Downton Abbey

Posted: October 4, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Michael Engler. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton and many, many others!

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Its 1927 and the Earl and Countess of Grantham, Robert and Cora Crawley (Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) receive word from Buckingham Palace that the King and Queen plan to come to Downton Abbey to stay during a royal tour. Whilst the news is greeted with excitement both above and below stairs, it soon becomes apparent that even though the royals are only staying one night, their visit will cause headaches for all concerned, especially when it becomes clear that the royal household’s own servants will be expecting to supplant Downton Abbey’s redoubtable staff for the duration of the stay. Throw in a potential assassination, a thief, several romantic trysts and some other assorted domestic kerfuffles, and it promises to be a very busy time for all concerned!

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So, I was never a fan of Downton when it was on TV, but I have watched the odd episode here and there, and read a few articles so I didn’t go into this blind, still I likely wasn’t as up to speed as fans will have been. Thankfully my lack of expert knowledge didn’t dent my enjoyment in the slightest because, a few minor issues aside, I found this to be a very engaging, very good film.

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The first thing to say is that a huge part of its success must be laid at the feet of Julian Fellowes. His script is a master class in squeezing dozens of characters and plotlines into a relatively short film, and not only that, but providing enough of a character sketch to allow newcomers to understand who’s who and what’s going on, without alienating existing viewers. It’s also a script that takes many clearly beloved characters and gives each his or her moment to shine. That some get more to sink their teeth into than others is probably unavoidable, what’s clear is that no one’s excluded.

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There are some missteps, a potential assassination plot winds up little more than a damp squib for instance, but on the whole,  each interweaving tale has a beginning middle and end. You could argue it doesn’t do anything really radical, except it does, and one plot involving a gay character in the 1920s is thoughtfully handled, feels very honest and isn’t the kind of hackneyed thing we might once have got. Other than that you can argue it’s a trifle predictable, but predictable isn’t always a bad thing, especially not when its done this well. I was never bored, and the script manages to be funny, sad, sweet and uplifting without ever really crossing the line into saccharine. In particular Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton are a joy to watch (as I believe they are in the show) and their snarky banter is almost worth the price of admission alone.

It’s hard to single out specific cast members, because everyone feels very at home in the characters, but aside from Smith and Wilton, Allen Leech makes for an amiable romantic lead as Tom, and Kevin Doyle gets one of the funniest moments as a starstruck footman—and the film is laugh out loud funny at times—while Robert James-Collier gets the meatiest, and in some ways sweetest, story as Barrow.

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The direction is good, and the cinematography suitably luxurious. At times, especially in the first act, the director seems a little too in love with the house, and eventually all the drone shots become a trifle wearing. On occasion it feels a little televisual, but these moments are few and far between, and as enjoyable as it is there’s something a little odd about two groups of servants bickering as posh folk luxuriate above but this never spoiled my pleasure, and again this lead to some highly amusing scenes, and credit to David Haig as the official page of the back staircase (or whatever he was).

To begin with I was wary but by the end I was enjoying myself so much that I’m now seriously thinking about binge watching the show now, and if there’s a sequel, well sign me up!

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I’d like to nail my colours to the mast, team Edith all the way, Mary can go take a running jump 😉

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