“Downton Abbey” (2019)
Running time: 122 minutes
Written by: Julian Fellowes
Directed by: Michael Engler
Featuring: Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton and Penelope Wilton
Henry Talbot: “Leave Downton? We’re stuck with it, aren’t we?”
Lady Mary Talbot: “Yes. Yes, I believe we are.”
Released recently on blu-ray/DVD is the Julian Fellowes creation “Downton Abbey” (2019) making a jump from the small screen to the big one, mostly successful, at least enough to start talking about a sequel to this which sees old favourites and the close of the decade in the 1920s. After the global success of the television series and its eventual conclusion in 2015 it was really a no-brainer that there would be some kind of big screen adaptation, in fact the same can be said of many successful television shows that come to an end, over the past twenty years there has been talk of many of these. It is a hazardous proposition to not only pitch but to make a success, there has been only one television show that has even attempted this so far (not including this one of course) that being “The X-Files: Fight the Future” (1998) which was produced during the run of the show, something not tried before or since, “Downton Abbey”, and they waited four years to do it to build up anticipation.
This film, written by series creator Julian Fellowes and directed by Michael Engler, who directed multiple episodes of the TV original, is exactly what a dan of the series might expect. If you were a regular “Downton Abbey” viewer, you’ll likely feel satisfied by this motion picture experience, which brings back nearly all of the show’s key characters, bumps up the production value a few notches for the big screen, and structures its one-off story around a special visit from King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James). That is of course its greatest weakness in that this movie will not bring any new viewers into the fold, something that the filmmakers recognise and so have no interest in explaining backstory or motivations, these should all be known by the ‘Downton’ audience.
“Downton Abbey” resumes in the fall of 1927, just shy of two years after the events of the series finale, opening with the arrival of a letter from Buckingham Palace announcing that the royals will visit Downton, an occasion that will involve a parade and a dinner. This news causes much excitement and stress among the downstairs staff, all of whom must determine how to feed and attend to the monarchs. That includes Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), still in charge of the kitchen and working alongside the pleasantly contrary Daisy (Sophie McShera); ultra-practical head housekeeper Mrs. Carson (Phyllis Logan), formerly known as Mrs. Hughes; and Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), who has taken over as butler in the wake of Carson’s retirement. When Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) perceives that Thomas may be slightly jittery about the high-stakes royal social call, she goes to see Carson and pulls him out of retirement to temporarily take over butler duties.
Even though this is written by Julian Fellowes who created the series there is of course some reliability with the characters while he attempts to create some tension we as the audience know it is not about the plot but more about spending time with those we recognise very easily. Directed by Michael Engler there is a look about this movie that is much more cinematic, as it should be.
Because “Downton Abbey” has such a huge cast and there is only a few hours to touch many plot points there are aspects that are not given the proper attention which means the narrative moves along at a brisk pace. Even though the plot is a little paint by numbers there are two moments that show creator Fellowes is still interested in creating new stories as opposed to purely going for a nostalgia play.
While “Downton Abbey” has been off the air much has happened on the global stage, the politeness as well statesmanship that is represented in this movie has been replaced by the blond and orange oafs ob both sides of the Atlantic, the Royal Family after a renaissance is now in tatters. The times that we see in the 1920s is pre-war where there was an optimism that we can only dream of believing in now. Of course by the mid-1930s the writing was on the wall of what the world was to face, something we have not recovered from. Maybe this movie and the series it was originated from that is coming up to the centenary anniversary may show a way forward that means we can all listen to each other instead of talking over each other.