“Downton Abbey” turned countless Americans into fans of the British period drama. For many, it was their first real introduction to the genre. Now, years after the series ended, the movie is exciting the hearts of people all over the US.
Under a light drizzle and foggy skies that could have been London’s, I made my way to the early viewing of the long-awaited return of our favorite upstairs, downstairs saga.
I know you’ll be headed to the cinema on September 20th no matter what anyone says about the movie, and that you don’t want to read any spoilers. The following is written for those who have seen the trailer and want some very brief impressions of the film.
Before the movie starts, there’s a 10 minute long series recap hosted by Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan. It’s a delightful way to ease into the film with lines like “joy and sadness go together like tea and crumpets,” and it sets the tone that people at Downton are offered second chances. If you want to watch it before the film, you can do that below, but consider saving it for the night of the movie.
Two women were seated directly behind me in the theater: one was a longtime fan of the period drama, and the other had never seen “Downton Abbey.” (I know, I know…) The latter gasped at every dramatic high and low point in the recap, and although she asked a few quick questions, she seemed sufficiently prepared and I also overheard that she enjoyed the movie. So, if you have any friends who are wondering if they can see the movie without having watched the television series, it would seem the answer is yes.
Off the top of my head I can’t place any movies that were satisfying as the long-running series that preceded them, but the comparison is unfair. We’ve had years to fall in love with the cast and story of “Downton Abbey,” and the movie needs to be experienced for what it is: a short trip to check in on our friends that we miss dearly.
It’s been a number of years since we’ve last seen our characters, but with their reappearance in the film, it feels like hardly any time has passed, even though the year is 1927. The movie is just like catching up with a childhood best friend who you haven’t seen in years: the time you’ve spent apart is irrelevant, and the time together is far too short.
The film benefits from this seamless re-entry, the familiar soundtrack, and also from a big budget – which means strong costumes, settings, and some exciting wide shots that increase the dramatic scope, so if you can see it on the big screen, do.
Above stairs, the Dowager (with her stream of zingers), Mary (managing affairs at Downton), and pleasantly, Tom, get a bit more screen time than the others. Below stairs there’s more on-air balance, and that’s a good thing, as they are the heartbeat of the movie. With the news of royal visit just weeks away, there’s much to be done to prepare for a luncheon, parade and dinner. To steal a sentiment from the movie, the setting is like a duck on the water: serene above, demented paddling below.
The narrative involves several compelling subplots involving the king and queen and especially the princess, as well as their servants. With our main characters, there are developments that are engaging while keeping true to what we’d want and expect for them.
The “Downton Abbey” movie can be touching, and funny. While it isn’t as good as having a whole new season, what is does is allow us to spend some much needed time with our old friends. And, like a good friend, it leaves the door open for another visit, just as soon as possible.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to see The Period Films List, with the best British, historical and costume dramas sorted by era. Also see Downton on Location, and Highclere Castle on Screen and in Books.