Review: Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey is a movie for the legions of loyal fans of the “Downton Abbey” television series, and I am quite confident they will be most pleased with this highly-anticipated opportunity to revisit the estate and all its inhabitants, from the aristocratic Crawley family upstairs, to the devoted servants down below.

What? You’ve never seen the show and don’t know a Crawley from a crawfish? Oh dahling, I’m afraid you must move on. Or binge watch the six seasons that ran on PBS from 2010 to 2015. Or, at the very least, watch this 10-minute recap on YouTube, followed by the extended series finale, available on Amazon Prime. That’s what I did. Sure, it’s a bit like sneaking into a marathon a mile or two from the finish line. But without that baseline of knowledge about the characters and their backstories, I would have felt completely lost. I’m sure I still missed plenty of subtext, but at least I was able to appreciate the fine acting, witty dialogue, gorgeous costumes, early 20th Century set design, and the bucolic scenery.

Series creator Julian Fellowes stays true to the pacing and tone of the historical melodrama, while kicking it up a notch for the big screen. The movie picks up where the series left off and is, in essence, an extended “special episode” with a self-contained plot: it’s 1927, and the King and Queen of England are coming to Downton! High honor indeed! Rally the troops. The future of Downton hangs in the balance – yet again!

There are so many lead characters that it’s truly impossible to delve into the details of their individual story beats. But rest assured, each gets his or her moment in the spotlight, and comically acerbic matriarch Violet Crawley (Dame Maggie Smith) still gets the last word. The core of the original cast is all back (assuming their characters survived the six-season run) and the royal visit allows for the introduction of a worthy lot of supporting players to feed the scandal, romance and intrigue that makes Downton Abbey… well, Downton Abbey.

The Downton Abbey movie is oddly comforting in its simplicity – like visiting with old friends while sipping on a cup of Early Grey. Nothing particularly dramatic happens, but it does end on a satisfying note that leaves the door open for another return to Downton – should the stars (and their schedules) once again align.

Arty Chick weighs in: Unlike Mainstream Chick, I have watched Downton Abbey from its very first episode, so I was excited to return to the estate. It’s always fun to catch up with old friends. And that’s basically what this new movie is all about. As a film on its own, I’m not sure it would be all that satisfying. There are simply too many threads hanging about. But for a dose of the old upper crust vs working class, it’s a nice way to pass a couple of hours in the dark. I could quibble with a few of the scenes that seemed extraneous or a bit too long, but Maggie Smith is her usual queen of snipe, and the clothes are too die for, and the downstairs intrigues are fun and funny. Yes, there are quite a few laughs, particularly if you know the characters’ backstories. So, if you loved the series, go and have fun. We went for a matinee and drank tea as we watched.

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