It was Friday the 13thbut it turned out to be a very lucky day indeed! The day we’d all been waiting for – the release of the Downton Abbey movie – had finally arrived. And so, with much excitement, a group from the WI-Flyers Cinema Club went to watch the film at Vue Farnborough on Friday 13thSeptember 2019.
As soon as the rousing theme kicked in, we were transported back to Sunday evenings in front of the telly. For those, like us, suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms this was a very welcome little top-up dose of period drama escapism – a wistful, nostalgic dip into the world of the Crawleys, the Carsons, the Bateses, Mrs Patmore, Daisy, Barrow and the rest of the staff. Despite the obvious boost to the budget which enabled a few beautiful aerial shots of “Downton Abbey”, however, the film lacked some of the magic of the TV series.
The film follows the story of a royal visit to Downton, but not much else happens. There were no shenanigans with a Turkish diplomat, exploding stomach ulcers, fatal car crashes or stock market crashes … it was actually all a little bit tame. There was an attempt to weave in a few subplots but, instead of bringing anything to the story, these just seemed to be there to make sure each of the original characters got their contracted screen time. These story arcs were all quickly resolved and easily forgotten. There was a half-hearted attempt to add a bit of macho action (good old Tom Branson) and even throw in some modern-day political correctness, but where was the Downton Abbey trademark romance – the suppressed desire and desperate longing!
The story is set at a time when the country was on the brink of great social upheaval – the decline of subservience to the rich and the (very early) steps towards female emancipation. The great irony is, however, that when the Downton Abbey servants did finally rise up in rebellion, it was not against their own economic oppression but against the meddling royal lackeys who try to take over the house and stop them serving their king and ultimate overlord.
All in all, this was a gentle, heart-warming film with lots of ‘feel good’ factor. It worked well because so many of the original cast appeared; as ever, Maggie Smith was on good form as the acerbic Lady Violet, and she even had one very touching scene with Lady Mary. Die-hard fans will love this film, and the rest of us will just think it’s a little bit cheesy. As far as I’m concerned, Downton Abbey worked so much better on TV.