As someone completely unversed in the manner of Downton Abbey, this filmic “event” is nowhere near as momentous as it will be to die-hard fans who are likely to lap up every moment of this lush looking but ultimately unnecessary continuation.
I got the gist of the upstairs/downstairs goings-on of the uppity Crawley family and their devoted servants, but Michael Engler’s inoffensive drama will evoke far more glee from those that tuned in week-after-week for 6-or-so-years; series creator Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, The Tourist) peppering his script with enough in-jokes and loving interactions between characters to essentially sideline the casual viewer.
Set in 1927, two years on from when the final series was set, the film wastes no time on setting up a scene or delving deep into character backgrounds as it assumes that if you’re here, you’re a devoted watcher and no time should be spent on re-introducing players who should already feel like family.
Basically, the aristocrats flit about doing aristocratic things, and the help tend idly by with witty retorts that dare not to push the film’s PG classification boundaries. The upstairs/downstairs dynamic is thrown for a right tizzy when it’s announced that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are coming to Downton for a nightly visit during a royal tour of Yorkshire.
Think of all the organising and social standards that must be adhered to!
The royal visit plants itself as a focal point for the film’s plot, allowing a multitude of side-arcs to be birthed from it, with the Downton staff and the impending royal staff locked in a battle for prominence, a maid with a case of sticky fingers on hand, Downton matriarch Violet Crawley (a delightfully acidic Maggie Smith) questioning her cousin (Imelda Staunton) over a matter of inheritance, and the hidden homosexual urges of the under butler (Robert James-Collier) threatening his position as a free man.
From what I’ve gathered it’s all very standard for Downton Abbey to suggest jeopardy that has no true threat, and this film – which very much feels like an extended TV episode as opposed to a genuine theatrical production – follows suit. This is a film that very much knows what its audience wants, and in that regard it’ll be a sumptuous success. For anyone else you’d best steer clear, for as simple and harmless as it is, you’re unlikely to truly enjoy your visit.