down to an extended Christmas episode like the show was fond of presenting each year. Although the entire cast makes a return, the focus of the film is primarily on three distinct subplots.

The first involves the downstairs staff who are flustered by the insistence of the king’s personal coterie (the royal page of the backstairs, housekeeper, queen’s dresser, king’s dresser, and chef) that they are not needed. Tom (Allen Leech) is approached by a supposed member of the king’s security team who suspects a secret plot is being hatched in the vicinity in the second subplot. Meanwhile, in the third primary event, loosely connected to the first, Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) begins to fall in love with the king’s dresser Richard Ellis (Max Brown). As always, the three main plots interweave with all other events into a largely cohesive whole.

There are dramatic twists and turns throughout, but the end result is something that might have been more stimulating had it been a new season of the wonderful television series. They could have expanded several of these plots to be more compelling and more richly detailed.

Downton Abbey has always been a bit more progressive than the era in which it is set while trying to tie in the hardships of those in residence as well as it can. The film looks at the nobility’s slow slide into irrelevance, the hazards of finding fulfillment as a homosexual, and the need to feel pride for one’s country as part of an event that will embellish the lives of everyone involved. Each of these plots has varying degrees of sociological impact, but all show a much more gentle side to life in a small British town than one might otherwise expect.

The performances are as we would expect them to be with everyone giving it their level best with no one standing out as particularly deserving of specific praise. This is a well-oiled cast that has fallen back into lockstep with one another as if it hadn’t been four years since they last worked together.

For fans of the series, Downton Abbey is a nice apéritif, but if you don’t know who or what these people are, there is no way you will be able to understand the core dynamics and interpersonal interplay going on in the film. That’s probably for the best. Trying to reintroduce everyone would have been a cumbersome chore that would have made for a most inhospitable movie and Downton Abbey is nothing if not hospitable.

Review Written

April 27, 2020

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