Downton Abbey

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Downton Abbey
dir Michael Engler
scr Julian Fellowes
prd Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge
with Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Imelda Staunton, Tuppence Middleton, Allen Leech, Robert James-Collier, Joanne Froggatt, Phyllis Logan, Brendan Coyle, Sophie McShera, Lesley Nicol, Geraldine James, Simon Jones, Matthew Goode, Stephen Campbell Moore
release UK 13.Sep.19,
US 20.Sep.19
19/UK Focus 2h02

bonneville mcgovern smith

Dockery, Harry Hadden-Paton, Carmicharl, Leech, Wilton
If any TV show deserves a transfer to the big screen, this is it. Not only is it fiendishly entertaining, but the sets and costumes look simply stunning with the extra cinematic detail that was missing over its six small-screen seasons. Julian Fellowes' script is an engaging weave of storylines that give everyone in the sprawling cast a chance to shine. And it won't surprise anyone that Maggie Smith steals the show.
It's 1927, and Downton is preparing for a visit from King George and Queen Mary (Jones and James). While the Earl and Countess (Bonneville and McGovern) remain above the fray, Dowager Countess Violet (Smith) continues her battle of wits with Baroness Isobel (Wilton), horrified that ingrate cousin Lady Bagshaw (Staunton) is coming along. Meanwhile, the servants are pushed to the breaking point, as the royal household sends its own team to usurp their moment of glory. Barrow (James-Collier) is so nervous that Carson (Carter) returns as emergency butler.
As Fellowes throws myriad plot threads at the screen, director Engler juggles everything effortlessly. The less interesting strands finish quickly or fade into the background, leaving more time for spicy banter and some romantic interludes, plus unsurprising revelations and a nonstop stream of terrific conversations and awkward encounters. The balancing act is remarkable, as is the way the film looks, with its glorious aerial shots and a steady stream of lavish gowns and glistening tiaras.

With Smith anchoring the proceedings, her scenes with each of her posh family members bristle with personality, offering standout moments for everyone who brushes up against her. Among the downstairs staff, it's McShera's street-smart cook Daisy who gets the best dialog. But then each actor gets a chance to properly grab the spotlight, often in incidents that highlight the story's larger themes about the march of history.

Yes, there is a point to all of this. It may be a shameless crowd-pleaser from start to finish, but Fellowes is also quietly continuing his exploration of the enduring fragility of the class system. Not much is made of the tiny tykes playing on the lawn, representing future aristocrats (this franchise can run for decades). But there's plenty of interplay between the older three generations as they contemplate the shifting tides between past, present and future. It's never so deep that it becomes distracting, but at least it adds some weight to a film that's so much fun we never want it to end.

cert pg themes, language 11.Sep.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall