I was going to be late for the screening of Downton Abbey and…then I got a migraine. My wife was already down at the theatre, and she was more excited to see it than I. That’s mostly because I’ve never seen a single episode of the show. I texted her, and this is the conversation we had (which I’m going to turn into a review).
Josh Board: How was the movie?
Tina Board: It was great. I liked it from the opening credits which were reminiscent of the show openings. The very long credits roll over the very complicated procedure of the King of England sending a letter to the head of Downton Abbey. First, it’s sealed, then it’s carried by hand, by train, cycle and tray.
Josh Board: Would I have liked it?
Tina Board: No, because…you’ve never watched the show. In fact, anybody that hasn’t seen the show, should probably skip this. There are things about the characters that you wouldn’t even get, unless you already knew the characters. And, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t be bored by it.
Josh Board: Well, I talked to a local critic that had never seen the show, but last week he binged and watched the whole last season, hoping that would help. He was still bored by the movie. Well…I could’ve at least looked at Lily James. She’s kind of hot.
Tina Board: Uh…first, do you want to sleep on the couch tonight? Second, she wasn’t even in it.
Josh Board: How could she not be in it? Didn’t they have the cast from the show?
Tina Board: Yes, the rest of them were there. But she’s the American on the show, so…
Josh Board: Wait a second. She’s a British actress. Why was she the American on the show?
Tina Board: How should I know? I’m not the casting director. She’s playing Mrs. De Winter in Rebecca, and she should actually play Rebecca.
Josh Board: Okay. Well, we can discuss Rebecca at another time. I want to figure out this Downton Abbey, and if I should see it.
Tina Board: I already said you shouldn’t. It’s strictly for fans of the show.
Josh Board: Can you give me a paragraph or two about the movie, and I’ll submit that to my editors like a review?
Tina Board: Okay, but then…you have to work with one of my authors at “Make it So Marketing” because…if I’m doing your job, you should do mine. Anyway….
Just like a visitor at Downton, movie goers will be welcomed back as old friends. This time we’re given the royal treatment as the drama of a visit by the King and Queen drives the storylines above and below stairs. This provides the perfect excuse to bring back Mr. Carson, Mr. Molesley, and Lady Edith and her new husband, and to introduce several new characters, as if a main cast of roughly 20 characters wasn’t enough.
While the family is all atwitter in anticipation of the royal visit, the staff rallies to get ready at two weeks notice only to learn that they will be displaced by the royal staff – led by the King’s Mr. Carson, who is even more superior than Carson (if that’s even possible).
Meanwhile, upstairs the family seems to have many of the same troubles that we thought they’d overcome by the series finale: Mary (Michelle Dockery) worries over whether to keep Downton going; Tom (Allen Leech) is still alone and struggling with issues of class and politics, Edith (Laura Carmichael) is a sad sack once again even though she’s now married and a Marchioness, and Violet (Maggie Smith) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton) are back to snipping at each other after seeming to reach an accord in the series finale. (I’ll forgive writer Julian Fellowes for this as the zingers are sharp and this is what fans expect.)
The only character who seems to have changed is the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) who is in good spirits throughout the story, taking on a thunderstorm with glee (although why they don’t just set up that darned chairs in the morning I don’t know!), and the prospect of losing his ancestral home with resignation. This is a fascinating turn for a character who spent most of the series looking like he should have a blood pressure cuff permanently attached to his arm.
The cinematography is beautiful, upping the ante from the television series with lovely aerial shots of the abbey and its surroundings. The production values were also raised accordingly. We’re treated to a parade, an inspection of the guard (watch for several unruly horses rearing their heads), high tea, high tea, high tea, an underground nightclub, a ball, and a dinner fit for a King.
Fans of the series will revel in this latest installment, and so they should. Despite the annoying characters being their absolute most annoying, some rather convoluted dramatics, and the silliness of many of the characters’ concerns, the emotional tone of the movie is spot on. A love letter to the fans.
Josh Board: That’s pretty good. You might put me out of a job. How many stars would you give it?
Tina Board: 3 ½ stars out of 5.