Directed by: Michael Engler
Written by: Julian Fellows
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith
Many fans of television series hope in the whole “5 seasons and a movie” dream where their favorite show stays on the air for multiple seasons and concludes with a feature film. Fans of Downton Abbey received plenty of seasons and capped off the story with a heartwarming movie that provides everything one could want.
Narratively taking place one year after the series finale, the Crawley family receives notification that they will be paid a visit by the King and Queen. This news causes quite the scuffle for the Crawleys in their effort to make their house presentable and the house staff faces a new set of rivals in preparation for the arrival of the royal family.
As a massive fan of the original series, everything in this film plays into exactly what I wanted out of this experience. I admit that those who have not seen the series will not be able to fully enjoy the emotional beats and character developments due to unfamiliarity with the characters. Watching the series adds to the experience, but on its own, this film has plenty of merits and can stand alone.
The plot of the story revolves around the King and Queen visiting but that takes a backseat to the character work being done. Downton Abbey contains a large ensemble cast, who’ve each had character arcs during the series. It’s great to see where they are when the narrative starts and what the future has for them. The couple that warms my heart the most are Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and John Bates (Brendan Coyle). Anyone who has seen the series knows the turmoil these two have needed to endure to just to live and seeing them have fun and fade into the background was such a delight.
All of the returning cast bring all of the posh melodramatic emotion that I have become accustomed to, but this story belongs to Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith). As one of the best characters in the series, she brings the same quippy remarks and side-eyes that have made her beloved but she also brings emotional heft to the story. Smith already has legendary status but this lovely performance further shows she’s one of the finest actors to ever grace the silver screen. The character’s pride mixed with subtle compassion for others make the emphasis on her character a strong narrative choice.
The main idea surrounding this story relates to Downton’s (the big house) place in the world. Throughout the series, it was always interesting to juxtapose how the Crawleys lived compared to America in the 1920s. While they lived in their big houses and had people over for tea, America struggled through prohibition where organized crime bloomed. It feels like they took place in different centuries. The Crawleys grew up accustomed to having a full support staff, which includes cooks, footmen, cleaners, maids, dressers, manager, and a butler. Something that does not seem necessary or cost-efficient and that transition forces the Crawleys to accept a new reality. Where the film lands on this issue is no surprise to anyone who has watched the series, but the ongoing discussion, nonetheless, shows the reflection happening.
Downton Abbey, the film, doesn’t have many potent thematic threads, nor does it need any because this production serves as the reunification of loved characters. It allows them to get into some mischief, fight over inheritances, and watch people do the work that brings them pride. The costume work unsurprisingly displays masterwork with how it juxtaposes the traditional versus the modern with the young women. The cast fires on all cylinders and provide moments of joy that I never thought I needed but is gladly welcomed. It wraps a lovely bow on the overall story and ends in a very satisfying manner