Warning: This article contains minor spoilers for the Downton Abbey film.
It’s the film event fans have been waiting for since Christmas 2015, but the release of the much-anticipated Downton Abbey movie is finally upon us.
Four years since we last checked in with the wealthy Crawley family and their eclectic bunch of staff, there’s now a brand new chapter of their story – and with the Downton series finale getting the thumbs up from both viewers and critics, the stakes were high heading into this new film version.
As we all know, when beloved TV series are made into films, it hasn’t always been a success story, with fans often feeling their favourite shows lose their charm when they make the jump to the big screen (do we even need to mention Sex And The City 2?). Charm is one thing Downton Abbey had in spades during its original run on ITV – so is this a curse it has managed to swerve with its film incarnation?
Well, in a word, yes.
Any Downton devotees fearful it would be ditching the trivial minutiae the show became famous for and replacing it with high-speed chases, or ditching Dame Maggie Smith’s icy one-liners in favour of shouting matches or catty remarks delivered in voiceover, can breathe a sigh of relief.
In fact – presumably down to the fact the Downton film retained its original writing and directing team – the film essentially plays out like a two-hour instalment of the period drama, with little to differentiate between the two. Whether or not that’s a compliment, of course, depends on your opinion of Downton Abbey in the first place.
The film picks up a year on from the 2015 Christmas special, and it’s very much business as usual. Mr Carson is doing his best to enjoy his retirement, Lady Mary is now running the show and Daisy is wondering whether there’s more to life than her engagement to the safe and dependable Andy and working under Mrs Patmore.
We find out almost immediately that Downton is going to be the recipient of a royal visit (a neat way of cashing in on the royal fever that so many people have felt since Harry and Meghan’s nuptials, if nothing else). Much of the film’s conflict stems from the staff’s worries they’ll be snubbed in favour of the royals’ team, and whether Irish republican Tom can keep his mouth shut long enough for the king and queen to enjoy their dinner.
There is one rather dramatic moment in the middle that feels like it’s mainly been included as a stunt to remind people they’re watching a film and not just a one-off TV episode. We won’t spoil the specifics, but Downton being Downton, this scene – whether intentionally or not – does come across as a bit OTT, though it’s not long before the usual silliness resumes.
Everything that was present in the original Downton is back, which, impressively, includes its entire ensemble cast. There are still plenty of perfectly-delivered bons mots from Dame Maggie Smith, who is – of course – the star of every scene she’s in, whether that’s her lamenting what a difficult task taking off one’s hat is, or sticking up for Machiavelli’s lesser-known traits. But plenty of others get their moment to shine too.
True to form, Joanne Froggatt is fantastic as Anna, rallying the Downton staff when it looks like they’re set to be left out in the cold during the royal visit. Jim Carter (Mr Carson) is worth his fee for his facial expressions alone. And thanks to the film’s longer running time, there’s also more of a chance to see another side to Barrow, with Rob James-Collier being afforded the opportunity to show some other sides to his character, who has long been accused of being pretty one-note.
In general though, the Downton Abbey film is very much “more of the same”, which means that for those who never watched it – or indeed actively disliked it – there’s little to rope you in this time around. Entire conversations still revolve around insignificant matters, things still move at a fairly glacial pace and, yes, there is still wealth everywhere (if this put you off first time around, then bear in mind the film revolves around a royal visit, so it’s probably best to give the whole thing a wide berth).
Still, those Downton devotees who’ve missed the show in its absence will find their patience rewarded when the house opens its famous doors one last time.
Downton Abbey hits UK cinemas on 13 September.