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Downton Abbey: The Movie - Review

Downton Abbey

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

ALMOST four years after Downton Abbey bid a fond farewell to the small screen with a Christmas special, the Crawleys and their servants return for a supposedly one-off big screen outing with similarly engaging results.

A love letter to its fans, Julian Fellowes’ film delivers everything that could have been expected from this reunion, from an impeccable Dame Maggie Smith stealing all the best lines to the usual tussle between tradition and change.

It looks sumptuous, it harks back to a bygone era of decent values and it both amuses and tugs at the heart-strings with effortless grace. In short, it’s a well oiled machine that brings with it a welcome sense of familiarity.

Set in 1927, the main thrust of the plot finds the Crawleys frantically preparing for the visit of King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James), as well as the latter’s lady-in-waiting, Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), a distant cousin with whom the Countess of Grantham (Smith) has an unresolved conflict.

But woven around this are a myriad of plotlines, from a downstairs revolt by the Downton service team against their royal counterparts, to some surprise heroics from Irishman Tom Branson (Allen Leech), as well as potential new romances and some wry social commentary befitting both the time it is set and the era in which we now live.

With so much going on, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Fellowes doesn’t pay full lip service to every storyline, finding some very quick resolutions to some that may have warranted greater exploration and leant proceedings a smattering of tension.

While his decision to assume that his audience are already fans could well dissuade newcomers and those curious to find out what the fuss was all about to not bother at all.

But for those that have come to know and love the Crawleys, Downton delivers in spades, thanks immeasurably to Fellowes’ appreciation for what works and the brilliance of his cast, who slide back into their roles effortlessly. It’s like catching up with old friends at times.

Downton Abbey

Dame Maggie may get the best one-liners and the most poignant storyline (her bittersweet final speech surely makes her a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination), but Leech steals the show… his everyman Tom a bastion of decency who gets several long deserved moments to shine (both heroic and romantic). Indeed, his fledgling romance with Tuppence Middleton’s newcomer is beautifully played and evidence of Downton at its hopeful, feel-good best.

Rob James Collier’s Barrow also stands out from a uniformly excellent ensemble, with his homosexuality given a timely continuation that brings with it another satisfying conclusion. While the likes of Laura Carmichael’s Lady Edith and Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary are intelligently used as a means to provide some female empowerment, reflective of changing attitudes both then and now.

Indeed, Fellowes may regularly bask in the old school traditions that informed the day, revelling in the pomp and etiquette that came with it. But his screenplay is arguably at its sharpest [and funniest] when challenging some of those conventions, putting people in their place and offering wry observations on how the past can still inform the present.

The final moments are, in many ways, prophetic as two characters discuss the future of Downton and its legacy – something that, by the show’s continued popularity (Downton is already a huge box office success), is all but ensured. The Crawleys do, indeed, continue to live on in our hearts.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 2hrs 2mins
UK Release Date: September 13, 2019