Arriving in an ominously franked enveloped, it is revealed that the King and Queen of England are due to visit Downton Abbey. As a result, Downton’s servants are swept into a regal fervour, giddily making ready with their preparations. However, as the date draws closer, it quickly emerges that the King’s servants have their own particular way of doing things, none of which involves the Downton servants…
... ‘Downton Abbey’ the movie is as readily accessible as the TV show ever was.
Relocating from television to cinema, the only one, real question to be asked of ‘Downton Abbey’ is how much has actually changed? Hanging over every frame like a stuffed trophy, its sumptuous production values offer the biggest clue, however, this is not the only ingredient in its success.
Central to the cast and the charm of the show is perennial scene-stealer Maggie Smith. Returning in her role of the starchily-endearing Countess of Grantham, Smith again shards vowels over her victims with a barely contained glee. Cast opposite her, Hugh Bonneville’s un-stuffed shirt earnestly collapses the class divide and Joanne Froggart steals every gilt-edged opportunity that is afforded her. However the real returning character to ‘Downton Abbey’ is its scene length. Resolutely ringing in at two minutes or less, to describe its dramatic flow as torrential would be to do a disservice to Julian Fellowes’ knack for dramatic coherence. Employing a script structure that is so modern it hurts, it’s commendable how Fellowes still manages to make the stuffy lives of the aristocracy seem so exciting.
In a plot where its characters are again trapped by protocol and the social mores of the day, ‘Downtown Abbey’s’ storyline tries to move with the times. Sadly though, together with a cloyingly awful descent into Black Adder-ish farce, it’s commendable attempt to address homosexual permissiveness shatters upon scene change. -And this is a shame because for all its polished teeth and whittled-down witterings, ‘Downton Abbey’ the movie is as readily accessible as the TV show ever was.
Ending up as neither a revelation nor a disappointment, Julian Fellowes ultimately decides to play it safe with Downton’s big-screen debut. Having already penned the fantastic ‘Gosford Park’, the opportunity for a more barbed investigation lay waiting. However, it was not to be. Delivering exactly the frothiness his TV audience has come to expect, Fellowes clearly decided to banish any darker observations to life below stairs.
Does the movie spell the end for ‘Downton Abbey’? It could do. As both a TV show and a film, its success relies heavily upon its casting as much its storytelling. Tying up the bodices of some of its real fan favourites, Fellowes would seem to be ready for either outcome. In the end, Downtown Abbey the movie is neither an amuse-bouche nor essential cinematic fare. It just depends on how hungry you are for more.