In Brief: The now legendary PBS TV series has crossed the great divide and has become a very good movie.
I’ve never watched Downton Abbey on TV. I’m just not — and really never have been — a TV watcher. When I’m home — or even traveling — I have other things I’d rather do than plunk myself down in front of the boob tube. I hear the series is quite good. Judging by the quality of the movie, I’d say those raving about it are quite correct.
In the case of class shows like Downton Abbey, not being a TV watcher is my loss.
Downton Abbey — for the uninitiated like me — is more or less a high quality soap opera. Director Michael Engler — who has directed several of the TV episodes — and series creator and screenwriter, Julian Fellowes bounce about the Downton Abbey mansion and seamlessly go from the bowels of the place to the upper rooms while exploring everything there and in between.
Downton Abbey is set in 1927 and the king and queen of England are going to pop in for a visit to the Crawley family estate. It gets everyone from the bluebloods to the staff in a dither.
Mary doesn’t think the butler, Thomas Barrow is up to the task of handling the household supervision so she suspends him and brings back former butler, Mr. Carson to run things. That frees up Barrow — who is homosexual — to explore his sexuality.
Carson running things doesn’t work out all that well either because the staff of the king and queen — bullies that they are — come in and take complete control of everything from food preparation to the festivities. Downton’s crew gets understandably miffed.
Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham explores an inheritance issue and accuses her cousin Maud of cheating Robert Crawley — who heads the Crawley clan — out of his rightful inheritance.
In the kitchen Daisy flirts with a guy fixing the boiler and her fiancé Andy is insecure.
Tom Branson — the Irishman in the mix — has important things to do in addition to finding some romance. Meanwhile, Edith is pregnant at the same time the king says he wants her husband Bertie to take off with the Prince of Wales for a three month tour of Africa.
Lastly, the family — alas — is broke as broke can be.
There’s lots to love about Downton Abbey starting with the writing. Fellowes obviously loves these characters, their history, lifestyle, living situation, morals and ethics. That love affair has not only turned into a very successful television series but he’s managed to pen a gem of a movie.
That leads to an important question. How does a non-series watcher like me possibly figure out what’s happening and who’s who in the movie when I have missed all 52 episodes over the series’ six seasons? The answer. It doesn’t matter. Do just a bit of research and then sit back and relax.
You’ll be a little lost but not all that lost.
Another plus — and something that oddly helps you relax — is how comfortable these actors are with their characters, with each other and with Fellowes and Engler. The cast chemistry is exceptional and the acting of the individual actors is as good as the story.
I’d start spouting off about some of the actors getting acting awards at the end of the year and into next but they’ve all perfected their roles, and are perfect with how they fit in the series, so who do you pick? Who do you single out? All of them? I can say picking this as the best ensemble cast will be a no-brainer for awards groups giving out accolades for ensemble acting.
Just one complaint. And it’s going to seem petty. Fellowes can’t seem to end his movie. Just when you think it’s all done and are ready to rise off your seat because the credits are about to roll, he keeps going. No problem. You sit. Wait. It’s done, you start to get up and then have to sit down and do it all over again.
As noted. A minor ding on an otherwise perfect movie; a movie so good that the non-TV watcher in me is seriously considering starting from scratch and streaming all six seasons.
By the way, if you are a fan of the series, or of this kind of movie, Engler and Fellowes also collaborated on The Chaperone. It one of my favorite movies from last year that nobody saw when it was released in the U.S. this year. If you haven’t seen it do yourself a favor and find it somewhere.
You’ll thank me for the recommendation.
Director: Michael Engler
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton, Matthew Goode, Jim Carter, Tuppence Middleton, Laura Carmichael, Allen Leach, Joanne Froggatt, Raquel Cassidy, Robert James-Collier, Kate Phillips, Phyllis Logan, Sophie McShera, Brendan Coyle, Geraldine James, Max Brown, Simon James, Mark Addy, David Haig, Michael Fox, Susan Lynch
Rated PG for mature themes. You don’t have to be an expert in the series to enjoy this movie. Do a little research and you’ll be fine. I had a heck of a good time. Give this one a 5 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.