Downton Abbey, 2019.
Directed by Michael Engler.
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Laura Carmichael, Elizabeth McGovern, Phyllis Logan, Penelope Wilton, Brendan Coyle, Joanne Froggatt, Robert James-Collier, Lesley Nicol, Sophie McShera, Raquel Cassidy, Allen Leech, Imelda Staunton, Geraldine James, Simon Jones, David Haig, Tuppence Middleton, Stephen Campbell Moore, Kevin Doyle, Douglas Reith, Fifi Hart, James Cartwright, Alice McCarthy, Kate Phillips, Michael Fox, Susan Lynch, Mark Addy, Philippe Spall, Richenda Carey, and Matthew Goode.
The continuing story of the Crawley family, wealthy owners of a large estate in the English countryside in the early 20th century.
Now for something different; a review of Downton Abbey from a film critic going in blind having never witnessed a single second of the critically acclaimed and popular television series. Directed by Michael Engler (who has directed multiple episodes of the show) and written by Juliane Fellowes (not only the creator of the sprawling cast of characters, but an Oscar-winning writer in his own right for Gosford Park), it’s clear that reopening the castle doors for a narrative continuation following the series finale (and judging from the ending here, there could be even more to come for dedicated fans) is in suited filmmaking hands.
From an outsider’s perspective, there is little doubt that loyal followers of the show are in for somewhat of a treat, it always is when one gets to spend more time with characters they have spent years watching develop as people. However, Downton Abbey exists in a sphere where there are too many characters for any random moviegoer to sit down and enjoy the movie as a standalone experience (this is not something I’m going to knock points off for), but too little plot complexity. It’s not that I didn’t understand or was unable to follow Downton Abbey, more so the beats and smaller stories it goes for with all of its subplots feel basic and don’t land with much emotional impact.
And there is a lot going on here, ranging from illegitimate children to secretive homosexual interactions to theft to attempted assassinations and more, that are all typically resolved soon after the occurring incident. The nature of the narrative actually felt so episodic and simplified, that it’s questionable if going the cinematic big event route was the right move for reviving the franchise. Ideally, if those in charge here had opted to just go forward with another season, there would assuredly be a lot more room for quite literally everything here to breath and be handled with more depth. Then again, maybe it will resonate more for those attached to these characters.
Was I happy when the gay couple got the opportunity to share a private dance? Sure, it’s a touching moment, but I can’t say anything in the movie made me truly care about their plight. And if there’s one thing I have been mentored on regarding film criticism, there’s no need to watch a TV show or play a game to simply enjoy a movie, even if it is an expansion of a story within one of those alternate mediums. A smarter approach would be to not fill this thing with as many low-key supporting character roles and brief cameos, honing in on something more selective that is capable of universally engaging an audience.
With that in mind, a good portion of Downton Abbey does involve some slight class warfare. The king and queen are making a tour through the land and crossing into the countryside of Yorkshire, all set to say in the luxurious mansion of the Crawley family. And if there’s one thing the many scenes featuring far too many characters blabbing on and on simultaneously about the royal visit does do right, it’s making clear the divide between everyone’s reactions. The cooking staff and butlers are insulted they must be replaced by special royalty servants, some have scores to settle, jealousy emerges, and the heir of the building is at stake. Again, it’s far too much material for one two-hour movie, but there is a wonderful moment where the royal family gets their comeuppance for demanding their own services and essentially looking down on arguably the most vital elements of the castle. It’s a joy to watch and is a welcome reprieve from jingoistic nausea.
Obviously, I can’t speak for whether or not the series finale provided satisfying closure, and while aspects of the future are teased, Downton Abbey does provide finality and some late moments that are sure to get the longtime viewers teary-eyed. Even I found myself invested by the last 25 minutes, which is more of an epilogue rather than a climax. It also needs to be stated that Maggie Smith is a national treasure, with her commanding blunt wit able to elicit consistent laughs. Downton Abbey won’t convert anyone into a fan of the series eager to check out what they’re missing, but I would be lying if I said I hated the film. Even those that despise the movie have to come away admiring the historically accurate period piece fashion and the detailed massive interior decoration.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com