Now playing at arthouses, multiplexes, and drive-ins (okay, maybe not at drive-ins) everywhere:
DOWNTON ABBEY (Dir. Michael Engler, 2019)
Taking place in 1927, three years after the events of the sixth season of the show, this update concerns the returning cast (nearly every member of the sprawling ensemble is back) dealing with a visit by the King and Queen (Simon Jones and Geraldine James) to Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) majestic Edwardian estate.
The family, including Crawley’s wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), daughters Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery), and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael); is excited about the royal occasion while Crawley’s mother, Violet (Maggie Smith) spouts acidic wittisms just like you’d expect.
That’s the upstairs, downstairs the servants, including the stern butler Carson (Jim Carter), housekeeper Phyllis Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), valet John Bates (Brendan Coyle), Bates’ wife, Lady’s maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), footman Joseph Moseley (Kevin Doyle), and cooks Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera), and Beryl Patmore (Lesley Nicol); are fretting about nervously about how best to do their duties.
Since Carson has returned from retirement to reclaim his butler position, this puts the film (and the series’) semi-villain Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) out of a job (a familiar predicament as his job was always on the line on the show) and he heads into town for his own little racy adventure.
Then the staff finds out from the King’s crew that they won’t be need for the event as the royal staff will fulfill the duties of cooking, serving, cleaning, and the like. This leads to a plan to sabotage the visiting servants in comical ways so that they can do their treasured work to “restore Downton’s honor.”
Meanwhile there’s also a budding romance between honorary Crawley family member and Irish Republican sympathizer Tom Brosnan (Allen Leech), and royal attendant Lady Bagshaw’s (Imelda Stauton) maid Lucy (Tuppence Middleton); and friction between Smith’s Violet, and Lady Bagshaw over the family inheritance.
There are a few other little subplots, but that’s all I’ll go into. DOWNTON ABBEY: THE MOTION PICTURE is an enjoyably breezy piece of glossy entertainment, but it’s really just a super-sized episode of the show. The only really cinematic moments, courtesy of cinematographer Ben Smithard, are when the camera circles the exteriors of the stately house of the title (in real life it’s Highclere Castle), and in some tasty angles in the large interiors.
Also, with a cast so large like this, many roles are reduced to mere cameos. For example, Coyle’s Bates, a very significant character on the series, gets like three to four lines here. But screenwriter, Julian Fellowes, who created and wrote or co-wrote the entire series, mostly juggles the various strands deftly, and with plenty of well-earned humor. Director Michael Engler also handles the material with amusing aplomb, something he’s had a lot of experience with as he’s helmed choice episodes of such notable shows as My So Called Life, Six Feet Under, 30 Rock, The Big C, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Downton Abbey itself.
Fans of the show should love this film follow-up, and with its major success, it just may be just the beginning of a new franchise.