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.