Director Michael Engler
Screenplay Julian Fellowes
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton, Laura Charmichael, Kevin Doyle, Joanne Froggatt, Harry Hadden-Paton, Rob James-Collier, Allen Leech, Lesley Nicol, Brendan Coyle, Raquel Cassidy, Tuppence Middleton, Sophie McShera
If you’re reading this review, you probably already know if you’re going to watch the movie Downton Abbey. You know it’s the continuance of the routinely charming, occasionally brilliant and sometimes heartbreaking drama that had been on Public Television in the states for almost a decade now. You’ve said “Poor Edith” more than once. Sometimes you were sad for her, but sometimes you had a smile on your face. You know that Dan Stevens left the show too early, but not as early as Jessica Brown Findlay’s Lady Sybil. You probably love Joanne Froggatt’s Anna, though you got tired of hearing about the trials of she and her precious Mr. Bates (Coyle).
Deep down, you wanted Mr. Carson (Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Logan) to discover that they were meant to be right where they were. You hated Barrow (Jame-Collier) and his devious ways, until you realized that he hated himself more. Then you wanted him to succeed. No one ever liked Miss O’Brien, though. You knew Daisy (McShera) was not destined to be trapped, like Ms. Patmore (Nicol) right up until the moment you saw how freeing it was to be right there in the kitchen with her.
Did I miss something? No doubt. I could go on for 1000 words or more and not touch the depth and dexterity of the show. It took me, a devout descendant of Irish heritage who is anglo-phobic, about six episodes to realize not only did I love this show about staunch British Aristocracy crumbling down around the walls of its Downton centerpiece, but that I loved the people that made up the “upper” and “lower” level of the institution.
It is with an understanding of basic humanity that Fellowes has helped us to embrace an institution of which it seemed to be outside. So sneaky was his approach that it feels more like a documentary than the soap drama we know it is, in our heart of hearts.
Above all of this, or maybe beside it, we have Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. I don’t know what that is, other than to say she’s the matriarch, her son, Robert (Bonneville) its 7th Earl, and her granddaughter, Lady Mary Talbot (Dockery) the real heir to her feisty legacy. Smith is a treasure, and the best thing they did with this show is give her a worthy counterparts in friendship (Wilton as Isobel) and family.
This show is about so many things, but more than most, it’s about how times change before our eyes. While Mary is wondering why things can’t stay the same, her Grandmother lets her in on a little secret: the only constant is Downton.
The performances match the pace of the story, which is, simply, our heroes both upstairs and down, are going to entertain the King and Queen of England. This allows everyone to get excited, stressed and offended alternately. The visitors are a mixed bag , of course. Some are delightful, others downright devious. There is a storyline for everyone in the cast though. Most of them are exceptional, given the run time of slightly more than 2 hours. It’s a miracle how well it works out.
My favorite storylines have to do with Violet and her cousin, Lady Maud Bagshaw (Staunton). There is a rift over the inheritance, but it goes deeper than that. Her assistant, Lucy (the captivating Middleton) seems more than just a maid, but leave it to Isobel to help tie the loose ends for her friend Violet.
The romance between Tom (Leech) and Lucy is wonderful. I didn’t think they’d ever find someone to adequately replace the beautiful and fiery Sybil.
The film feels like the bow on top of a giant box being sent up to Edith’s room. Charmichael has not been “Poor Edith” for a while now. She and most of the characters had found their way to a happy ending before this film made its way to the screen. If it is superfluous, it is still magnificent and beautiful inside and out.
Fellowes helped this American Irishman love and respect an English family, much like old Tom. Sure, they’re clueless at times, but they notice each other and they understand their place is one of duty, because of love. This is a great work in understanding humanity as it progresses. It’s one of the best films of the year, even if it feels like a victory lap.
(***** out of *****)