Downton Abbey (2019) Review

A LAVISHING CINEMATIC ENDEAVOR


For the first half of the 2010s, the television show Downton Abbey served as a hallmark achievement in dramatic TV series that gain popularity and acclaim from both critics and viewers. Created by Julian Fellowes, the series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downtown Abbey between 1912 to 1926, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era, with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy. As mentioned, Downton Abbey, which ran for six seasons (2010-2015), received universal acclaim from TV critics and won numerous accolades within its fanbase as well as awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Mini-series or Television Film and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Mini-series or Movie. In addition, the show went on to win several other milestone achievements, including Guinness World Records recognizing the shows as the “most critically acclaimed English-language television series of 2011”, earned the most nominations of any international television series in the history of Primetime Emmy Awards, and was the most watched television series on both ITV and PBS; becoming the most successful British costume drama series since the 1981 television series Brideshead Revisited. Now, four years after the end of final episode of TV series, it’s time to return to the Crawley Family (and those who work for them) as Focus Features (as well as Carnival / Perfect World Pictures) and director Michael Engler proudly present the follow-up continuation movie titled Downton Abbey. Is this long-awaited movie to the popular period piece drama worth a look or does the movie squander its chance for viewer with drawn-out narrative?

THE STORY


It’s 1927 and Downton Abbey has just received word that King George (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are planning to come to the Crawley family estate for an overnight visit while on a cross-country tour. While the royal visit creates a natural “buzz” in the community, the Downton Abbey staff excites and panics, forcing Mary (Michelle Dockery) to cut retirement short for former head butler Carson (Jim Carter), replacing current head butler Barrow (Rob James-Collier) while the demands of the royal staff are sorted out. Realizing that the royal staff has no intention of using the Downton Abbey employees, workers, such as Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), and Anna (Joanne Froggatt), hatch a plan to reclaim the glory for the estate. Coming along with the royal entourage is Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, joined by her maid Lucy (Tuppence Middleton), and while’s a cousin to Robert (Hugh Bonneville), her choice to keep her fortune away from the Crawleys raises ire from matriarch Violet (Maggie Smith). While plans commence for the King and Queen’s visit, Tom (Allen Leech) is put in a difficult position when his patriotism is called into question a mysterious man named Major Chetwode (Stephen Campbell Moore), leaving the Irishman uneasy about the important royal visit.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Yes, I’ll the first to admit it…. I do love Downton Abbey TV series (and proud of it). What can I say…. I’m a sucker for costume period pieces (be it television shows or theatrical features films) and Downton Abbey is probably the best example of a costume period piece. Of course, I wasn’t immediately hooked on the show as I think I started watching it when the third season was being released that year, so I quickly got caught up the two previous seasons and instantly fell in love with the show. Yes, it’s not exactly the most “riveting” or original story to follow in television history, but Downton Abbey provides plenty of dramatic nuances within its characters as the show is rooted within its various multitude of characters and how their daily lives play a part with the “big house” of Downton….whether that’s upstairs of people of note and of titles are pampered and deal with upper class issues or downstairs where maids and grooms scuttle about in the humdrum of life. Personally, with the show running six seasons, I think the success of Downton Abbey is captured beautiful not only within its cast of well-talented actors and actress, but also in creator Julian Fellowes, who helms project and gives us such rich character development from start to finish. As you can imagine, I was upset that the show ended, but really satisfied with its conclusion; ending Downton Abbey on a high-note and closure for this crowd-pleasing drama TV series.

Of course, this brings me back to talking about Downtown Abbey, the 2019 movie that acts as a continuation to the popular television series. Like I said, I was happily satisfied with the conclusion to the Downton Abbey TV series, but always secretly hoped that a theatrical movie would materialize in the same fashion as the two Sex and the City films and Entourage movie. You can imagine I was completely thrilled to learn that a Downton Abbey movie was gonna happen and that it was gonna be theatrical released in theaters, with almost all of the principal cast returning to reprise their roles. So, when the film’s various marketing promos started to appear (movie trailers, magazines, and overall internet “buzz”, etc.), I was definitely hyped to see this movie. To be honest, I actually saw it during its opening weekend, but kept on delaying on getting my review for Downton Abbey as fell a little bit behind on my reviews (because you know…. life happens). Now, I finally have the time to share my thoughts on this movie. What did I think of it? Well, I actually loved it. Despite a few minor nitpicks, Downton Abbey is a charming and lavishing follow-up movie to series of the same name. This movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel or pushes the main story into a whole new territory, but it’s just a lavishing familiarity with the Downton Abbey characters that makes the film work so well, especially if you’re fan of the TV series.

Downton Abbey is directed by Michael Engler, whose previous directorial works consist of several television series such as Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, and 30 Rock as well as a few episodes of Downton Abbey. Thus, given his familiarity with the Downton Abbey TV series (i.e. characters, setting, story, pacing, etc.), Engler seemed like a suitable choice to helm a project like this. To his credit, succeeds on this front Engler by directing this particular movie in way that feels similar to the TV show’s presentation and storytelling, but also feels slightly more cinematic than what’s been done in the past. Of course, the source material from the show is there, so Engler doesn’t have to recreate the wheel in translating Downton Abbey from an episodic television drama to a feature length film. Thus, Engler “romances” a lot of the material; feeling like a genuine continuation of the narrative thread of the TV series and able to sort of “hit the ground running” immediately from the feature’s opening shot. Of course, with a production like this, the movie, which again is a continuation of a television series, definitely caters to its fans, with Engler making sure that this Downton Abbey movie won’t alienate the show’s fanbase of which he doesn’t; offering up a two hour feature film that falls directly “in-line” with the popular show and harmonizes with what’s come before.

With Engler in the director’s chair and making sure the film “harmonizes” with TV series, the Downton Abbey movie also finds success within its script, which Julian Fellows penning the feature’s story. Like Engler, Fellowes doesn’t “shake up” British aristocratic formula that made the show successful and, while some might be a little disappointed, the setting and story feels very much an extension of the television series. Thus, the idea of having England’s royalty coming to visit the Crawley family at Downton Abbey isn’t completely out of the realm of possibilities, but still offers up a chance for a lot of “pomp” and grandeur narration befitting a feature film. Additionally, Fellowes certainly knows the various characters that have populated the TV series and makes the film’s screenplay work in delving back into the bustling lives of these individuals; allowing us (the viewers) to easily fall right back into inhabitants of Downton Abbey and exploring (once again) their personal troubles and triumphs all over again. Of course, the idea of a “royal visit” from Britain’s sovereignty acts as the main catalyst for the feature, with Fellowes creating internal chaos within all the major players of the show and certainly makes for some “Downton Abbey” drama throughout the feature.

Of a technical presentation, Downton Abbey is absolutely beautiful and a stunning piece befitting a British costume period endeavor. Naturally, the TV series already a somewhat lavishing and cinematic feel to it, so it already looked and felt beautiful as the camera followed the Crawley family (and their staff) throughout the opulent rooms and back hall corridors of mansion estate. Of course, being a movie in all, Engler is able to achieve a little more cinematic nuances with the show than what the show was able to produce. This means that the movie offers a few new locations within Downton Abbey itself as well as in the surrounding area, with Engler and his team achieving more technical nuances to polish up the Downton Abbey experience for a theatrical release. This includes more wide-angle shots, more heavenly lightning in certain outdoor exteriors and gorgeous interior shots to fill up the room with characters in lavishing gowns. Thus, the film’s background / technical team, including Donal Woods (production designs), Anna Robbins (costume designs), Mark Day (film editing), and Ben Smithhard (cinematography) offer up an exquisite cinematic feature from start to finish; something worthy of epitome of a costume period piece. Also, Downton Abbey series composer John Lunn returns to the project in composing the films score for the feature and definitely brings his “A” game, with the main theme being played beautifully as well as some sweeping orchestra composition as well.

There are a few minor criticisms that I do have Downton Abbey that I feel I can’t overlook or might be a little “off-putting” for some out there. Of course, the easiest criticism to point out is on whom the movie is gear towards…. its fans. Like other similar ideas of movies being a continuation / follow-up to popular TV shows (i.e. Sex and the City, Entourage, Deadwood, etc.), Downton Abbey is purely made for fans of the series and not so much with the causal moviegoers. Of course, the movie is quite easy to digest and is somewhat simplistic to figure out (i.e. no head scratchers or sudden unexplained twists), but Engler jumps immediately into the movie’s plot within the first five minutes with Fellowes following suit by quick reintroducing the story’s characters with no additional prolongment of bring viewers up to speed on the events of the shows, with the exception of a few minor callbacks within dialogue scenes between characters. Thus, the appeal of the Downton Abbey movie is more limited to people who’ve seeing the TV series and not much the people who walk into the film with little to no prior knowledge of the show. To me, it didn’t bother me, but (as I said), Downton Abbey is mostly for the fans of the series; acting more as a companion feature to its television predecessor rather than a standalone endeavor.

Another point of criticism that I had with the movie is fact that movie is being theatrical release. Of course, I get the idea behind it and do like the opportunity to see the Downton Abbey in theaters, but, for better or worse, the movie itself just seems like a larger extended episode of the show; something akin to the series’ famous Christmas Special episodes (an elongated episode that appears at the end of each season that dealt with a bit larger story / plot). I’m not saying that the story in this movie is bad or anything, but it just feels like the production could’ve been released on TV as Christmas special movie rather than being theatrical released. Coinciding with that notion, Fellowes (as mentioned above) keeps the Downton Abbey formula on a steady course and doesn’t really color outside the lines within the foundation he’s built. While that might not be a bad thing, it does mean that Fellowes doesn’t take creative risk within this theatrical motion picture opportunity for his popular period piece drama. Again, this makes the idea of a Downton Abbey movie more relevant to a TV movie. There’s more grandeur bigness to the film, but not so much in taking Fellowes’s vision of the show in a bold and new direction. Additionally, the movie does feel a bit long in several ways, with Engler and Fellowes making sure to give each respective main character (supporting ones as well) their moment to shine and to give them a conclusion their arcs in the movie. Thus, the movie’s ending seems to an end at one point, but then continues for another ten minutes or so. Again, it’s not a bad idea, but just a little bit of finesse in the film’s editing department could’ve been better handled for a tighter feature.

What definitely made the show was sprawling various characters that populate Downton Abbey, with all the acting talents playing those respective characters in fun and multi-façade way. So, as one could except, the Downton Abbey movie excels in this department with most of the actors and actresses from the series returning to reprise their roles once again (after a four-year hiatus) and it truly feels like they never left their Downton Abbey personas. With so many characters in large ensemble, it’s hard to pick out the main characters of the movie. So, one just has to look at the main players from the show of which Engler and Fellowes hone in on for the movie’s two-hour runtime, which consists of Lady Mary Talbot, her younger sister Edith Pelham, their brother in-law Tom Branson, and head butler Thomas Barrow and are played by actress Michelle Dockery (Non-Stop and Good Behavior), actress Laura Carmichael (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Madame Bovary), actor Allen Leech (Bohemian Rhapsody and Rome), and actor Robert James-Collier (The Ritual and Down to Earth) respectfully. Of course, the struggles and triumphs of Mary and Edith Crawley have always been the focal point of the Downton Abbey series and continues to do so, with Mary concern herself with the royal visit to their home (as well as the future of Downton), while Edith worries over her condition of her new lifestyle (Lady of Hexham) and a sudden surprise that she must tell her husband about.

Likewise, the character of Tom Branson has been another main focal point of the TV series and continues to be so in this movie, with the character facing several challenges. Plus, it also helps that Leech has a likeable personality (clearly shows in his performance), while the character of Tom has shown the most growth of all the Downton Abbey characters and gets more to do in the film than in the last season of the show. Finally, James-Collier’s Thomas Barrow has always been painted as the conniving individual character, who hates pretty much everyone. However, I do like how the movie portrays the Barrow in the movie; casting him in a less hostile / sympathetic light, especially since most of the “downstairs” staff are paired up together. Plus, James-Collier does an excellent job in the movie, so it’s nice to see him playing Barrow in a different light (sort of speak).

Of course, fan favorites are still present in the Downton Abbey movie, especially the character of Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, who is once again skillfully played by actress Dame Maggie Smith. Known for her roles in Gosford Park, Ladies in Lavender, and The Secret Garden, Smith has always been a terrific “old school” British actress as seeing in all of her previous works, including her performance as Violet. Her tactful wit, sharp tongue, and memorable one-liners are once again a pleasure to hear as Smith continues to excel in the role, which definitely could’ve been played in a different way (thankfully it wasn’t). Likewise, her conversation along with cousin Isobel Crawley (now Isobel Merton), who is played by actress Penelope Wilton (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Five Days) are just as wonderful and cheeky as they were in the show.

Also, I can’t forget the other two fan-favorites, with the characters of Mr. Carson (the former head butler of Downton Abbey) and Mrs. Hughes, the head household maid at Downton Abbey, returning for another round of fan-service. Of course, both actor Jim Carter (Shakespeare in Love and King Lear) and actress Phyllis Logan (Secrets & Lies and Another Time, Another Place) are terrific together and definitely seem like a tried and true “old married couple”. With the movie focusing a lot on these characters above (and a few new characters added for the movie), the characters of Lord and Lady Grantham (Robert and Cora Crawley), Mr. Bates, and his wife Anna get more reduced to secondary supporting roles. Of course, the acting talents behind them, including actor Hugh Bonneville (Paddington and Notting Hill), actress Elizabeth McGovern (The Wife and Woman in Gold), actor Brendan Coyle (Me Before You and North & South), and actress Joanne Froggatt (Liar and Bob the Builder), are all there and do certainly bringing their “quality” to their respective characters, but the movie pushes, more or less, these individuals to the side. However, most of the character growth and been on display in the TV series, so it didn’t bother me as much.

The rest of the Downton Abbey characters, including actor Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game and Watchmen) as Mary’s husband Henry Talbot, actor Harry Hadden-Paton (The Crown and Versailles) as Edith’s husband Bertie Pelham, Marquess of Hexham, actor Douglas Reith (The Queen and Dumbo) as Isobel’s husband Lord Merton, actress Sophie McShera (Cinderella and Galavant) as Daisy Mason, actress Lesley Nicol (Beecham House and Sarah & Duck) as Mrs. Patmore, actress Raquel Cassidy (Lead Balloons and The Worst Witch) as Miss Baxter, actor Michael Fox (Dunkirk and Family Affairs) as Andy, and actor Kevin Doyle (The Tudors and Happy Valley) as Mr. Molesley, are dedicated to rounding out the supporting veteran players of the feature. Of course, there parts might be a bit smaller than in the series, but all of them quickly capture their respective roles (quirks and personas) immediately and become memorable in the scenes that they are in.

Of the new players in the movie, the character of Maud, Lady Bagshaw / the Queen’s lady-in-waiting stands out as the most memorable. Played by actress Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Nanny McPhee), the character of Lady Bagshaw is indeed a welcomed addition to the whole Downton Abbey cast, with Staunton playing the part with effortless glee and theatrical poise (befitting her acting talent), especially when she paired up against Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley. There scenes spark some terrific one-liners. Additionally, the movie also shines a focus on Maud’s servant companion Lucy Smith, who is played by actress Tuppence Middleton (The Imitation Game and Jupiter Ascending) and plays an interesting side-story arc in the movie. Behind those two characters, the character of Richard Ellis, the King’s Royal Dresser, is another welcomed addition to the cast, with actor Max Brown (The Tudors and The Royals) making Ellis with enough suave and charm to certainly make him dashingly likeable. Likewise, actress Kate Phillips (Peaky Blinders and Wolf Hall) provides a certain type of youthful warmth within the character of Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles. Additionally, actor Simon Jones (Brideshead Revisited and The Price) and actress Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) are solid in the roles as King George V and Queen Mary. They are exactly how I pictured and handled their lofty royalty personas well. Kind of wished that their characters were in the movie more.

Rounding out the new characters cast is actor Mark Addy (Game of Thrones and A Knight’s Tale) as Mr. Bakewell, actor Andrew Havill (The King’s Speech and Les Miserable) as Henry, Viscount of Lascelles, actress Richenda Carey (Monarch of the Glen and The Prince and the Pauper) as the Royal Housemaid Mrs. Webb, actor Phillipe Spall (Final Portrait and Allied) as the Royal Chef Monsieur Courbet, actor Stephen Campbell Moore (Goodbye Christopher Robin and The Bank Job) as Major Chetwode, and actor David Haig (My Boy Jack and Florence Foster Jenkins) as the Royal Page of the Backstairs Mr. Wilson. Despite of limited screen-time in amongst the large sprawling regular cast, these acting talents are solid and favorable and definitely lend credence to their characters involvement in Downton Abbey’s story, with most having their one “moment in the spotlight” in their minor supporting capacities.

FINAL THOUGHTS


It’s time to return to “the big house” and reacquaint yourself with the Crawley Family as they (and their staff) prepare for a royal visit in the movie Downton Abbey. Director Michael Engler’s latest film returns to the popular TV show and continues the lives of those who live (and work) at the opulent English estate; providing a motion picture that works as a perfect companion to the show. While movie fumbles in a few minor areas (i.e an elongated ending and cramming too much characters into a feature length runtime), the film finds its grace and grandeur within its polished production and presentations as well as in Engler’s direction, Fellowes’s script, and its sprawling cast of acting talents. Personally, I loved this movie. It was great, lavishing, entertaining, and just downright fun to return the whole Downton Abbey world once again. Thus, you can by glowing review for this movie that my recommendation for it is a definite “highly recommended”, especially for the fans of the TV series out there. While the idea of a possible sequel leaves the door open for more cinematic endeavors within the Crawley Family’s lives is there, it still remains a mystery if one would materialize in the near future. TO me, I welcome the idea. Even if it doesn’t, 2019’s Downton Abbey is prime example of how to do a feature film continuation from a popular TV series; producing a lavishing cinematic experience on the finest level.

Also, a personal side note, Downton Abbey is my 475th movie review since I’ve started blogging. I wanted give a special thank you to all my readers, followers, and fellow bloggers for reading my movie reviews and giving me this platform to share (with you guys) my views on cinematic tales.

4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

Released On: September 20th, 2019
Reviewed On: November 20th, 2019

Downton Abbey  is 122 minutes long and is rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and language

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