Wendy Richardson | 12/09/2019
Downton “Tragics” have waited almost 4 long years to add to their collection of memories of the British aristocratic Crawley Family and their servants. And whether you are a Downton tragic or a Downton virgin, having a giggle at this rollicking romp through the stunning English countryside is unavoidable.
Transforming a one hour television series into a full length feature film meant creator, Julian Fellowes (who also created the 2006-2010 series), required a storyline that had enough balls to meander the various ensemble groups entertainingly through the beautiful Highclere Mansion, the stately home that plays the role of the movies namesake. Anchoring the tale around a Royal Visit by King George V and Queen Mary (Simon Jones and Geraldine James) meant director, American Michael Engler (The Chaperone; Splitting Up Together) had just the right depth to play the characters against each other without the extra length seeming contrived.
The startling news of the King and Queens visit is delivered to Downton’s patriarch, Lord Grantham (again played by Hugh Bonneville) by “train-mail”, and creates a truly delightful dichotomy between honour and service in both the upstairs and downstairs chambers.
As one would expect in any good “series”, the movie runs through a plethora of sub-plots, pivoting around different characters. Lady Mary, played by the lovely Michelle Dockery, is dealt the hand of having to plan the Royal Reception, and does so with just the right combination of cool and angst under pressure befitting such a momentous occasion. Mirroring that aristocratic coolness in the downstairs chambers is head of household, Anna Bates, (Joanne Froggatt), and it’s her unwavering belief in the “rights” of the “servants” to enjoy the epitome of their careers that sees her plan the perfect reception by the Downton Abbey staff. This is in stark contrast to how the unwanted Royal staff wish to run the show and the script serves this up cleverly through the subterfuge it takes to enable the Downton staff to really present “their” home with the most delightful pride.
Binding the upstairs and downstairs narratives are many interleaving stories. One includes a succession stoush between Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen, Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), who just happens to be the wealthy cousin to Lord Grantham. Mysteriously wishing to leave her estate to her maid Lucy (Tuppence Middleton), is just too much for the highly-strung and uptight Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by the unquenchable Maggie Smith. Always thinking of ways to keep Downton running, its difficult for her to accept that such a large unassigned estate should go anywhere but her son. It’s the Dowager Countess friend Baroness Merton (Penelope Wilton) who uncovers the secrets to this mystery. The witty repartie between the Dowager Countess and Baroness Merton delivers the numerous laugh-out-loud moments, with such classic lines as “Will you have enough cliché’s to get through the visit?” Reply “If not, I’ll come to you!” - these two together are the perfect foil.
With a rollick through an assassination attempt and resolving marriage discord, Tom Branson (Allen Leach) tackles some interesting story lines. Leach plays a chauffeur who married into aristocracy and now feels out-of-place with the loss of his wife. It’s his guidance to other that ends up seeing him play a fairly pivotal role in the resolution of a number of the tales. The story lines even touch on a gay speak-easy, which sees “those types” thrown into jail just for being there!
Ben Smigthard’s cinematography leaves one speechless as the panoramic views of Downton Abbey and its grounds display the grand history of this upper class family. The costumes, makeup, hair, jewellery and livery of 1927 are beautifully and tastefully replicated, and combined with the stunning table settings and fine dining, all meld together in an incredibly sympathetic manner.
All-in-all, Downton Abbey the movie, served up on the big screen, transports the viewer to the illusion they are experiencing dining with the upper echelon of British aristocracy. It’s a rolicking good time filled with intrigue, love and laughter, all laid bare through the tale of one of the biggest dinner parties one could ever hope to be seated at!
You definitely don’t need to have experienced the series to enjoy this rollicking ride through the English aristocracy. If you’re a Downton tragic … it’s a must see!