“A royal luncheon, a parade, and a dinner? “says Mrs Patmore on first hearing news of the Royal family’s visit to Downton Abbey. “I’m going to have to sit down”.
I must say, by the end of Downton Abbey the Movie, I was glad I was sitting down, too. The movie seems to cram a whole series worth of plot, incident and goings on into its two hour running time. So much so, in fact, that I felt a little exhausted myself by the end of it.
Not that its bad, mind. Taken on its own merits, Downton Abbey the Movie is an absolute delight, with all the elements that have made the show so beloved.
The film begins with Lady Edith happily married and living away from the Crawleys. Carson has also left Downton and is shown contentedly tending his garden. The shifty Barrow is now Downton’s head butler, although he hardly looks up to the task. Meanwhile, Andy is pressing Daisy on a date for their wedding, and a newly arrived stranger seems to have taken an interest in Branson.
Not that Lord and Lady Crawley look remotely aware of any of this as begin to plan for the royal visit. Only Lady Mary seems to be aware of what is going on behind the scenes as the preparations mount.
If those upstairs seem thrilled by the prospect of a royal visit, the same could not be said of those downstairs. Mr Mosley seems happy enough. Even though he no longer works at Downton, the former footman rushes to the great house as soon as he hears the news. “Is it true?” he says, with barely concealed excitement. Not everyone is quite as impressed, however. “This country needs a shakeup” Daisy says, at the mention of the royal family. Mrs Patmore’s only concern meanwhile seems to be whether her food will pass muster. “I wish I knew if they like simple food or fancy” she says.
As it turns out, however, there is no need for Mrs Patmore to worry, as the Royal Family are leaving nothing to chance on their trip. This is made clear to the staff at Downton by the scary Wilson “I am not a butler; I am the King’s Page of the Backstairs” he barks as soon as he is challenged. Wilson informs the assembled group of Downton staff that the Royal party will be travelling with a chef, four footmen, a butler, a lady’s maid, a housekeeper and two maids.
“So, we don’t cook any of the food? “says a surprised Daisy. “Cook for the servants” is Wilson’s dismissive reply. Naturally, this is read as a great slight on the ability of the Downton staff to successfully manage a dog of this magnitude and before you can say vol au vent, the two of staff are battling it out for the rights to serve the royal family.
The main story revolves around an inheritance. It just so happens that Lord Crawley is the rightful heir of the Queen’s lady in waiting Lady Bagshaw. However, Bagshaw (played by Imelda Staunton) is determined to leave all of her money to her servant, Lucy Smith. This hardly amuses Crawley’s mother, the Dowager Countess of Grantham.
It’s not a strong enough conceit to drive a whole movie but Downton Abbey the Movie has so many other plot strands that you hardly feel the absence of a main plot.
Maggie Smith is in good form as always. Her withering looks are just as sharp as ever and her hilarious line in sarcasm is alive and well. “Will you have enough clichés to get you through the visit” she says to Penelope Wilton’s character after the latter quotes Tennyson’s Kind Hears and Coronets.
The performances in Downton Abbey are all good but in a determinedly unfussy, unshowy way. One of the biggest surprises, however, is just how little Hugh Bonneville, Dame Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern are in the film. The movie reduces the threesome to mere extras, but to the production team’s credit, we hardly notice.
There is certainly much to admire in this first big screen outing for ITV’s Downton Abbey. Even though the movie lacks a strong central plot, there is mystery, intrigue, romance and humour aplenty. And if it feels more like a Christmas Special than a major movie then that is not necessarily a bad thing either. It’s just another sign that Downton is content to what it has always done so well. Ravishing sets, sumptuous costumes, bygone glamour and plots that gently tug at the heartstrings.
Downton Abbey the Movie is available to stream on streaming channels now. More information about the movie can be found here.
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