Downton Abbey (2019) – The movie knows exactly what it is supposed to be which is not just another episode or Christmas special we are accustomed to getting from this production. It is a film that will appeal to those ardent fans who watched the show and loved it. And has no qualms in playing to the audience and pandering to them.
In other words, it is a costume drama about the proper and upright English nobility and their servants. The film is peppered with just enough material to cater to the idea of progress.
That opening score, the familiar cast names which appeared on screen as the beats of that Downton Abbey theme played, scenes of a train in the 20s British countryside. The introductory shot of Lord Grantham a.k.a. Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) is so like the pilot episode and evokes a feeling of nostalgia. This is just the beginning of a 123 minute series of nostalgia doses.
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This film is set 2 years after the events of the final Christmas episode and 4 years after that last special episode aired. Most of the cast from the TV series returns for this film. It seemed as though they haven’t missed a beat and readers may dispute m previous sentence concerning the gap in production and storyline.
There is a stellar addition in the form of Imelda Staunton as Maud Bagshaw, the Queen’s Lady-in-waiting. Her interactions with Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley a.k.a. The Dowager Countess is bound to excite anyone who saw the characters face off in the fifth Harry Potter film. At one moment it felt as though Maggie Smith was cosplaying Umbridge.
This film functions as an epilogue and focuses on the visit of King George V to Downton. The visit brings with it challenges both above and below ground level in The Abbey and opens up old wounds.
Show creator and writer Julian Fellowes play on the affection that the audience has formed towards the characters both above and beneath the ground level at the Abbey. He uses this to shape a narrative that has us unquestionably root for them.
This holds true especially in the case of the ones beneath ground level as we root for them due to the affection despite their actions not being so nice if one looks at it objectively. Objectivity does get tossed out of the window in some situations though.
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Above the ground, the challenges are faced in the form of Tom Branson’s refusal to accept royalty. His bow seems to be a nod of acknowledgment when he is introduced to his majesty. It is a viewpoint many of us would adhere to now in a meritocratic era. How tiring right to bow/curtsey every time some person just appeared in front of you just because of their birth. But then we also get to see the type of people who fawned over and lost their senses in the presence of what they equated to mythical figures who are at the core of the show.
This is seen below the ground where the servants see the royal visit as an opportunity to serve their king and are over-excited. However, this opportunity is taken away from them by the palace’s staff who come (invade) to Downton. When asked by the Downton staff how to be useful are told to scrub the bathrooms, cook for the royal servants, make their rooms or else read a book.
Now, will these characters take it lightly? Further subplots showcase tensions between the Irish and the English, inheritance, and rigidity in the established order focusing on Downton as an institution and the characters merely as placeholders furthering and caretaking the institution.
The emphasis on this film is just like what it was in the show. The institution such as the Abbey is to be portrayed as a grand and imperious awe-inspiring place that will live on and be the center of the village.
The shots of Downton right after the opening credits just as the crescendo builds and its framing on the morning of the arrival of the king and at the end drive home this point.
There is an acknowledgment that time has passed since we have last seen them with the characters of Lady Mary Talbot and Thomas Barrow looking quite different. What’s good is that they have decided to address Anna as Mrs. Bates having decided to go against it in the show with the explanation that she is known as Anna both (to the audiences) and to her on-screen colleagues. To be fair they did do that to Mr. Molesly too when he got demoted and needed his first name used.
They sorted that out in storyline of course but this was finally rectified to keep in with the period and for the fact that they could do it. After a time leap, we aren’t so accustomed to hearing and associating that face to Anna and can digest her being called Mrs. Bates. We see her child too for a few seconds. Elsie and Charlie are also used and this too was quite jarring for audiences accustomed to Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson respectively.
The movie is a homecoming and lets the characters do what we expect them to do to not leave us disappointed. There may be a small section of the audience who may not like this film for its quick resolution of conflicts due to the time constraints of a stand-alone film. Well, it does have enough content that if expanded like what we know Downton Abbey – The Movie is capable of, we could have had another season.
I’m licking my lips at the thought of seeing Maggie Smith and Imelda Staunton battle it out over a season perhaps with an entire episode focused on the duo. Now that one thinks about it. The royal visit did take place too quickly.
What’s commendable about this film is that it gives its massive ensemble enough screen time. No fan of any single character could have qualms about the amount of screen time received in comparison to another character of similar stature. However, their need and intention in doing so results in characters not getting sufficient screen time to themselves. Bates is largely absent and doesn’t seem to have many lines or scenes to himself. The same can be said about Cora Crawley’s maid Miss Baxter too.
There is a lot of scope for sequels and Downton Abbey (2019) – The Movie could become a film series as well. Would the audience take to it though? Considering that another time leap will almost certainly see us without a pillar of the show. It does fit in with the theme of the Abbey being the institution and the Crawleys the mere people who run it and sustain it for the future.
The film is magnificently crafted and immaculately shot swansong. The epilogue that offers a peek into life after that Christmas party where Carson’s hand trembled and into the married life of Edith Pelham should be quite enough right. We wanted and we got it, and now obviously we may want more. The epilogue (a future film), of the epilogue (this film) which was an epilogue to the original epilogue (the final Christmas Special). The extended ending sequence had an air of finality both with the interactions and that music and I for one hope that that was that.