DOWNTON ABBEY (4.5 out of 5) Directed by Michael Engler. Written by Julian Fellowes; Starring Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Tuppence Middleton, Maggie Smith; Rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and language; Running time 122 minutes; In wide release September 20, 2019.
Fans of the Downton Abbey series will delight at the opulent continuation of the saga of the beloved Crawley family. The film touches on the lives of nearly every favorite character, if only lightly, and there are plenty of long shots of the glamorous Highclere Castle, the real-life home serving as the onscreen portrayal of Downton Abbey.
Set in 1927, some two years after the conclusion of the series, the Crawleys learn that King George V and Queen Mary of Teck plan to visit for an evening, and it puts the household in a whirlwind of activity. There are activities to plan, rooms to clean, silver to polish.
Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) is in high form, as the witty family matriarch. It is mostly due to her one-liners that the film is as surprisingly funny as it is, and the audience erupted in a fit of giggles nearly every time she spoke. And her facial expressions! Dame Smith can purse her lips disapprovingly like no other.
But take note if you haven’t watched the series: much of the story will be lost on you. Though it may be entertaining enough, there are so many relationships that have formed and changed throughout the series. Their backstories really enhance the understanding of the film, from the acerbic relationship between Lady Violet and Isobel (Penelope Wilton) to everyone’s attitude towards Mr. Barrow and the now-much-less-strained sisterhood between Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) and Edith, Lady Hexham (Laura Carmichael).
Imelda Staunton joins the cast as Crawley cousin Maud Bagshaw. She is part of the royal retinue as lady-in-waiting to the queen, but she is anathema to the Dowager Countess. Her fortunes, according to Lady Violet, should go to Lord Grantham, who has not been named cousin Maud’s heir.
And the servants downstairs must face with interlopers from the palace who wish to—if only temporarily—oust them from their positions while the royal couple is in residence.
Written by creator Julian Fellowes and directed by Michael Engler, who directed some of the series’ episodes, the film is a love letter to devoted fans. The story avoids digging too deeply into the lives of the characters, but with such an ensemble cast, there is only so much story to be told in two hours.
Still, it was wonderful to see so many characters and their actors return to this world. A delightful and thoroughly entertaining film.