Downton Abbey, the much-anticipated continuation of the British television show of the same name, is a welcome treat for fans of the series, as they will get the chance to revisit the eponymous manor and its residents and servants. Packing a whole season’s worth of juicy stories into a single two-hour film, this movie breezes by and will leave audiences clamoring for another trip back across the pond.
The story follows the Crawley family and their servants as they prepare Downton for a visit from the King and Queen of England. But as any viewer of the series would know, there are plenty of dynamics at play to be explored in any situation like this. Watching the residents and servants prepare for the royal visit is quite entertaining, largely because the stakes feel higher than they ever have before, even if it is still melodrama.
That said, the subplots are the real star of the show in the film. The fact that writer Julian Fellowes was able to do so much in a relatively short runtime is thoroughly impressive. In the past, Fellowes’s feature-length efforts have been bland and struggled to strike that balance between the main storyline and the B-plots. Downton Abbey seems to have broken that curse, perhaps because he was already comfortable in this world.
The movie also contains plenty of witty dialogue, which was perhaps the best part of the series. There is a musical quality to the lines of the film because they are written in a way that is lyrical and rhythmic. Although this may strike some as pretentious, those who would feel this way are unlikely to see the movie, as it is designed primarily to cater to devotees.
However, since the film is intended for people who have already seen the show, newcomers may have a hard time connecting with the characters. The character development is very much reliant on having a pre-existing connection to the characters in the show. Some arcs, such as that of the butler Thomas, build directly off of what was established in the series, while others take the characters in new directions.
Regardless, the actors all seemed to enjoy their return to these roles. The beloved performers from the show all come back to the same or greater levels as they left a few years ago. Maggie Smith is as wonderful as ever as Violet Crawley. Will the AMPAS award her for the same role for which she was lauded by the ATAS multiple times? It is certainly possible. Another standout is Robert James-Collier, who is given even more to do as the butler Thomas, and shows that he deserves it.
On a technical level, the movie is obviously fantastic. It is common for television-to-cinema continuations to look and feel like an elongated episode of the show, but that is avoided here because the series was already quite cinematic. The cinematography and production design do a wonderful job of transporting the audience back in time to England in the 1920’s, and the score is just as elegant and harmonious as remembered.
Downton Abbey is highly unlikely to appeal beyond its core audience of people who have watched the show, but those who enjoy it will really enjoy it. One can only hope that fans turn out in droves enough that Fellowes and company will be compelled enough to allow another revival in a few more years.
Downton Abbey hits theaters on September 20.