Cora and Robert: Mostly ineffective but perfectly lovely
Cora and Robert: Mostly ineffective but perfectly lovely

MOVIE REVIEW: What is the point of this sequel?

Make no mistake, the Downton Abbey movie is for fans only.

If you haven't seen at least some of the six series of TV put out about the toffy Crawley family and the mishmash of downstairs servants, you're not going to get anything out of this movie sequel.

But if you have followed the various dramas of Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, and his brood, then you might find yourself just a wee bit giddy at being plunged back into the silver service world of Downton Abbey.

You won't even mind forking out $20 to see what, realistically, is an extended event episode of the TV show. Coming in at two hours long, it's only about 20 minutes longer than one of its Christmas specials.

Though there are now 40 horses in a scene instead of two, and you actually see the old timey train moving along the tracks instead of just sitting stationary at the station. But the extra bits afforded by a movie budget may not seem that much grander because Downton was always a grand TV series.

The Crawleys have come far from the series' opening 1912 setting.
The Crawleys have come far from the series' opening 1912 setting.

 

That was part of its appeal for so many years, this vivid evocation of another time and place, either forgotten by some or never accessible to others. And all mixed in with more palatable modern sensibilities and the requisite drama that makes you go, "Oh no, she didn't just say that!"

So this film won't have a distinguishable scale that really screams, "Now, this is a MOVIE", but fans will experience it as if it were a special event, one that's best seen with a packed audience so you can collectively gasp at the right moments.

The year is now 1927, two years after we last left the characters.

Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Tom (Allan Leech) are still helping run the estate while Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) flitter about.

Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) are happily married though Edith is bored of constantly entertaining people she couldn't give a toss about.

Violet (Maggie Smith) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton) are still verbally sparring but, obviously, so clearly fond of each other with all that nasty business of 15 years ago well settled.

Downstairs, Daisy (Sophie McShera) keeps putting off setting a date for her wedding to Andy (Michael C. Fox) but everyone else - Anna (Joanne Froggatt), Bates (Brendan Coyle), Mrs Carson (Phyllis Logan), Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol), Barrow (Rob James-Collier) and the retired Mr Carson (Jim Carter) - is pretty much exactly as we left them.

There's little time for scene-setting or catching up because the movie assumes that if you're here, then you're a devotee, and who needs to waste time on reintroducing its massive ensemble of characters.

The postman delivers news that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary of Teck (Geraldine James) are going to stay the night at Downton during their upcoming royal tour of Yorkshire.

This puts everyone is a right tizzy. There's so much to organise - a dinner, a village military parade - but excitement is definitely in the air even among the Republicans.

The costumes are a feast for the eyes.
The costumes are a feast for the eyes.

 

The movie uses the royal visit as the focal point of all the drama, and each subplot stems from it.

There's the battle between the Downton staff and the royal staff for dominion, a light-fingered thief in their midst, a question of Robert's inheritance from cousin Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) and a mysterious stranger who's far too interested in Tom's Irish heritage.

It's all run-of-the-mill Downton stuff that has no real sense of jeopardy - it's far too much of a crowd-pleaser to create any real anxiety. There is no equivalent of a Mr Pamuk, and Downton has never had the sharpness of creator Julian Fellowes' Oscar-winning screenplay for Gosford Park.

What the movie does well is focus the emotional core primarily on its female characters, including Mary and her question over whether or not to keep fighting for Downton's future or sell it off and move into a manor house and Edith's desire to live a more modern life that belongs to her and not the Crown.

Or the acid-tongued Violet who, despite her scheming and admiration for the "underrated" Machiavelli, is trying to secure a future for the Crawleys. Maggie Smith can do no wrong.

Not just a national treasure, Maggie Smith is an international treasure
Not just a national treasure, Maggie Smith is an international treasure

 

For the most part, the male characters are left to languish in the background, barely contributing to the narrative engine, except for Tom and Barrow, both outsiders to the establishment in their own ways who are both gifted significant arcs that move their stories along.

Perhaps that's fitting for a movie playing to 2019 audiences to suggest that even in 1927, it's the women who have always been in charge, even if it's in small, barely discernible ways.

Again, a choice that will be popular even if it means charisma-bomb Matthew Goode is criminally underused (that and scheduling conflicts prevented him from having a larger role).

Was the Downton Abbey movie necessary? Of course not. It doesn't stand on its own as a piece of cinema, and some of the story choices are very odd.

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Fraternising with the children is very modern indeed.
Fraternising with the children is very modern indeed.

 

But that doesn't mean the package won't delight Downton enthusiasts who'll take any excuse to revisit this opulent world with its gleaming crystal, jaw-dropping costumes and clipped tones.

The camera will linger over every shining coat button, every piece of damask fabric and ink drop of perfect calligraphy in a fetishistic ritual that will feel indulgent and earnt at the same time.

Because it knows what Downton Abbey fans want.

A few minutes in, when the first notes of its recognisable theme song start stirring and the turrets of Downton Abbey peek out from the horizon, there will be an unmistakeable swell in your chest, and all your real-world cynicism will melt away.

You just have to go with it.

Rating: 3/5

Downton Abbey is in cinemas from Thursday, September 12 and you can stream all six seasons of the TV series on Amazon Prime Video

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