STARS: Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carson, Laura Carmichael, Elizabeth McGovern
DIRECTOR: Michael Engler
I was never a fan of the PBS miniseries, Downton Abbey (in fact I'd never seen one episode), but all the gals in the theatre for the movie version obviously were, as they were tittering all the way through this two hour tour-de-farce.
British humor is so...well...pretentious (as are most things British). It relies on a kind of haughtiness and condescending attitude when putting someone else down through the use of biting sarcasm. And here's a trivia question: What 2019 film plays out with nary a person of color anywhere to be found? Yes, it's Downton Abbey! Were it an American film set in modern times you'd never hear the end of it. But it's somewhere in the early twentieth century as we revisit the aristocratic Crawley family and their teeming anthill staff preparing for a visit from the king and queen. This sets in motion much scrambling to get everything just right and show the royal couple the proper amount of...pretense (the British stock in trade). All the obsequious curtsying and butt kissing is humorous in an appalling sort of way (as it is in real life to this day).
The dowager countess (Maggie Smith) is at the heart of the action throughout, and she sets the proper tone of haughtiness for the rest of the cast of seemingly thousands. To delve further into the intricate plot would be beyond the scope of this review. Suffice it to say it's complicated, the characters are numerous and difficult to keep track of, and the film goes pretty well past its sell-by date. (Could have done with a lot less ballroom dancing.)
But there's a grand scene of horses and pageantry that is truly impressive. In fact, it's a wonderfully poignant comedy-drama, with John Lunn's elegant and uplifting music score primarily responsible. I'm an old romantic from way back and I eat that stuff up! And the acting is first-rate. Splendid. Bully.Top-flight.
Though I still think that British period pieces like Downton Abbey exist primarily for the purpose of keeping costume designers rolling in the chips.
I am speechless. (And for a blabbermouth like me, that's pretty impressive.) Before I comment on Downtown Abbey, I want to share the process Tim and I go through on deciding which films to review. He has a wide range of rules about what'll he see and what he won't see. My no-nos are confined to sci-fi and animation. Still, that leaves us plenty of choices. As a diehard fan of the PBS series, I pestered, cajoled and begged Tim—against his will—to see this one. He agreed with one caveat: "I get to choose the next one!" I share this with you because, as I watched this hodgepodge of a movie, I kept muttering under my breath: "Tim's gonna kill me."
I'm convinced he liked Downton Abbey because he'd never seen the original. I'm equally convinced I hated it because I had. These wonderful characters were, for me, like family. I'd lived through many a crisis with them. And to see the cardboard cutouts they became on screen? What a disappointment! (Some of the actors weren't even in the TV series – which only added to my confusion.) It felt like the screenwriter had never even seen the series. (To my horror, the screenwriter Julian Fellows created the original!)
Maggie Smith delivered the best lines, of course. But there were so many plots and subplots that keeping track of them was as challenging as preparing beef Wellington for visiting royalty.
I suppose if one views Downton Abbey as a spoof about British snobbery, it might be enjoyable. And it spares no expense on being authentic to the period. But I loved those characters and the film version robbed them of their authenticity!
Grade: D -