Film Reviews

Downton Abbey review: Dir. Michael Engler (2019)

The silver has been shined. The carpets have been beaten. The dog has had its bone. Downton Abbey, beloved by millions around the world, is back, this time for a full 120 minutes in its first big screen outing.

We return to the Crawley family in 1927, who are moving with the times; telephones ringing, electric lights fitted – we even see Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael) driving a car at one point. Exciting times indeed, especially as head of the house, Robert, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) has received a letter to announce that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are coming to stay.

At this news, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Downton Abbey’s other honourable daughter and house party-planner, swings into action, arranging a parade and dinner ahead of the royal sleepover. But when the house staff find out that they’ll be replaced by the King’s own choices brought in from London, they see red and decide to overthrow the rules. Anarchy reigns!

All fan-favourites are back for this feature-length ‘adventure’ (as Sophie McShera‘s Daisy exclaims), including Elizabeth McGovern, Joanne Froggatt, Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter, and the Dowager Countess/Granny herself, Dame Maggie Smith.

There’s no denying that the visuals of Downton Abbey, both on television and on the big screen for the first time, are stunning. Sweeping shots over the countryside that surrounds the house, slow motion allowing the audience time to take in the grace and grandeur of different rooms, the use of aerial panning to admire the drawn out ballroom sequences. Attention to detail is key in historical drama (for fear of a repeat of Game of Thrones‘ Starbucks cup-gate) and you can’t fault the huge team of designers behind the series. The costumes are a real highlight, especially given characters are often proclaiming they need to ‘change for dinner’, which involves a complete transformation. Overall, watching two hours of the cast looking beautiful, inside a beautiful house – you can’t complain.

What about the story? Downton Abbey is beloved programming; over 52 episodes split into six series, the show garnered an average audience of 10.9 million – huge for Sunday night post-roast viewing. With Christmas specials, behind-the-scenes add-ons, and a cast that’re easy to love, it’s pure entertainment and clear to see why fans fawn over it. If you are part of the Downton fan clan, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the film from beginning to end. Picking up wherever it finished in 2015, the family and their staff have moved on a little, but are still recognisable. The story-line is a comfortable one, full of drama, hints of romance, and longing looks into the distance. And, of course, there’s the razor-sharp tongue of Smith’s Dowager Countess, armed with the quickest comebacks and put downs.

Not a fan? Or you’ve never seen an episode? Then this will feel like unmarked territory to you. Enjoy the visuals, but note that the exciting climax of the story-line happens and is resolved halfway through, so you’ve got another 60 minutes to sit through characters changing for luncheon, bowing, and stressing out about the smallest of upper middle class inconveniences. Again, at least there’s Smith, who receives the biggest laughs throughout, and rightfully so.

As someone who has seen the first two series of the programme and who enjoyed them at the time, this is a fun way to remember what I liked about it. The look, the sumptuous feel, and Maggie Smith. However, once the narrative swell has passed, there’s not a lot left to ‘Ohhh!’ and ‘Ahhh!’ over, as we’ve seen this all before. It could definitely do with a good edit, but then that would reduce it down to around 90 minutes – surely that would make for an extended festive special on Boxing Day?

If you’re already a fan, you’ll be clapping through the final credits. If not, settle in for some good old fashioned British pomp and circumstance.

Downton Abbey arrives in UK cinemas from Friday 13 September.

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