Based on the hugely popular ITV drama of the same name, Downton Abbey continues the saga of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them in the English countryside during the early 20th century. The tranquil life of Downton is disrupted by the sudden visit of the King and Queen. What seems exciting for the household soon becomes quite stressful. On the working household side, the loyal staff of Downton find themselves undermined by the arriving royal staff who don’t want their help. As for the Crawley family themselves, they all have their own problems to deal with such as questions of monarchy loyalty, inheritance disputes, considering Downton’s future and other small matters.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a viewing of the new Downton Abbey film. Now to preface this review – I have never actually watched an episode of the TV series. Everything I know about Downton I know from Tumblr and the odd clip here and there.
So I go into this not as a fan of the series but as the outsider venturing into a brave new world of kind hearts and coronets as it were. And no not the 1949 film with Alec Guinness, more in the vein of the Poem by Alfred Tennyson. Yes, I know a bit highbrow but as the poem itself is mentioned in the film I thought it appropriate.
So, Downton Abbey, the film is actually very good. The cast is of course stellar. I mean Maggie Smith could read the phone book and I’d applaud. The rest of the cast all the way from Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham down to Tuppence Middleton as Lucy Smith were absolutely sublime, with nary a miscast role in sight and no hiccups of being thrown out of the narrative with an actor jarring you with their wooden utterances.
And the story is actually very engaging. It’s not action-packed or full of thrills and chills as many a Hollywood epic is these days, it was warm and comforting like a nice cup of tea after being out in the rain. There are tense-ish moments, and if I knew all the backstory I may have found them more so, but it’s a very British story. And a British story of the 1920s at that. Julian Fellowes writes a good tale with interesting characters of that there can be no argument.
The ending is a bit bloated and does feel a bit over rushed and I feel could have been expanded on a bit more, but then the film is over 2 hours long. They had to call an end at some point. And they certainly finished everyone’s stories off in a nice neat manner. While still leaving it open to other possible films or TV specials. I suspect we may see a Downton Abbey the next generation series at some point. After all, they know there’ll be an audience.
There are a lot of subplots in the movie which did feel a bit excessive from my point of view. Everyone had to have a little plotline that wove into the main plot in some way. But I get it. These are beloved characters for many people and everyone will want to see their favorite have their moment. Even if their moment is to do with a broken boiler and the issues that go along with plumbing escapades.
And the thing I liked, particularly for me as never having seen the show, was that I didn’t need to have. I knew who everyone was and what their relationships were to each other without having to do any homework afterwards. It was accessible to a non-fan of the series without being exposition-heavy and none of it forced. Even the one character, who I was a bit confused, by had his backstory explained in a way that flowed naturally within the narrative.
I’ve seen a lot of articles and reviews that call the film Brexit propaganda and going on about how it’s a rose-tinted nostalgia-fest for a Britain that was never so innocent and rubbish like that but I personally didn’t see it. Yes, it’s a very nostalgia-driven story, of a time and place that very few people alive today remember, but it’s hardly political propaganda of the extreme sort. I mean did we even see the same movie? Ok yes, it is very staunchly monarchist and how the status quo should be maintained, but it is about the aristocracy and all that entails. I mean Julian Fellowes is hardly the sort of chap to be anything but and to write in any other style. Plus it’s set in a time and era where people did revere the monarchy to a huge degree so it’s more period-accurate than current political propaganda. Or at least that’s how I fell. Your mileage may vary.
So in conclusion and in my opinion I’d say; It’s a decent film with not much of a plot, the characters are just a bit too wholesome to be really believable as actual people, the costume game is strong and beautiful, the setting is just divine, nothing earth-shattering happens or is said, and at the end of it all it’s all tied up in a neat little bow with enough wiggle room for future projects within the narrative. Wholesome with just a hint of the saccharine nostalgia that people have for these types of series.
I would recommend you go and see it even if you’ve never watched the series. It certainly left me with a warm fuzzy feeling after I left the cinema and I feel not enough media these days does that. In fact, the feeling I got was just like when I used to watch Monarch of the Glen of an evening with my parents after supper in the winter. Warm, comforting and with the sense that maybe things aren’t quite as bad as they seem or at least until you read a current news story anyway.
See you in the funny farm my lovelies.
Downton Abbey is at UK cinemas now and is released in US cinemas from 20th September 2019.
Lizzie Barnes hosts A Redhead’s Ramblings on Bunkazilla UK. You can find out more about the show and listen to previous episodes here.