On behalf of director, Michael Engler, you are cordially invited to re-enter the world of high teas, proper manners and well dressed period drama in the film version of Downton Abbey.
Picking up in 1927 with a royal visit, the upstairs and downstairs of Downton go into a flutter to cater to such an occasion on the depleted downstairs staff and the changing times of the Upper Class in England in the 20’s. Almost every beloved character from the series makes a return and as the royal servants arrive and disrupt the way things are done, the staff plot together to maintain the dignity of the manor. Throw in an assassination attempt, a hidden heir and a new love interest for more than one character and you’ve got the recipe for a basic, but enjoyable historical period drama.
Whilst the film doesn’t require the audience to be familiar with the series, there is a delicateness in the way that the characters have been brought back, their stories and range is extended just enough to be interesting but nothing too new is introduced to the way we’re used to the house functioning. Julian Fellowes, the creator of the original series, seamlessly brings the characters back to life with her screenplay and Engler ensures that the story is done justice with the film’s production.
From the first notes of the opening sequence John Lunn pangs us with nostalgia as the soft melodies of the notoriously Downton scores play out. Ben Smithard’s cinematography captures the essence of the era and English countryside charm that makes you want to pack your bags and move to the countryside. The costume department execute the wardrobe brilliantly, bringing the late 1920’s to life. It’s not often that a feeling of a series can be recreated but each department worked their toffy magic to ensure it did.
The old cast coming back together is what makes this film. It’s like they haven’t stepped away from the characters for a moment, let alone over three years. The women are written with more independence and the character progression is very ‘coming into their own’. Maggie Smith delivers the wit that kept the viewers enthralled all those years with her performance as Violet and the scenes that play out between her and Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley) give a heart warming dash of feminism and a lot of heart to an era that far too often portrays the women as victims and the men as the heroes. The new faces introduced in Imelda Staunton, Tuppence Middleton and Stephen Campbell Moore’s roles create the subtle twists that Downton is known for, whilst not creating any loose ends that get left untied. Staunton and Smith play off each other the way only two British treasures can. Fellowes does what she is best at in the screenplay, bringing dry wit, polite drama and acceptable cheekiness into each of the characters role in the films plot.
There is nothing revolutionary about Downton Abbey in film that we haven’t already seen in this world. In a lot of ways it feels more like a movie length episode made for the BBC than a feature film. It just feels nice, occasionally a little “perfect Sunday movie whilst doing the ironing”, but ultimately something familiar and warm. Whilst parts of the story line are controversial for the usual themes of the era they’re not particularly daring, and even with the twists and heights of drama, every issue is offered a rather quick and tidied conclusion. It does however offer long standing fans an ending that far exceeds the hurried and lacklustre conclusion that the television series served.
Downton Abbey is a perfect and decidedly English recreation of the world that so many fell in love with and its clear no effort was spared in delivering perhaps the most well executed send off to a series that has graced the silver screen. Accept the invitation, change into your evening best and dine on the delights that Downton Abbey will be serving in cinemas from September 12th.
Written by Sarah Burley.