FOCUS FEATURES (2019)
Director: Michael Engler
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton
How very proper.
It’s been a few years since the insanely popular Downton Abbey left our TV screens but the Crawley’s couldn’t stay away forever. This big-screen adaptation of the ITV show links directly to the final season of the show and finds the inhabitants of the Abbey in a fluster because the King and Queen are coming for a sleepover. The problem is, they’re bringing their own staff which doesn’t sit well with the Downton faithful thus allowing for plenty of higher-class hi-jinx.
I’ll prefix this by stating that I have never seen an episode of Downton Abbey, not one. Whether that helped or hindered the overall experience I can’t say, though I do believe those with a knowledge of the show will enjoy this, fans will love it. As for me? I thought it was just fine. Once I worked out who was who, I settled into the movie, however, it all felt very musty to begin with. The Royals coming to stay is the driving plot point that Downton Abbey revolves around – the visit causing no end of issues for the in-house staff and when the Royal’s snooty team come in and start calling the shots, this provides the ‘antagonist’ role and the tension of the piece (I use that term loosely). There’s an obvious three-act structure here that stays faithful to the upper-class nature of things – the first act ties greatly into the Royal parade, the second corresponds with the Royal dinner and the third leads into the Royal ball. The key issue with the movie, though, is the abundance of subplots and filler narrative points that bog the movie down and leaves Engler with the task of then tying everything up without it all feeling muddled – a task which he doesn’t fulfil entirely satisfactorily. There are additional family feuds, new romances, plays for the Abbey itself, a hush-hush plot involving two gay characters, an assassination attempt, the peril brought by the incoming Royal staff, and the need to throw every character possible in somehow. For a movie that didn’t need to be, it’s bloated. Maybe some of these subplots would work better in an episodic series? With so many side-plots to contend with and end – it’s like a busier Return of the King.
When the Royals are in town, the Abbey crushes under its own sycophantic attitude towards them. It’s as if the Gods descended into the manor and even the staunch Irish Republican who is against the Royals can’t help but swoon eventually. When everything falls into the place in the third act, the movie is at its strongest – the more powerful moments occur and, even for someone who isn’t emotionally connected with the characters or series – some were poignant and touching. There’s also some good old British humour laced throughout, mainly from Dame Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley, and a few set pieces that are played for laughs and are executed well. As to be expected, it’s a beautiful movie to look at – the big screen treatment really adds another layer to the look of Downton – and with John Lunn’s lush score to accompany the visuals, there’s a real ‘warm’ feeling to proceedings – like a fine Port on an autumn’s evening.
As mentioned, the fans are going to love every moment of Downton Abbey – everyone is back and the majority get resolutions and happy endings (most of them, anyway) – and I’d be very surprised if the series doesn’t return in some form soon. For those new to the Abbey, there’s not an awful lot to be excited by and it all feels a bit Conservative. Whilst the movie is just fine, visually, it’s a joy to behold.
September 26th 2019