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A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: Downton Abbey

After A Six Season Run That Featured Six Emmy Award Wins & Becoming A Pop Culture Phenomenon. The PBS British Drama Is Back After Much Fan Demand, Four Years After The Series Finale. Creator Julian Fellowes, Cast & Crew Return As They Present “Downton Abbey” For The Big Screen. The Film Is A Two Hour Episode That Like The Series Features Extravagant Production Design, Smart Writing & Sophisticated Acting. It’s “Downton Abbey’s” Greatest Hits Rolled Into One Movie Event That Was Meant For The Big Screen. 

“Downton Abbey” created by English actor, novelist, film director and screenwriter Julian Fellowes. “Downton Abbey” first aired on ITV in the United Kingdom in September 2010, and made it’s premiere in the United States in January 2011 on PBS, as part of its Masterpiece Theater.

Downton Abbeyhas received acclaim from critics, fans and has become a pop culture phenomenon. It won numerous accolades from the Golden Globes for best television series and has earned the most nominations of any international television series in the history of the Emmy awards, with twenty-seven nominations in total, just after two seasons. Overall it won six Emmy awards for outstanding series. It holds the record for most watched television series on both ITV and PBS, and became the most successful British costume drama series since 1981’s “Brideshead Revisited”. 

Set in the fictional Yorkshire Country Estate of “Downton Abbey” between 1912 and 1926. The series which ran for six seasons over the course of 52 episodes, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era. The real events in history were worked into the show, having an effect on their lives. Some of the events depicted throughout the series include: the sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of the First World War, the Spanish Influenza Pandemic and the Irish War Of Independence. 

The sixth and final season Fellowes introduced the rise of the working class during the interwar period and the eventual decline of the British aristocracy. The finale aired on Christmas Day, 2015. 

To quickly re-cap the final episode; so we know where the film will pick up. We had found Carson (Jim Carter) fumbling to serve dinner as his hands begin shaking. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) leaves the Crawley family and service, when the Headmaster offers him a teaching position. Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) confesses to Isobel (Penelope Wilton), that he suffers from pernicious anaemia, but still wants to marry her. Andy (Michael Fox) falls for Daisy (Sophie McShera) who is uninterested, but she gradually grows to like him. 

Bertie (Harry Hadden Paton) proposes to Edith (Laura Carmichael) and she accepts. At the Brancaster Castle they announce the engagement, as the Crawleys meet Bertie’s moralistic mother Miranda (Patricia Hodge). Edith tells her about her having borne an illegitimate child. Henry (Matthew Goode) and Tom (Allen Leech) go into business together selling cars, and Mary (Michelle Suzanne Dockery) tells Henry she is pregnant with his child. Edith and Bertie are finally married on New Year’s Eve 1925 and leave for their honeymoon, as Dr Clarkson (David Robb) informs Lord Merton that he has only a mild form of anaemia. During the reception, Anna (Joanne Froggatt) suddenly goes into labour and gives birth to a healthy son. 

Carson realizes his illness will ultimately prevent him from performing his duties, and tenders his resignation; Robert (Hugh Bonneville) reluctantly accepts, and suggests that Thomas (Rob James-Collier) return as Butler; so Carson can retire with a pension.

Be sure to arrive early as each print of “Downton Abbey” will feature no trailers, only a 10 minute visual re-cap of the entire six season run, to help get you up to speed and to introduce Downton to a new audience. 

Here we after a four year demand by fans, “Downton Abbey” becomes a grand motion picture event, as the beloved Crawleys and their intrepid staff prepare for the most important moment of their lives. A royal visit from the King and Queen of England, that will unleash scandal, romance and intrigue that will leave the future of Downton hanging in the balance.

Creator Julian Fellowes provides the films screenplay and packs in a season’s worth of what the “Downton Abbey” series does best into a tightly paced two hour and two minute running time. Fellowes juggles more than 20 leading characters, each with their own story arcs and if that wasn’t enough adds at least five significant new characters including Imelda Staunton as the feuding cousin-in-law of Lady Violet (Maggie Smith). Even with such a tightly packed cast of characters, juggling this many characters is no problem for Fellowes, as each of the series episodes is packed with just as many characters. Fellowes is certainly up for the task, and just like the series itself, he succeeds in making both the series and theatrical movie a revelation. 

While I don’t want to give too much away as there are a few surprises. Picking up after the sixth and final season, it’s now 1927 and “Downton Abbey” has just received word that King George (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are stopping by for an overnight visit while on a cross-country tour. Panic hits the staff, forcing Mary (Michelle Dockery) to cut retirement short for Carson (Jim Carter), replacing butler Barrow (Rob James-Collier) while the demands of the royal staff are sorted out. Coming along with the entourage is Maud (Imelda Staunton), joined by maid Lucy (Tuppence Middleton), and while she’s a cousin to Robert (Hugh Bonneville), her choice to keep her fortune away from the Crawleys raises the ire of matriarch Violet (Maggie Smith). 

Realizing the royal staff has no intention of using the “Downton Abbey” employees, workers such as Bates (Brendan Coyle), Hughes (Phyllis Logan), Patmore (Lesley Nicol), and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) elect to stage an uprising, working the angles to reclaim glory for the estate. While plans commence for the King and Queen, Tom (Allen Leech) is put in a difficult position when his patriotism is called into question by a secretive outsider (Stephen Campbell Moore), leaving the Irishman uneasy about the important visit. 

Julian Fellowes returns to Downton as its primary creative force, co-producing the feature and handling the screenplay. Fellowes is in no hurry nor is he interested in making major changes to the “Downton Abbey” formula. Downton has always been about two things: characters and spectacle, and the movie doesn’t disappoint in anyway. As expected the production value has gotten a boost, as the costumes are more dazzling than ever, and the sweeping shots of the estate and within the house itself highlight every wide-shot of “Downton Abbey” against a beautiful skyline that hits the screen with grandiose beauty. 

Every frame in the film are gorgeous shots. The cinematography is bold, the contrast of the colorful and open space of the main level with the pale colors and tight quarters of the downstairs service area is even more dramatic as it’s projected on the big screen, rather than seeing it on your flat screen television. We now have been spoiled by “Downton Abbey” being on the big screen and can no longer settle for the width of our smart TVs. The film is a theater experience, as it was always meant to be. “Downton Abbey” is where it belongs. 

Director Michael Engler, who directed the film has also worked on several episodes in the final seasons, therefore keeping the feel of the style continuous. Engler gives us an extension of the show, while still managing to tell a standalone story. Still, if you’ve never seen “Downton Abbey” before, you will be confused. Those new to this world and these characters shouldn’t start here, as Fellowes isn’t trying to convert anyone with this first big screen continuation.

Fortunately, most of the original gang has returned, ranging from Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery to Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, and Sophie McShera. 

Fellowes brings a new adventure to the Crawley’s front door as he keeps to the series structure of revolving everyone around real life events, as the royal visit is based on a real event. Fellowes explores exactly what it takes to prepare for such a grand occasion in creating internal chaos as the family grows concerned about household presentation. As with the series, Fellowes doesn’t remain anywhere for very long, winding through the halls of “Downton Abbey”, giving us various subplots that propel the film from one scene to the next, making sure most of the primary characters have something intriguing to do or gifting them some juicy lines. Fan favorite Maggie Smith, returns as Violet and once again steals all of the funny one-liners. 

But in the case of Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), his story arc is one of the strongest as the struggle for him, is far more personal. Barrow is the only homosexual character on “Downton Abbey”, as he’s had his share of trials in an era when being gay is considered a crime. His examination of the closeted homosexual life is kept light in the movie, although the persecution and bigotry he faces is still horrifying in its casualness. He’s the character that we loved to hate back in the early seasons of the show, but we have grown to love him, after a new outlook on life was followed by his suicide attempt in season six. 

“Downton Abbey” the movie is rated PG, so it isn’t about taking risks, nor is it as edgy as the series had gotten to be on several occasions. Including the show’s notorious third season when it required the audience to deal with cast departures and a subsequent rape storyline, that garnered with a well-deserved punishment to the accuser of the crime. The burning questions we had from the series finale are answered here impeccably. 

Everything that “Downton Abbey” fans could want, short of another season, the film offers. Including a happily ever after of sorts regarding the estate’s fate. The movie offers the perfect way to close the doors on beloved characters but also leaves it open to revisiting the beloved Crawley’s again. 

I went to the one week advance screening of the film and it was the best experience I’ve had at the movies. The packed sold out theater cheered with applause before the film had started and after the film ended. The best part of the whole experience was seeing a group of about 15 people come in dressed up in cosplay like the Crawley family. Seeing that just goes to show you the impact the series and these characters have on people. It literally became a pop culture phenomenon and it was amazing to share this big screen experience with other fans who love this series as much as I do. 

Fellowes is focused on satisfying those who’ve supported the show over the years. With the enthusiasm of the audience in my screening, it’s safe to say he satisfied us, as he reminded us why we fell in love with these characters in the first place. “Downton Abbey” whether your referring to the series or the movie, it’s all professionally executed and paced swiftly. Once the film opens in wide release on September 20th (in a week from when this review was written), I will most certainly be re-paying Downton another visit. 

GRADE: ★★★★★(5 out of 5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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