Four years on from the final season, Downton Abbey makes its cinematic debut, and it’s safe to say that fans of the series will not be disappointed.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Downton Abbey picks up in 1927 – one year after the series finished – as the Crawley’s are informed that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) will be staying with them while visiting the area. Excitement and nerves quickly turn to frustration and disappointment when the servants discover they won’t be waiting on the King and Queen. Instead, they are to be stripped of their duties by the Royal’s own staff.
Upstairs, the Crawley’s are experiencing their own drama. Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) discovers that her cousin and hand to the Queen, Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) has decided not to name Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) as heir to her fortune, so Violet hatches a plan to confront Maud when she arrives at Downton and convince her to change her mind.
The film version of Downton Abbey has definitely been made with the fans in mind. It cleverly acknowledges important past characters, such as Sybil Branson, but still provides enough background information to ensure newcomers can follow along. The film largely avoids drawing from past storylines, choosing to simply place audiences in the Downton Abbey universe during a time when excitement and conflict naturally unfold.
All the regular cast members return, along with several new players who add some drama to the storyline. Series writer Julian Fellowes has also been kept on for the film, carefully constructing a story that can be completely resolved within the space of two hours. While each subplot comes to a predictable conclusion, the Downton service staff bring a light-heartedness to the film that makes it thoroughly enjoyable.
As always, Downton Abbey well and truly belongs to Maggie Smith. Whether she’s engaging in witty banter with Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton), or facing off with Lady Maud, she is captivating in every scene, bringing a touch of feistiness to an otherwise conservative society. Other memorable characters include the enthusiastic Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle) whose nervousness ends up revealing itself in a hilarious manner, and Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) whose spunk and wandering eye gets her into trouble.
Filmmaker Michael Engler is in familiar territory here, having directed several Downton Abbey episodes and recent period drama The Chaperone. In collaboration with the production design team, he has continued the glamorous aesthetic of the series, with beautifully extravagant sets and costumes.
Downton Abbey knows its audience and knows what’s going to appeal to them. It’s also careful not to alienate new audiences, subtly reintroducing characters for those unfamiliar and bringing in a brand-new story without any past context needed. It’s very easy watching and is sure to be a hit amongst loyal fans.
Downton Abbey is available in Australian cinemas from 12 September 2019
Image © Universal Pictures 2019