While there are stories about the below stairs staff, the main story concerns the Dowager Countess of Grantham’s (Maggie Smith) disclosure that she has been left a villa in the south of France by an earlier close admirer, a wealthy Marquis.
A crowd of Lord Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) family go to the south of France to stay in the villa and negotiate its future (the old Marquis’s wife (Nathalie Baye) is contesting ownership). Meanwhile a few of the family, under the leadership of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), stay at Downton Abbey to oversee the invasion of a film company who have hired Downton Abbey to shoot a film. The movie is a silent one and talkies are just being introduced, so the director has to turn his film into a talkie. There is some fun to be had (A bit like Singing in the Rain) when they find out the leading lady (an amusing performance by Laura Haddock) can’t say the lines properly and Lady Mary speaks for her.
The film is set in the late 20s and the upstairs cast wear some lovely outfits. Broadening out from the usual sets, we take in some French vistas which adds to the general sumptuous feel of the film.
With so many characters to be accommodated in this film, there is hardly room for many complete portraits and the film skims along the surface in the main. However, we do see the vulnerable side of Lord Grantham and the charming Hugh Bonneville is adept at portraying the English Gentleman of the time. Maggie Smith, who excels in one liners in the TV series, seems to be reciting the script here and we miss the spontaneity which she usually shows.
I’m not sure that those who have never seen the TV series would be able to get a lot out of the film as it shows couples but with no background information about how they got together and married. But for fans – this is a film to delight us and we can’t wait for number three!