For the duration of six seasons, fans of Downton Abbey have gathered around their television to watch the critically acclaimed show on PBS or their preferred streaming service. The storylines, both tragic and joyful, have endeared the ample cast of characters to viewers. Fans of the show agree that Downton Abbey just makes them happy. It is a comfort show. The good nature of both the upstairs and downstairs characters invites the viewer to a unique experience of traditions, manners, and rules of a world unknown to most of us. The movie is no different. The movie adaptation is like eating a hearty stew prepared by Mrs. Patmore herself while Isis (the family dog, not the terrorists) sits at your feet.
Directed by Michael Engler, the move from television to theater looks beautiful on the screen. There are some wonderfully cinematic shots of the Downton grounds, the English sky, and the setting looks grand enough to suit a visit from the queen. There are also many scenes that capture the aesthetics of ballrooms, secret clubs, and the pageantry of royal ceremonies. Julian Fellowes delivers the same quality writing that engaged viewers during the show. Characters pick up where they left off and remain true to their natural development.
The film is filled with masterful performances, intrigue, romance, some mild to severe treason, and even some action. The film does an excellent job of telling a story that even first time viewers can enjoy. It is not saturated with backstory and nothing is spoiled about the show. If a first time viewer was curious to go back and watch the show, they would still be met with many surprises. That is not to say a Downton newcomer would not understand the film. Subtle context is provided to keep the story flowing, while never excluding new audience members.
One of the main hallmarks of the show is the clever back and forths between between The Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith, and Cousin Isabel, played by Penelope Wilton. Always humorous, but never acrimonious, Cousin Isabel keeps up with The Dowager’s quick tongue. Their playful banter contributes to much of the film’s comedy. Maggie Smith also delivers a heartfelt speech that will leave audiences in tears. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), now carrying more responsibility for the family than ever, keeps her head up and stands out as a woman of action. Tom Branson (Allen Leech) gets a lot to do in the film as he comes to terms with his identity and role at Downton.
The servants remain the heart of Downton. Clever and dutiful, Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and the Bates family are ready for duty. One character is first introduced by showing his promotion and fans of the show will be proud of him. Love blooms for several servants and an important discussion about sexuality and isolation is met with hope for a character that has been there since the beginning.
The film, like the show, wraps up loose ends. Audiences will leave with that same comfort they received from the show, feeling nothing but satisfied.
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