Movie Review: ‘Downton Abbey’

Polish the silver and iron the livery because the charming and elegant world of Downton Abbey has returned, and it’s made the jump to the big screen. Series creator and screenwriter Julian Fellowes makes the film seem less like a feature film and more like an extended episode, and that’s a good thing. The Downton Abbey film feels like reuniting with an old friend and picking up right where you left off.

All your favorite characters are back and each of them are given time to shine. Both the sets and the costumes are as stunning and lavish as ever. The moments of comedy—especially from Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, aka Cousin Violet—are fantastic, and the series’ classic low-stakes drama is still both compelling and heartwarming. The film is a delight and a must-watch for fans of the long-running PBS series.

The premise of the film is quite simple. The Crawley family are to host none other than the king and queen of England—King George V and Queen Mary—as part of the monarchs’ royal tour through the country. Naturally, things are never as easy as they should be as the family and staff scramble in preparation of the royal visit. The family must deal with the typical Downton drama such as a cousin choosing a different heir than Robert, battling the weather to set up a parade, and stopping an assassination plot. Meanwhile, the servants downstairs must contend with the haughty royal staff that take complete control of the preparations of the royal visit, leaving the Downton staff humiliated and with nothing to do.

What made the series so compelling was the dynamic between the family upstairs and the staff downstairs. No matter their social rank, everyone from the Dowager Countess to the kitchen maid were given equal weight to their stories. In the film, probably the most captivating and unexpectantly suspenseful story centers around Robert James-Collier’s Thomas Barrow. Thomas already had a great character arc in the series. From scheming footman to sympathetic soldier to head butler, Thomas Barrow’s story was a journey. Barrow’s story in the film focuses on his sexual orientation and how the period he lived in didn’t allow him to truly express himself. There’s a real sense of weight that comes from Thomas learning to express himself without being caught by his coworkers, the Crawley family, or worse the police. James-Collier gives a standout performance which makes it frustrating that he wasn’t given more screen time. Let’s also not forget Dame Maggie Smith’s performance as Violet, which will have audiences laughing and sobbing before the credits roll.

Downton Abbey, both the series and the film, is about old-world wealth learning to adapt to a changing world, woven in a rich tapestry of stories and perspectives. The Downton Abbey film is a fitting end to the series. The last time we saw the Crawleys was four long years ago, and while the series may have ended, the film hasn’t skipped a beat. The Downton Abbey film feels right at home with the rest of the series and serves as a heartfelt and memorable farewell to the Crawley household. The film is definitely made for longtime fans of the series. If that sounds like you, go watch this film. If you haven’t seen the series, do yourself a favor and binge it, then go watch the film.

9/10

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