Having been a long time fan of Downton Abbey,I was looking forward to the big cinematic version of the popular TV series. And was I disappointed? On the whole, no.
The same characters are here and the setting is the family residence, Downton Abbey, with the latest stories of the family who live upstairs and their servants below stairs.
Beginning in 1927 just after the last of the TV series, we follow a letter on its path from Buckingham Palace to Downton Abbey. This is the main story of the film, for the letter announces the forthcoming visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife, Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), current owners of the country estate in Yorkshire, alert the servants who, with great excitement, start preparations for the Royal visit. The servants are now under the command of a new butler, Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), but when one of the Earl’s daughters, Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) sees that he is not managing, she brings back the former butler, Mr Carson (Jim Carter) who is now living in retirement with his wife, known as Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) who continues as head housekeeper.
However, all are disturbed when the staff of the Royal household, led by Mr Wilson (David Haig) and the chef, Monsieur Courbet (Philippe Spall) arrive to take over the running of the whole visit. Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his wife Anna (Joanne Froggatt) gather the staff together and plot to thwart the Royal Household staff.
While this is the main theme of the film, there are a number of other little stories:
One concerns ex Chauffeur, Tom Branson (Alan Leech), who married into the family. Following the death of his wife, Tom has remained fully loyal to the grand family. He gets wind of a plot to assassinate the King and acts heroically. He also romances the maid to a new character, Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), the Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting, relative of Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham and Robert’s mother (Maggie Smith), Violet is jealous of the maid, Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton) who is extremely close to her employer. Her friend, Isobel (Penelope Wilton) tries to bring about peace.
There is another story concerning the light-fingered Royal dressmaker and we also see Thomas Barrow explore his gay side. Another of Robert’s daughters, Edith (Laura Carmichael), now married to the Marquess of Hexham (Harry Hadden-Paton) is upset when she learns that her husband is to be away three months with the Prince of Wales while she is pregnant.
At the dinner for the Royal guests, the servant Molsley (Kevin Doyle) tells the assembled guests that the meal was prepared by the Downton Abbey cook, Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol). Molsley is embarrassed when he realizes that he has spoken out of turn, but the Queen is very courteous about the whole business.
The wonderful Maggie Smith continues her barbed comments on what is going on but Mary is upset to learn that Violet is actually very ill with not much longer to live.
The film ends with a grand ball, beautifully filmed as is the whole movie under the direction of Michael Engler. The director tries hard to open out the film but it still looks like short episodes for a TV series. Written by Julian Fellowes, as is hugely successful TV series, there is lots here to make one chuckle and all in all it’s an enjoyable experience.
It is good to see all the main characters returning plus some charming character turns for newcomers David Haigh and Imelda Staunton. There are generally good performances although some seem over the top in the giant close ups. I am not sure how a newcomer tot the film will be able to follow all the relationships. For example, Anna refers to her husband as. Mr Bates. But for real fans, this is a delight. So settle comfortably with a warm drink and enjoy!