The much-anticipated movie version of ITV’s beloved Downton Abbey series will be considered an untouchable delight for fans, but anyone else will find it almost ridiculously genteel.
With a script from creator and producer Julian Fellowes and flat direction from smallscreen-intensive Michael Engler, it’s a comedic/dramatic charmer with nice playing, snappy dialogue and noble intentions amid standard clunkiness, too many subplots and much extreme Englishness.
Back in 1927 the Crawleys of Downton Abbey (actually Highclere Castle in Hampshire) are sent into a whirl when it’s announced that they are to receive a visit from their Royal Highnesses King George V and Queen Mary, which sends everyone into a spin both upstairs and downstairs (and note that Downton does have quite a lot in common with TV’s fondly-remembered Upstairs, Downstairs). There’s so much going on that it can’t all be mentioned, but established figures connect and clash with newcomers, and there’s room for both character development and even closure, even though these people would cringe at that buzzword.
Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and Lady Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern) do their posh but kind-hearted routine, while Baroness Merton (Penelope Wilton) exchanges barbs with the Dowager Countess (played, of course, by Maggie Smith with Maggie Smith-like ferocity). There’s also Lady Mary (Michele Dockery), who’s driven to request that retired butler Carson (Jim Carter) help with the whole operation, and he then butts heads ever so nicely with Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier).
Newbies Chetwode (cold-eyed Stephen Campbell Moore) is a mysterious type here, while Lady Maud Bagshaw is played by no less than Imelda Staunton (who’s married to Carter offscreen), an estranged cousin of Maggie’s Dowager which, therefore, naturally means that she gets in some prime sniping herself. The presence of Smith and Staunton should please lovers of Harry Potter as well, while the King is played by dear old Simon Jones (of the various incarnations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), and at least one Game Of Thrones veteran completes the cult set with a quick cameo as a chummy shopkeeper. Which one? That would be telling.
Downton devotees will adore the fact that, for example, James-Collier’s Barrow is allowed to, if not quite ‘come out’ (this is 1927, after all), at least subtly visit a gay bar, while other regulars are given the chance to move on and even wrap things up. And that means, unfortunately, that this is undoubtedly the very end of the entire Downton Abbey experience, and that’s the reason why so many of the cast here stand around pondering the future and contemplating what the world will be like. Will the new Earls of Downton still be so improbably generous and snob-free? Will they continue to think themselves so charitable and just? And will anyone care?
Downton Abbey (PG) is in cinemas now