Director: Michael Engler
Writer: Julian Fellowes
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Matthew Goode
The continuing sage of the Crawley family who live like royalty in their huge home of Downton Abbey, however that will be put to the test as actual royalty in the form of King George V and Queen Mary. As the preparations are made, secrets are revealed and loyalties are tested, while the servants below encounter their own unique battle.
Downton Abbey was of course a phenomenally successful TV series, and so it joining the long list of TV series’ that then have a cinematic film was always inevitable. Well, here it is, and in the finest tradition of ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it’, it predictably just feels like a feature length episode of the TV Series.
That is not necessarily a bad thing, as there is a lot about the TV series that works that is kept in the film that will keep seasoned fans more than happy, and it does have its own individual narrative to a certain extent. The main focus at the very centre of the narrative is of course the royal visit to Downton Abbey, and its repercussions and pressures for those at every level of the house. Naturally, what happens may certainly not feel particularly dramatic or important, but within the context of the narrative it is important and does feel justified. The main storyline being the servants standing up against the royal servants, and this is good fun and very satisfying. There are also some genuinely funny moments, both involving the houses servants, but also (as expected) Maggie Smith’s scathing observations. Though with such a big cast to get through many of the supposed bigger names from the series actually feel like supporting characters.
Downton Abbey was never intended to be particularly thought provoking or challenging, and the film does not change that. It is ultimately very light and fluffy entertainment that is very easy to watch, and no one should be surprised by this fact. People are of course entitled to add their own political agendas to claim whether a story about upper class citizens of imperialist England is as innocent as it is presented, but for me that is just making a political argument for the sake of it. Downton Abbey is just light-hearted entertainment and should just be taken on face value as exactly that.
However, whether this feature length version of Downton Abbey justifies being a cinematic release is another question, and it does not particularly justify it, as it does just feel like watching Sunday night TV, but on a slightly bigger screen. While at a running time of just over two hours the film does feel too baggy, with a few too many subplots for its own good. I am sure screenwriter Julian Fellowes wanted to put something in there for everyone, and though I am sure that some of these subplots will satisfy the fans of the TV series while others seem to be included with the best of intentions (an assassination attempt on the king, a gay member of staff finally meets someone of ‘his own kind’, a member of the family deciding between royal duty and family duty), some of the more clichéd ones should have been left out and cut the film down by a good 20 – 30 minutes.
Ultimately, Downton Abbey is not made to make new fans, but just to keep the story going for its huge legion of existing fans, and it cannot be denied that it does that, while for the rest of us willing to accept it on face value will find it to be perfectly forgettable and light-hearted entertainment.
Though it struggles to justify its big-screen release and could certainly do with losing a few of its many subplots, those that are willing to accept Downton Abbey for exactly what it is will be entertained.