“Downton Abbey,” the big screen continuation of the beloved PBS series that aired its finale four years ago, lacks a true cinematic feel. It looks like a stagey, small screen serial drama that’s been slapped in movie theaters to appease the most faithful of its fans. While it is mostly created for those who watched the popular television series, there’s enough generic plot and clear character introductions that ensures those new to the saga can still enjoy the movie. I’ve never once seen an episode, but I followed along just fine.
There isn’t much plot to speak of, as “Downtown Abbey” keeps it simple. The Crawleys (Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery), wealthy owners of a sprawling estate in the English countryside, rely on their devoted staff of servants (Sophie McShera, Jim Carter, Lesley Nicol) prepare the Abbey for a royal visit from the King and Queen of England. Over the course of a few days, romance, intrigue, and scandals are unearthed, leaving the future of Downton hanging in the balance.
The homecoming will delight fans but may alienate others with the stuffy cast and restrained British humor. No clear time period is revealed until well into the first thirty minutes (it’s 1927), and the relationships between certain characters is never explained (it’s assumed you know who they are). A family tree montage at the start of the film would’ve been helpful, as would reading a synopsis of the show before going to see this movie. Some of the characters are instantly likeable, like the sarcastic Violet (Maggie Smith) and feisty Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton).
This film is of the “tea cozy” variety with a lot of stuffy talking, an extended dance sequence at a fancy ball, and silly subplots like an assassination attempt on the King. One of the major action scenes features moving chairs during a rainstorm.
Michael Engler‘s direction is pedestrian in a way that makes you feel as if you’re watching a t.v. show. When combined with the sluggish plot, it means there are long stretches that will induce boredom (or perhaps a nap). But there is a lot to like here, from the positive portrayal of gay character Mr. Barrow (Robert James-Collier) to the gorgeous original score by composer John Lunn.
The story is continued from where the show ended, and the film attempts to pass the torch to the new generation. The “Downton Abbey” movie is a grand way to give happy endings to all.