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Film Review: “Downton Abbey”

by Art U News

A glamorous homage to the series plays it safe

By Caroline Andrade

 “Downton Abbey,” the period television drama which ended its six seasons stateside run on PBS in 2016, opened its doors to fans once again through its feature film version. Much of the star cast returns to the big screen and it’s such a joy to see the gang back together running atwitter in preparation for an important event. Director Michael Engler has made this film with the show’s passionate fans in mind, as the narrative is easy to follow. However, if you’re new to “Downton Abbey,” it wouldn’t hurt to read up on the series before seeing the film.

The movie opens with a fateful letter from Buckingham Palace announcing the arrival of King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary’s (Geraldine James) visit to the beautiful country estate of Downton Abbey. This iconic scene is akin to the first episode in the series which began with a letter informing Lord Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) about the death of his presumptive heir on the Titanic in 1912. Accompanying the royal couple to the Yorkshire estate of Lord Crawley and his American wife, Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is their invasive staff of butlers, maids, and cooks.

Much takes place at the beginning of the film, including Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery)⁠—who wears the most insanely gorgeous attire⁠—visiting the retired former loyal butler of the household, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and urges him to return to Downton temporarily and take charge of the “downstairs” staff. He happily obliges, leaving Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) with nothing to do, but enjoy a laugh or two.

The servants are revolting discreetly against the royal crew charged with preparing and serving meals and waiting on the king and queen. The Downton staff discusses a revolution, providing comic relief throughout the movie, especially with the return of Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) and his awkward kneel to the king and queen in his enthusiasm to defend Downton and let them know that dinner was actually prepared by Downton’s own Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol).

The film introduces a new character, Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), as the queen’s lady-in-waiting. Lady Bagshaw matches wits with her estranged Dowager Countess cousin, the supremely talented Lady Violet Crawley (Dame Maggie Smith), which is refreshing to see.

The highlight of the movie is the chemistry between friends Lady Violet and the brilliant Lady Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton)⁠—it is both endearing and thoroughly enjoyable. As they discuss the arrival of the royal couple, Lady Isobel quotes Tennyson which in turn leads Lady Violet to snap back, “Have you had enough clichés to get you through the visit?” Lady Isobel responds, “If not, I’ll to you.” It’s a humorous moment that left a man sitting next to me in splits.

While much of the score of “Downton Abbey” corresponds with the television series, it doesn’t feel as striking on the big screen. That said, the violins during the ballroom dance, which marks the end of the royal visit and a scene between Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Lady Bagshaw’s maid, Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton) as they danced outside the grand estate, are indeed romantic.

Unfortunately, the long-awaited “Downton Abbey” feature is often predictable and, at times, feels rushed from one scene to the next. Even with the familiar setting, characters, and magnificent costumes, the two-hour film by no means offers anything genuinely unique to filmgoers.

“Downton Abbey” is now playing in theaters.

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