DIR: Michael Engler • WRI: Julian Fellowes • DOP: Ben Smithard • ED: Mark Day • DES: Donal Woods • PRO: Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge • MUS: John Lunn • CAST: Michelle Dockery, Tuppence Middleton, Maggie Smith
After fifty-two episodes, over six seasons, Downton Abbey left our television screens on Christmas Day 2015; while ending on a joyous high, the loss of such a beloved series was felt by fans. Not long after, rumours of Downton Abbey heading for the big screen were spreading; but that is all I viewed them as: rumours, and empty promises. Four years later creator Julian Fellowes made good on that promise, delivering a sumptuous adaptation that pays service to the fans who followed Downton and its residents for so long. Being a fan of the television series, I was very excited to see Downton Abbey one last time, but slightly apprehensive about how it would translate on film, and whether the story would be interesting enough to hold audiences attention for two hours. I clearly needn’t have worried. While Downton worked really well as a television series, there are details that can only be truly appreciated when seeing it in the cinema; such as the first shot of the house. This first look at the manor, after four years, along with the recognisable Downton theme tune playing, felt like coming home. The lavish interiors, and the costumes are even more beautiful on the cinema screen.
The movie is set in 1927, and King George V and Queen Mary are visiting Downton. A fuss ensues as the servants prepare the house for the visit, while the Lord’s and Lady’s worry about what to wear for the occasion. All the usual suspects are involved in the film: Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Tom Branson (Allen Leech), Mr. and Mrs. Bates (Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt), Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) and, of course, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), who, as always, steals any scene she’s in. The wit and sharp tongue that fans have loved from Smith’s character has remained, and her scheming ways continue; the film acknowledges the importance of her character in a poignant, but appropriate way.
What Downton has always been good at, is the equal attention to the stories and lives of those from different classes, audiences know just as much about a Lady’s maid as they do about the Lady, and the film picks up from where the series left off: we get to see Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) happy in her married life with husband Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton), something which seemed unlikely for most of the series after she eventually became resigned to the fact that she would never find love; we see Anna and John Bates with their son; Lady Mary, who was pregnant at the series end, had a daughter with second husband Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode); romance brews for the widowed Branson; and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) are the quintessential old married couple.
The movie deals with historical issues, such as the criminalising of homosexuality, and how this affects Barrow’s life; this had been dealt with in the series, and is continued in the film, the course which this storyline takes leaves some hope that romance might be possible for the character. Most interesting, from an Irish perspective, was the way they dealt with Branson, and his republican past, and what that meant in relation to the pending royal visit. As much as I like Branson, there was something in the way they used his character that left me somewhat miffed, as though they were demonstrating how the elite life can ‘reform’ the once radical Irish.
Most of the humour throughout was, of course, courtesy of the Dowager’s and Isobel Crawley’s (Penelope Wilton) friendly bickering, but some also came from Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), whose excitement at the opportunity to serve the King and Queen left him forgetful of the ‘proper etiquette’ of a servant. However, the power struggle between the servants of Downton, and the royal servants was rather entertaining as well.
This film is essentially fan service, allowing fans to revel in the grandeur of Downton and the lives of its characters one more time. The final shots of the characters and the last look at the manor will leave fans content with the knowledge that Downton Abbey has opened its doors to audiences for the last time.
PG (see IFCO for details)
Downton Abbey is released 13th September 2019