‘Downton Abbey’ super fans will delight in big-screen adaptation
Getting the band back together from popular television shows to a film is certainly nothing new. Made-for-TV films were created for such popular series as “Dragnet,” (“Dragnet 1966”) and Peyton Place (“Murder at Peyton Place”), plus perhaps more forgettable return visits such as “Still the Beaver” or “Bionic Ever After.”
Occasionally, these shows will make the leap to the big screen for their splashy return, again with mixed results. For every “Borat,” there are a dozen “Baywatches.”
“Downton Abbey” was a beloved (and critically lauded) show that first ran on PBS as part of “Masterpiece” for six seasons, from 2010 to 2015. It has received another round of love from viewers on Amazon Prime in the years since then.
“Downton Abbey,” the film version, is crafted specifically for those fans yearning to learn what has been happening in the halls of the Crawley family estate since we last passed through the gates five years ago. All others who wish to make this their entry point into the lifestyles of the rich and British may wish to play catch-up, as it would certainly help them appreciate the rather faint plot and focus more on the witty wordplay between the characters.
The film opens in 1927, and the crew at Downton is all aflutter with anticipation about the arrival of King George V (played by Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (played by Geraldine James) during a stop in Yorkshire.
Lord Robert (played by Hugh Bonneville) and Lady Cora (played by Elizabeth McGovern) want their dwelling in tip-top shape, and their help is more than ready for the challenge. Daughter Mary (played by Michelle Dockery) fears that head butler Barrow (played by Robert James-Collier) can’t handle the high stakes, replacing him with retired Carson (played by Jim Carter).
To further complicate matters, the downstairs staff is sidelined, so a more professional London entourage of help arrives under the charge of an imperious Mr. Wilson (played by David Haig). This leads the house staff to scheme a house-cleaning coup so they can take part in this historic moment at the manor.
There are a number of other swirling subplots involving missing baubles, an outspoken Irish Republican, and waylaid ball gowns that all hover in the background and add to the chaos.
Veteran series director Michael Engler returns and safely delivers the aristocratic catnip the core audience desires. You can see the plot’s resolutions coming from a castle away, but that is the comfort-food narrative that made the show so appealing to fans. Watching an impeccable assemblage of actors ensconced in royal settings and delivering fast-paced zingers is the exact appeal of the show.
Engler allows each cast member to take center stage, and subtly suggests the old guard is preparing for the passing of the scepter to a younger generation.
Of course, some of the most crowd-pleasing bits come from the old guard, including returning servant Molesley (played by Kevin Doyle), and the Countess of Grantham herself (played by royal treasure Dame Maggie Smith), who can reduce her prey to ash with her fiery one-liners.
“Downton Abbey” is lavishly appointed, from the dwelling to the grounds to the costuming, which of course adds to the sudsy soap operatics from the characters. The film takes no creative leaps or risks, but stays admirably in its lane, which is not a knock. In fact, it’s more of a testament to its following, and a gift to those craving more mania and melodrama in the manor.