During its six-season run, Downton Abbey has become a worldwide phenomenon. It generated an average of 120 million viewers from around the world (not to mention being the most viewed show on PBS in the United States). A lot of its filming locations including Highclere Castle has been some of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. Creator Julian Fellowes allows audiences to learn about the customs and the lives of a family living upstairs and their kitchen staff living downstairs in a gorgeous mansion in the British countryside. The show was set over the course of about 13 years, starting in 1912, following the sinking of the Titanic, and ending on New Year’s Day in 1926. It was all brought together wonderfully with its quick wit, gorgeous scenery, and wonderful cast of characters.
Three years after the finale, Fellowes writes a screenplay for a film with Michael Engler (who directed several episodes) comes back in the director’s chair for perhaps one more visit to the countryside. They both give fans (like myself) what they deserve after the series ended. These two filmmakers do what they know best. Earning $31 million over the weekend, this is the first film from Focus Features to be #1 at the U.S. box office.
Set in 1927, Lord Robert Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and their two daughters–Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Edith (Laura Carmichael) all learn that King George V (Simon Jones), Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are visiting Downton Abbey as a part of their tour through Britain. When butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) is not up for the task, Mary decides to bring Mr. Carson (Jim Carson) out of retirement to take his place. Violet, the Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith), learns her cousin Maud (Imelda Staunton) is also visiting, she is ready to spew out her remarks at any given second. As soon as chefs and servants from Buckingham Palace make their entrance, this causes tensions with the staff including head chef Mrs. Patmoor (Lesley Nicol) and Daisy (Sophie McShera).
Making a Downton Abbey film might be an excuse for fan-service, but this revival is nothing short of delightful! Although it doesn’t move at the fastest pace, it’s excellent to witness the marvelous sets, interiors and costumes, John Lunn’s familiar music, and more importantly, the characters we know and love. The familiar themes of the socioeconomic factors are as present as they ever were. I also like one fascinating subplot involving two gay characters going to pubs and expressing their feelings towards one another in a time where homosexuality was deemed illegal. The dynamic between the people upstairs and downstairs is captivating. I love the connection between Mary and housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), even when they discuss the future of the mansion. “Downton is the heart of this community, and you’re keeping it beating,” Anna tells her.
The cast simply couldn’t be any better. It brings back familiars as well as newcomers. Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess is the sassy grandmother everyone wished they had. She just loves getting under Isobel’s (Penelope Wilton) skin every chance she gets; providing a lot of laughs from the audience. Even when Violet learns Maud is holding a grudge against the family, she tries to understand where she’s coming. Deep down, however, she still loves and supports the family.
Of course, it won’t be a Downton Abbey movie without a ball. Without giving anything away, this is the sequence that really hits home. Who knows? Maybe it gives the sense that the series is far from over. But–let’s wait and see. This movie is a treat for fans. As for non-fans, it would make perfect sense to get right on the bandwagon before seeing the movie.