In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I have never seen a single episode of the hit PBS series “Downton Abbey.” I don’t know a Crawley from a Talbot and whether the show has been on two seasons or six, I couldn’t tell you. I do know that everyone loves Maggie Smith because her character wisecracks and that Shirley MacLaine was on the show a couple of times, but beyond that, I’m clueless. To add insult to injury, I go out of my way to refer to the show as “Downtown Abbey” just to bug the faithful fans that I know. Yeah, I’m that guy.
Obviously, Focus Features realized that viewers like me would be dragged to this movie or stumble in unwittingly, as they provide a very quick summation of the entire series before the film rolls, which lasts about five minutes. While this is well-intended, this did not help at all as it moved so quickly it just served to confuse me. Car chases from the Fast and Furious franchise move slower than this summary.
So, I am surely the wrong guy to be reviewing the big screen continuation of Julian Fellowes’ sensation, but you’re stuck with me. However, perhaps this is a blessing in disguise. Maybe my perspective of ignorance will unveil a new viewpoint to the show that could benefit the faithful viewer.
The film starts with a very quick re-introduction of all the key players, who are soon thrown into a tizzy as they’ve been informed that the King and Queen of England will, in a couple of weeks, be spending the night at Downton Abbey. While Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) are honored and a bit set back by this out-of-the-blue circumstance, they know the brunt of pulling this off falls to their staff, as well as their daughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), who’s the one who really runs the joint.
There are various subplots at play as the scurrying to get ready for the royal visit commences. Tom Branson (Allen Leech) is obviously Irish, as he has a beef with all the king represents. The family is worried he may say something untoward in the monarch’s presence or something worse, as he’s been seen in mysterious company while in town. Head butler Thomas (Robert James-Collier) is miffed because Lady Mary feels he isn’t up to whipping the abbey into shape before the big visit, so they bring retired butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) out of mothballs. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is pregnant and upset that her husband won’t be around for the birth and there’s something going on with visiting Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) and the inheritance of the Downton Estate. Don’t ask me what exactly, but Violet Crawley (Smith) is really, really worried about this.
I can say that, while lost at times, I was never bored with what was going on. It’s certainly a beautiful movie, it’s genuinely witty and I admit that I gasped out loud when the film’s major plot twist was revealed. The die-hard fans at the screening I attended seemed to appreciate all that was going on, laughing at jokes I didn’t get and nodding their heads at allusions that escaped me. I have to admit I chuckled at times over the First World, rich lady problems that beset Lady Mary (“Running Downton is such a chore! I don’t know if I can go on!”), but no matter. This is a light-as-a-feather affair that amply rewards the patience of its loyal fans and that’s all that matters. As for viewers like me, well, it’s better than sitting through The Goldfinch.