Photo courtesy of AP Images. From left, actors Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael and Allen Leech pose for photographers upon arrival at the world premiere of the film ‘Downton Abbey’ in London, Sept. 9, 2019.
BY GAIL PISCHAK
This period piece set in 1927 is lavish, beautifully scored, and is immensely enjoyable. Whether you are a returning fan or a newly minted fan, it won’t matter. We can all enjoy the next chapter in the trials and tribulations of the Crawley family and the downstairs servants who work for them. For those of us who haven’t seen the series, the movie provides more than enough incentive to go back to the small screen and learn about the lives and loves of these entertaining characters.
This latest installment begins with a note from the King and Queen of England saying they are coming to Downtown Abbey for an overnight visit. What is set into motion is a surprisingly fast-paced story as both the upstairs Family, the Crawley’s, and downstairs servants frantically prepare for the visit. Along the way, there a numerous storylines that keep us thoroughly entertained. The most hilarious is the fierce competition between the Royal Family’s and the Crawley’s servants about who gets to prepare and serve dinner to the Royals. Other storylines involve a failed assassination attempt, family woes, and inheritance issues.
Sound boring? Not in the least! They showcase the best of British humor, the nostalgia of a bygone era, and Britain’s iconic countryside. Highclere Castle, where the original series was shot, is once again cast in a supporting role that contributes to the movie’s success. The Castle has become so famous; it welcomes more than 50,000 visitors a year.
The movie also highlights Britain’s system of privilege, money and class. We learn there are many humorous ways to do “go-arounds” in this rigid social system. I found myself applauding and cheering on these well-intentioned efforts by both upstairs and downstairs families.
I was wondering if missing the series might negatively affect my movie experience. Afterall there is a cast of what seems like thousands to try and catch up with. AND they all lead complicated, intertwined lives. The movie does an excellent job in the first half to re-introduce us to the characters and become familiar with their previous storylines. By movies end, we are cheering on our favorites and seeing their humanity. Despite a rigid social system and the shallowness of the characters, everyone steps up and cares for each other is endearing ways. Its what gives this movie a great heart.
Maggie Smith, who plays Lady Violet Grantham steals the movie with her wit and impeccably timed zingers. There was so much laughter in the theatre; it was easy to miss her next sarcastic one-liner. The large cast does a wonderful job of reprising their original characters. The movie is well acted. For those who watched the series, the movie is like coming home to a comfortable pair of slippers. You know you can hardly wait to slip into your old friend. Downton Abbey is just like those old slippers. It’s good to get back to the comfort of our old, although somewhat predictable characters.
I loved this movie. While it may not become an Oscar contender for the big Oscar nominations such the best film and best actor/actress, it certainly could score nominations in the trade awards. Costumes, makeup and set decoration, helped us expand our understanding of the social gaps between aristocratic and working classes. The soundtrack could also be an Oscar contender. It’s big, grand music that also works in harmony with the movie’s storylines.
There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the movie. I left the theatre, comforted by the fact that I, too, can now join the legions of Downton Abbey fans who can return to the series and continue to enjoy the majesty and cheekiness of the series.
Downton Abbey will most likely not win big at the Oscars. But what it will do, is beat many of the top contenders at the box office. Maybe that’s the best reward after all!
I give this movie 5 stars out of 5. As the British would say, “bloody brilliant!”
Cast: Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Elizabeth McGovern, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Carter, Allen Leech, Imelda Staunton, Mathew Goode, Rob James Collier, Tuppence Middleton, Phyllis Logan, Geraldine James, Brendan Coyle, Lesley Nichol, Penelope Wilton, Sophie McShera, Stephen Campbell, Kate Phillips, David Haig, Simon James, Kevin Doyle, Harry Hadden-Paton, Raquel, Max Brown, Mark Addy, Susan Lynch, Richenda Carey, Andrew Havill
Director: Michael Engler
Screenwriter: Julian Fellowes
Producers: Julian Fellowes, Mark Hubbard, Nigel Marchant, Gareth Neame, Brian Percival, Liz Trubridge