Mike at the Movies

Downton Abbey (PG)

Downton Abbey, the TV series, was always about the gradually shifting roles of upstairs and
downstairs in fading upper-class England at the turn of the 20th century and beyond. Its big screen version continues that theme and adds to its poignancy as the Crowleys prepare to welcome the king and queen for a night or two.

There is a scattering of new cast members, but all the old favorites are back, including Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Sophie McShera (a much older Daisy), Brendan Coyle as Mr. Bates and the irrepressible Joanne Frogatt as Anna Bates. The cast is headed by the usual stars as well, with Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Talbot even more radiant than she was in the TV show and Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), who is given a far sexier role in the movie than she ever had in the TV version.

This film is so good that I won’t even bother to summarize the plot. Suffice it to say that Julian Fellowes surpasses himself in the writing of the script, and each of the stars is given a turn and shines in every aspect.

Particularly effective is the introduction to the film—a 15-minute summary of all that went on during the TV series so that even those of us who watched every episode but don’t have infallible memories can catch up.

The household is in an uproar once the royal visit is announced, and all are in a tizzy as preparations ensue only to be dashed by an arrogant royal staff, led by the self-announced “page of the backstairs” who tries to take over the house from Mr. Carson (Jim Carter). The staff is almost in rebellion by the time the Royal Entourage tries to take over and it takes only a little machination by Anna Bates and her husband to develop a replacement plot. Their plot succeeds, and Downton staff serve the king and queen.

There are, as you might expect, love affairs that are launched and continued, both gay and straight, marriages in trouble and saved, and sight after sight of the abbey and its interiors. One of the last scenes, not set in Downton but another breathtaking mansion during a ball, features Strauss waltzes mixed with the Downton Abbey theme music to round off the film.

This movie is everything one would want in a period film; see it even if you have never watched the TV show. Its magnificence and span take one’s breath away and the acting is always as impeccable as the settings. It is a joy to see such a film. It proves once again that there is a large market for adult, sophisticated and funny drama, and that shooting things up and blowing up cities is not necessary to create two hours of fantastic entertainment.

It is radiant, brilliant, funny, terrific stuff and should not be missed.


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