That all to familiar piano chiming that has opened our lives into the world of Julian Fellows’ Downton Abbey is now on the big screen. If you are a fan, don’t worry just go see the opulence at its finest. Now for you folks not fully stuck in the upstairs/downstairs world of Downton please enjoy my review of the film.
English actor turned legendary Writer Julian Fellows has marvelously reminded the modern world of just how things were done in the opulent times of England of the 19th-20th centuries. Most will point to Gosford Park as their first taste of Fellows writing. Downton Abbey basically being the full embodiment of Robert Altman’s foray into the upstairs/downstairs world of pre-WWII England. Downton was a dive into a fully realized family, the Crawley’s and the antics of all that presided in and around the magical grounds/castle called Downton Abbey.
Well the film opens just as you’d expect with that Piano touches becoming the chimes of the downstairs day coming to life. You are thrust immediately back into that world that captivated so many folks on the small screen. The story is just a few months after the final season’s conclusion. So no don’t expect any flashbacks or nods to long lost Crawleys, but rather we lay witness to the ultimate guests of the famous family. Royalty is coming to Downton! King George V and Queen Mary in all their regal reality will dine and mingle with our beloved folks of the Abbey. The film does a magical job of slightly catching us up briefly with where all our folks have gone to. Quickly we find ourselves witnessing Mr. Carson’s return to Downton and so much more antics. I shall not tell you of all the intrigue going on. But instead I’d like to highlight a few special elements of the film that expand the might and worth of this amazing work from Fellows.
The full tackling of homosexuality in the turn of the century and it’s place in the life of Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier). For years we have mostly despised Barrow for all his naughty pranks and evil ideas. But his humanization as a closeted loner who finally finds his awakening at the end of the TV series is fully touched in the film. Nothing sexual in nature but rather Barrow takes kindly to the King’s valet Richard Ellis (Max Brown). Their journey to London is the rare element not set in and around Downton. Barrow is taken by another fella to a barn pub that secretly is a gay meeting spot. This barn is raided by the police and Barrow is chucked into jail. Ellis’ rescue (minor spoiler) alludes to a real connection between him and Barrow. This side note of a story screams so much more profound and important to Fellows. He brought up the importance of bringing sexuality into the show in his many interviews for the last season of the show.
“I don’t know about in America, but here, there are so many people under 40 who were hardly aware of the fact that it was actually illegal until the 1960s,” he said. “Perfectly normal men and women were risking prison by making a pass at someone. Their whole life was lived in fear, and ruin and humiliation and career after career would be smacked down.” 2013 quote from a New York Times Interview with Julian Fellows.
He didn’t back away from telling this tale on the big screen where it may reach even more folks than the Downton fans.
But back to Downton we go. Obviously a 2 hour film doesn’t have the chance to touch on each of the beloved characters as a season could and did. Irishman Tom Branson (Allen Leach) of course is the opposite of a Barrow. He was the downstairs fella that found the heart of the youngest Crawley daughter. Lady Sybil and Tom Branson easily rivaled any love connection in the show’s history, well minus Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley (tear drop!). Branson’s Irish heritage is still a fun issue in the DA film. Granted I’m not to sure I like the extend of the tale that is woven in the film. I did enjoy seeing Branson continue to take center stage in the Crawley world. His emergence in the show really invigorated Hugh Bonneville’s work as Earl Grantham. The two gentlemen became quiet the duo on screen. Branson’s tale is a rather important one in the film’s harrowing “murder” plot. Of course their is a murder plot in the film! This is a Fellows film for gosh sakes.
The movie’s brilliance though lies in the familiar upstairs/downstairs separation that seems to always run amok. Add in the Royal families versions of the DA downstairs folks and you have pure madness. The fun trickery and treacherous acts downstairs mirror the veiled and hidden ploys of the upstairs’ wealth in the film. We lay witness to the best of both worlds and the constant plotting that weaves both parties into each others realms. Lady Mary’s disapproval of Barrow’s lack of work ethic allows for the return of Mr. Carson. The Royals servants cause utter havoc for the Crawley family servants. Lady Edith has a secret that impacts her hubby’s unique offers from King George himself. Branson even has a wonderfully humorous interaction with Princess Mary. Overall you come to see this film because of the inner bickering and battling that happens in the servants quarters just as it does in the halls and bedrooms of the rich elite above.
Finally, the film is worth once again laying witness to the utter amazing work of Dame Maggie Smith. Simply put the actress is a treasure of humanity. Her every cringe and breath impacts us all from Harry Potter to Hook to Sister Act to Gosford Park to Downton and even to a Marigold Hotel in India. The Dame shines so brightly on the big screen. How can you not love Violet Crawley and her devious adventures? She is the life force of everything that is going on. Her issues impact everyone and that includes a King and a Queen who visit her old home. Violet Crawley is the magical elixir that forever tingles our senses.
You go see the damn movie for the dame!
Selig Rating: A
Release: September 20, 2019
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Michael Engler
Written by: Julian Fellows
Run Time: 2hr 2min
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Joanne Froggatt, Matthew Goode, Harry Hadden-Paton, David Haig, Geraldine James, Robert James-Collier, Simon Jones, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Tuppence Middleton, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lesley Nicol, Kate Philips, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton.
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.