Tuesday 17 September 2019

Film: 'Downton Abbey'

Well, that was a pleasant surprise! Embarking on a new phase of wishing only to see those films chosen with discernment, I wasn't sure at all whether this would be a satisfactory start. It was - and more than.

I'm one of the minority(?) who's never seen an episode of this internationally popular period TV 'soap', nor even part of any. Of course I was fully aware of the setting - historically, geographically and socially - there having been countless trailers and excerpts for years, so nothing came as a shock. 
Reviews I've seen have generally been in the 'okay' to 'quite good' range, though none were wildly enthusiastic, and they all seem to be at one in determining this film as working equally well as a television instalment. Maybe so, though coming to it with no prior expectations might have been an advantage.

The plot is a simple one. 1927 - King George V, with Queen Mary, has engagements in Yorkshire and wishes to spend one day and one night at the Crawley mansion, the extravagant manorial residence of widow and matriarch Lady Crawley (Maggie Smith). In the upstairs/downstairs world it's those with status and titles (including Hugh Bonneville) who superficially at least take it more calmly, determined to do what has to be done, while the 'downstairs' servants tend to be more flustered, wondering if they can cope with what's expected of them. However, the cat is set among the pigeons with the arrival in advance of one of the King's snooty chief staff (David Haig) with the function of ensuring that the visit goes smoothly and is up to the required super-high standard. He's an obnoxious martinet of a figure (likewise the imported French chef) who settles in, looking down his nose and ordering everyone around with disdain verging on disgust  - requiring the manor's own staff to make themselves invisible during the royal visit itself, and to leave his own bevy of royal lackeys to do all that's required. Fed up with this condescending attitude and pre-determined arrangements, the in-house staff decide to get their own back.......

Other TV regulars do their turns very ably, Jim Carter and other faces I can't quite put a name to. 
Other notable cast members include Elizabeth McGovern, Matthew Goode and Tuppence Middleton. 

The main friction element is between the Maggie Smith character and that of Imelda Staunton, both hardly hiding the fact that they loathe each other, daggers drawn at their every encounter, not even having the grace to smile, albeit insincerely, while they stab their verbals into each other. 

There are several strands of sub-plot. one involving an assassination attempt on the king. Another noteworthy one is a particularly gentle, uassuming, gay friendship which spontaneously arises when one of the manor staff and one of the visiting royal entourage find they reciprocate feelings towards each other. The latter takes his new friend to a clandestine (as it had to be) gay jazz club which, while they're there, is invaded by the police and everyone rounded up and carted off to the police station. I found this depiction quite heartbreaking. The two men's relationship, probably not consummated in the short time they have, isn't showy, We only see one quick, furtive kiss between them, but it's lovely. 

The script (by Julian Fellowes) is superior for most of the time. If it does sag a bit in the final minutes it's because there's the attempt to round things off, perhaps a bit too neatly. 

This seems to be Michael Engler's debut as feature film director, though he has done considerable TV work, including having directed several episodes of 'Downton' so he's more than familiar with the characters and the actors playing them.

One further slight criticism is that there's too much overblown background score music when the visuals already say all that needs to be said.  

Maybe if I'd been familiar with the TV programmes I'd have been less impressed with this film, though I hope that that itself can be a recommendation to anyone who, like me, is a Downton virgin - and one hopes that they, on seeing this, may derive the equivalent amount of pleasure from it as I did................7.

(IMDb....................7.8 / Rott.Toms - critics only.............6.6 )


  1. I have watched and enjoyed all the television series of Downton so I will definitely watch this when it comes round. It is good to see that you enjoyed it without having seen it before. I love Maggie Smith's character. She is usually full of witty and acid put downs.

    1. I didn't watch the TV series only because I don't like to commit myself to future viewing times, Carol, though I don't know to what extent those episodes were 'stand=alone' stories.
      Maggie S. does get some deliciously barbed lines in this, and vicious put-downs have always been one of her strengths.
      I'm sure you're going to like this.

  2. We've seen every episode and will be seeing the film this Friday.
    And I'm glad you liked it because that makes it even more of a must-see!

    1. I can't think of the slightest reason why you shouldn't like this, Bob. It's right up your street. I'm pretty certain that it's at least fully up to the standard of the TV episodes, if not yet higher.

  3. I'm so glad you reviewed the Downton Abbey film, Ray, because I probably won't get a chance to see it.

    I saw the entire TV series on PBS (several times) so I'm very familiar with it. Although the series was excellent, in my humble opinion it started to lag in the final years. After two of the main characters left the show (Dan Stevens and Jessica Brown Findlay)writer Julian Fellowes began grasping at straws, trying to incorporate new characters into a waning plot. Even the original cast (like the great Maggie Smith) became slightly stale.

    I was also always disappointed that the gay butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James Collier) - who had great potential - was hardly given any substantial romantic interests in five years (perhaps I was asking for too much.
    I had a "crush" on Collier, who - incidentally - is gay in real life.

    I hope my comment will make some sense. I'm presently in bed with an injured hip, knee, and back...and it's difficult to write.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your review!

    1. OMG, Jon! What a dreadful condition for you, or anyone, to be in! I hardly know what to say - even "How did it happen?" sounds almost callous as it's how you are NOW that really matters most. I do hope this situation is not going to last much longer and you can quickly get back to what for you is 'normality'. Meantime my heartfelt best wishes that you can put all this behind you pronto.

      As for the film, it looks like it might get a renewed, if short, lease of life on the big screen, and I don't think that I'll be alone in being a late arrival new fan.
      Shame that you might not see it, though I hope you somehow can manage it as I'm sure as can be that you'll like it, even if on TV it was overstaying its welcome.

      I repeat all my best wishes to you, while knowing that they won't help in any material way, but no less from my heart for all that. I do hope that next time we're in contact you're going to be in a physical condition less painful and less distracting, and much more comfortable. Sending you healing and positive thoughts.

    2. Ray, many thanks for your kind words. I always have a lot of back trouble due to some old spinal injuries that never healed properly.
      Last week I started getting pain in my hip and my knee swelled up. As a result I can't bend my left leg.

      I won't bore you with the agonizing details...but I'm trying to get as much rest as possible.
      It's not easy living alone and getting old.......

      Anyway, thanks for the positive thoughts. Take care.

    3. While horrified at what's happening to you, Jon, it reminds me (as if I needed to be so!) how lucky I am to be in better condition than many of my age are, or even younger. I have definitely slowed down markedly over recent years but, unlike for you, there's little I can't do now that I could when I was 20 years younger, it just takes longer to do it. But I'm not in any constant pains like you're experiencing right now. So your experience is a salutary warning of what just MIGHT be round the corner for me, which is useful and helpful.
      Good luck for future progress.
      Thinking of you.

  4. Loved the show. Dubbed my mother The Dowager Duchess as a result. Maybe this will be our return to a theatre.

    1. Did you mum employ withering put-downs like Dame Maggie does, Mitch?
      If this turns out to mark your long overdue return to a cinema it could hardly be a better personal choice. Here's hoping!

    2. Exactly. Although, unlike the Dowager Countess, my mother would never admit to it. Much more passive aggressive. In the first episode, when Maggie Smith said, "WeekEND? What is a weekEND?" Jerry and I looked at each other and said, "Mim!" (my mother)

    3. Might be amusing for spectators but it likely gets a bit wearing for the 'targets' of such.

  5. Fascinated that you fell into the Downton charm, Ray - we've also watched all the TV programmes with affection. Not seen the film yet and I fear it might move on before we get the option....

  6. Not quite so much drawn in as making me want to catch up on the TV episodes, Chris, but certainly enjoyable s a one-off experience. As you've been a fan of those TV progs then it'd be a shame not to catch this on the big screen, though, it too should be on telly before long where, if you watch it there, you'll be able to confirm if it's essentially just another like the rest - or something better.

  7. Fair do's. I think telly it will be. So much live stuff on at this time of year!

    1. As a feature film there probably isn't anything to commend it especially. For Crawley fans the memory of seeing this screen adaptation is going to merge comfortably with the TV episodes.