By Jessica Owoc
September 20, 2019
Downton Abbey is the follow-up installment to the hit PBS series, which ended in 2015, and it begs the question: is this continuation necessary? This is especially relevant since the series gave a solid ending to the Crawley family saga. While some may think they don’t need it, it’s hard to deny Downton’s charm once the music swells and we are instantly transported back into the lives of our favorite aristocratic family and their hard working servants.
When we last left the Crawley family, it was 1925. There was a wedding, a birth, family drama and, of course, more than a few quips from the Dowager herself. In true Downton fashion, even as we return two years later after the events of the finale, it appears not much has changed at the grand estate, although the world continues to change around it. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) are in full swing taking care of the estate while Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, respectively) take a backseat. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is off living her best life with her new husband (finally!) and the Dowager Violet Crawley (Dame Maggie Smith) still doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to a condescending one-liner or unsolicited advice. While all may appear to be business as usual, the entire estate and surrounding town is set abuzz when the news that the King and Queen of England will be coming to visit and stay at Downton Abbey. Of course, the visit isn’t the only exciting thing happening at the estate. With the possibility of new love, an exiled cousin, and the looming question of how a place like Downton can survive in the ever-changing world, there is never a dull moment at the old house.
From the first moments of hearing the familiar chords of the opening song and seeing the tracking shots that sweep you into the world of the high-class, tea time, handmaids and butlers, it’s easy to get caught up in the magic of Downton. It doesn’t take long to be reminded of why the show was so beloved in the first place, with its gorgeous scenery, flawless costumes, and its delicious melodrama. Downton wastes no time in setting up the arrival of the King and Queen, an event that sets everything into motion. While there is no shortage of furtive glances and dramatic twists, the script has more humor than expected. It’s no surprise Dame Maggie Smith has all the best lines and her banter with cousin Isobel (Penelope Wilton) always gets a laugh.
A casual viewer or someone new to the world of Downton should be able to follow along, as enough detail is provided to understand who’s who; however, this is truly a movie for the fans. The intricate relationships that were formed over its six-season run are what build the foundation of Downton Abbey. When, for instance, Tom Branson, who was once married to a now-deceased member of the Crawley clan, sets his sights on someone new, longtime fans experience his earlier pain and sense that his new adventures are a really big deal. Those seemingly smaller moments will be lost on those who aren’t aware of the family history.
Par for the course, the lives of those who reside upstairs and downstairs are as complex as the rules and expectations that guide their existence. Throughout the film, it’s hard to feel like you ever have adequate time to catch up with your favorites, showcasing why Downton worked so well as a series. The multiple storylines, stunning cast, and the right amount of soap-opera level drama in the world of Downton Abbey–much like the house itself– is too large to squeeze into two hours. It’s hard not to imagine what a full episode of Thomas Barrow’s (Robert James-Collier) heartbreakingly sweet moment of discovering he’s not alone in the world would have looked like. Additionally, the plot does little to progress the overall Crawley story. As with the finale, we are left with the knowledge that the family will live on and continue to adapt their way of life as challenges and changes come their way. The fact that Mary will lead, Tom will find happiness, and Edith will always find away to live life according to her terms aren’t new revelations in the world of Downton.
Yet, as they say, it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all and I, for one, am grateful to have a glimpse into their lives once more. It’s nice to check in and see how they are doing, which I think is the thing we Dowton-ites want more than story. We come back not to see “what happens” but for the chance to be with these people in this place.
So, did we really need more Downton Abbey? There most likely weren’t any sleepless nights wondering what the Crawley’s and their staff were up to. However, this Downton Abbey movie is like catching up with a long lost friend: a fun reminder of the memories shared while making new ones in the process.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5