Downton Abbey was a television show filled with glamour, wealth and manners. For six seasons, viewers were treated to a bird’s eye view of the community connected to that famous British estate. While the film adaptation could have become just an extended episode of the series, this film instead manages to hold its own as a worthy invitation to all the pomp and ceremony of the British aristocracy. These shindigs should please both old and new fans alike.
The film is once again written by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park). The tone and presentation mean it straddles the line between heart and humour, creating one disarming combination. It can be episodic at times and the central plot idea is rather simplistic; but despite this, you cannot deny that the Crawley family and help have some important houseguests to entertain. King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are coming to pay the Crawleys a visit and we all know the red carpet will be rolled out from this tightly-run ship.
Much of the film’s redemption comes via some very witty one-liners. With some of the best dialogue reserved for the always wonderful Maggie Smith who plays the family matriarch, Dowager, Countess of Grantham. She practically steals every scene that she is in, though she does have some stiff competition. The film after all, includes returning characters: Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham; Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot; and Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham.
This script has numerous sub-plots; some of which feature more depth and richness than others. The estate’s staff, including: cook Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol), formerly retired butler Charles Carson (Jim Carter), and others are relegated to the sidelines by the King’s arrogant crew of personal employees. Undeterred, the Downtoners hatch a plan to ensure that they will serve the monarchs, after all.
A plot given less airtime is that of the budding romance between royal footman Thomas Barrow (Tom Ashley) and the King’s servant. It’s really nice to see Barrow finding love at last. But this theme could have been explored in a little more depth, especially the visit to the underground club for gay men.
It is good to see how the times and sensibilities are changing to show progress. In some scenes the leading Crawley ladies (Laura Carmichael and Michelle Dockery) show they’re becoming stronger, more independent women as the torch is passed from one generation to the next. However, too much time is devoted to the Queen’s lady in waiting AKA estranged Crawley family member Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) and the plans for her inheritance. It does yield a scandal but it is rather stuffy and overlong for the most part.
Downton Abbey is a slice of sumptuous escapism enabling viewers to feast on early 20th Century Britain. The scenery is positively gorgeous and easy-on-the-eye. There is also enough to intrigue audiences with the scandals, humour and domesticity of the piece. In short, this will be a treat for any fans interested in holding court.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Downton Abbey is screening now in cinemas nationally.