Christopher Muther loves all things “Downton.” Could the movie version of a favorite show mess it all up?
We have a hard time letting go of things we love.
Be it a treasured trinket, an old love letter, or maybe a dead pet’s ashes in a shoebox under the bed — although hopefully not that. But when it comes to television characters, we really can’t let go.
When they’re not getting rebooted on the small screen, à la “Will & Grace,” “Roseanne,” or “Gilmore Girls,” they’re turning up at the cinema. This is when we hold our breath. Legacy and love are at stake.
Was it a good idea to make a second “Sex and the City” movie, even with the added bonus of Liza Minnelli singing “Single Ladies”? Absolutely not. Did the actors from “Star Trek,” plus William Shatner’s toupee, need to come back to save the whales 20 years after the original series debuted? Nope. Did we need an “Entourage” movie? That’s a hard no. We didn’t need “Entourage” in any form.
I invested myself deeply in 52 episodes of the upstairs-downstairs drama of an English family trying to hang on to a monolithic castle and its evaporating aristocratic lifestyle. The series was a gift that we delicately and eagerly opened layer after layer, year after year, until we were emotionally satisfied and grateful with what series creator Julian Fellowes and international treasure Maggie Smith had bequeathed us.
I was terrified to find out whether the “Downton” movie would be the gift that kept on giving, or whether I would need to hang on to the emotional receipt and ask for my cherished memories back. I love all things “Downton,” and I didn’t want those memories sullied.
Guess who cried with joy when Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) proposed to Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery)? This guy, that’s who. Who dropped his Doritos with quaking hands and a quivering lip when Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael) was left at the altar? Yes, that was me as well. I’ve traveled to the locations in England where the show was filmed, and I have come up with excuses to interview the actors and the show’s costume designer. The technical term for this type of behavior is shameless.
The news of a “Downton Abbey” movie stirred equal parts terror and elation in my chitterlings. Everyone appeared destined to live happily ever after when the series wrapped. I did not want to see Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) tossed back in prison or listen to patriarch Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) sputter more outdated guff when Mary and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) attempt to save the estate.
“Please!” I thought. “Leave them be.” If we’ve learned anything from years of television and movies, it’s that exhuming the dead can only lead to zombies, or, even worse, an “Entourage” movie.
Even with my deep trepidation, there was no question that I would see the movie. I managed to squeeze myself into an early screening (again, shameless), and bit my lip as John Lunn’s now-iconic “Downton” theme began.
Here’s the good news about the movie. The legacy remains intact. Even better, Paul Giamatti does not make a guest appearance. With few exceptions, there is nothing too damning or outrageous that happens to our beloved characters. I’m not going to reveal those exceptions because I operate under a strict no-spoilers policy. The film is primarily a self-contained caper surrounding a visit from King George V and Queen Mary. But that visit is a thin excuse to launch the action, both among the Crawleys and the servants.
Truth be told, I could have sat for two hours and watched Smith’s Violet Crawley volley pointed witticisms while wagging her chin at Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), who is now known as Lady Merton. The chemistry between the two actresses is as dynamic as it was during the series.
The movie feels like one of the cherished Christmas episodes, but longer. It’s a tidy package with a few character development tendrils unfurling with the promise of new stories, new romance, and new changes.
But wait. Does this mean a second “Downton” movie is on the horizon?
Fellowes, “Downton” producer Gareth Neame, and three actors from the show/movie were at the screening I attended. After the movie there was a Q & A session where the question of a sequel was asked. Fellowes shrugged and grinned, Neame said it would depend on how this movie did at the box office, and Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) and Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) both strongly indicated that they were onboard for a second film.
Immediately, I began to fret again about my “Downton” family and said a silent prayer. “Please, no matter how many of these movies you make, just let Edith be happy and keep the Dowager Countess alive as long as possible.”
The film version of the popular TV series is perfectly pleasant. Film review by Demetrios Matheou
Despite the fact that the Downton Abbey 2015 Christmas special wrapped the series up with a seemingly watertight bow, a cinema offering of Julian Fellowes’ much-loved creation was perhaps inevitable. And so virtually all of the series cast and a few new ones descend upon the fictitious Yorkshire pile for more misadventures upstairs and down.
With no loose ends, Fellowes needed to devise a new dilemma to unite the Crawleys and the many staff who keep their privileged lives on track in 1927. Cue a letter from Buckingham Palace that heralds the imminent visit to Downton of King George V and Queen Mary.
“This won’t help us to economise,” worries Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) the only one in her family who seems to seriously wonder whether the aristocracy needs to hang up its finery and downsize to, well, a manor house.
But the main question for her parents Robert and Cora, the Earl and Countess of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, pictured below) and their pampered clan is what on earth to wear. For Mr Carson (Jim Carter), the curmudgeonly butler rushed out of retirement for the big event, lady’s maid Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) and their fellow servants, it’s how to continue to work their fingers to the bone – and do Downton proud – when the Royal’s own entourage is rudely intent on taking over.
There were a number of factors behind the series’ popularity: nostalgia for an England long gone, a fetishist’s fascination for the accoutrements of privilege, the gilded soap opera of gossip, scandal and romance, Dame Maggie Smith’s scheming dowager countess stealing every scene, a template in which a multitude of crises were invariably solved with as much effort as it takes to say “golly”. All these ingredients are now in play, lent a fittingly sumptuous, big screen sheen by director Michael Engler and his production team.
The final season of the series happened to be one of its most uneventful, which is to say lame, only one death of a marginal character marring a steady winding down to happy ever after. And the film clearly has no intention of spoiling the party. Even an IRA threat to the king and an unfortunate introduction into the local gay scene for the butler Barrow (Robert James Collier) are resolved with such ease that few of the major characters are ever aware.
It’s a long way from the film that put Fellowes on the map as a writer and allowed him to make Downton in the first place, Robert Altman’s magnificent Gosford Park, which offered a far more complex and barbed view of the class divide.
“I do love our adventures,” sighs Cora as this one jollies along. “But isn’t it fun when they’re over,” replies Robert. If only they were.
For his debut feature, writer-director-cinematographer Mark Jenkin takes a parable about a contemporary fishing community under threat from wealthy outsiders and presents it in a style reminiscent of documentaries of the early 20th century, namely Robert J. Flaherty’s 1934 film Man of Aran. The result is titled Bait, a punky, pastoral little movie that draws from the mysticism and iconography of documentaries like Flaherty’s but with a narrative and ironic wit that is inescapably of the here and now. Put it this way: the director may have had those films in mind when he chose to shoot Bait on 16mm and have it processed by hand–for purposes of wear and tear–but perhaps less so when he wrote the scene in which a man on a stag party boards a boat dressed in a large penis costume. Continue reading
It’s war between the locals and tourists in a Cornish fishing village in Mark Jenkin’s dreamlike masterpiece
Cornish film-maker Mark Jenkin’s breakthrough feature is a thrillingly adventurous labour of love – a richly textured, rough-hewn gem in which form and content are perfectly combined. A refreshingly authentic tale of tensions between locals and tourists in a once-thriving fishing village, it’s an evocative portrait of familiar culture clashes in an area where traditional trades and lifestyles are under threat. Shot with clockwork cameras on grainy 16mm stock, which Jenkin hand-processed in his studio in Newlyn, Bait is both an impassioned paean to Cornwall’s proud past, and a bracingly tragicomic portrait of its troubled present and possible future. It’s a genuine modern masterpiece, which establishes Jenkin as one of the most arresting and intriguing British film-makers of his generation [ . . . ]
Read complete review at Bait review – one of the defining British films of the decade | Film | The Guardian