Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Downton Abbey: The Movie ★★★☆☆

For six seasons between 2010 and 2015, viewers across the world tuned in to a global phenomenon. Earning the most nominations of any international television series in the history of the Emmy Awards, Downton Abbey is one of the biggest TV hits of our times. The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants – with the great events of history seen through their eyes. For example, the series began with the sinking of the Titanic and went through wars, influenza pandemics, scandals and elections. 

As with any hit, it was only a matter of time until the suits in charge decided this series could be milked one final time before it is truly put to bed. But this next part would not be restricted to the small screen, oh no. This one would be a movie. As someone who never watched the series, I was interested to see how this film could – if at all – cater to newcomers, while also satisfying fans of the saga.

Written by series creator Julian Fellowes, the Downton Abbey movie is exactly what it says on the tin. For anybody familiar with the series, there will be absolutely no surprises in what is basically 120 minutes of nothing. This meandering and plotless affair follows the Crawleys and their servants as they prepare for a historic royal visit to their estate – and thus, the only real stakes of the film are which silverware should they use and will the dinner be cooked in time. To consider this a criticism would be wrong, as this is exactly what the series seemingly was. As a newcomer to the Downton universe, I was relieved that the film subtly managed to reintroduce characters and establish a time and place without feeling jarring. The film certainly works as a standalone feature, and arguably could maybe even be considered a soft reboot.

Aside from the odd death, Downton Abbey has always been a quaint and eventless affair – acting more as a warm hug or a beloved old jumper than challenging viewing. So, the film continues this trend. But while this is fitting for Downton, is it fitting for the cinema? 

The film feels like more like an extended episode of the series that should almost certainly have been released straight-to-TV. There is nothing new here or particularly cinematic that benefits from the big screen or the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and it feels wrong to fork out cinema prices to see something that has been freely broadcast on ITV for 5 years. Another issue with the film is that it is rather rushed – when you consider there are 16 principal characters, each with their own subplot, there is a lot to fit into 120 minutes. There’s the drama of a young servant’s upcoming wedding, a butler’s hidden sexuality, a thief, an inheritance, an assassination attempt (yes, really) and issues with the estate’s boiler. There is really a lot to digest. The episodic structure of the delivery makes this feel even more like TV, as these largely unlinked subplots dart around between one another and – of course – are all neatly tied up for the film’s happy ending.

All in all, Downton Abbey’s big-screen outing does not warrant such a platform for release. This is the least cinematic experience I have had at the movies for some time, with a plot totally devoid of stakes or drama throughout. HOWEVER. That is not to say I did not enjoy the time I spent with the Crawley family. Whilst totally inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, the Downton Abbey movie gave me what the TV series has been giving fans for years – an escape to a bygone and simpler era. The film is strangely comforting and wholly nostalgic, and maybe this is something we need in these fractured times. Sure, nothing happens in this film – but there’s enough happening in the real world. 

It’s hard for me to say whether fans of the series will be satisfied by this big-screen conclusion to the Downton saga but for me, a newcomer to the Crawleys, I found enough to enjoy to make the 120-minute runtime not feel like a slog. My interest remained throughout the runtime despite a total uneventful plot and the film’s production design made for some very lavish visuals. While I don’t think it has persuaded me to binge the show’s 6 seasons, it certainly has done enough to earn a recommendation for anyone who just wants the comforting embrace of a bygone era and an escape from the madness of the modern world.

Sam Love

Downton Abbey at CeX

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