“DOWNTON ABBEY”: Happy gentility

My rating: B+  122 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Published September 24, 2019 by Robert W. Butler at Butler’s Cinema Scene

Feature film spinoffs of successful TV series have an iffy track record (“Sex and the City,” “Entourage,” “Absolutely Fabulous”), but the folks at “Downton Abbey” have done it right.

The new “Downton Abbey” movie is an astonishingly effective piece of work, one that hits all the notes that made the TV show so successful and then adds a couple of new ones.

Will the movie make sense to anyone who wasn’t glued to PBS on Sunday nights?  Well, maybe, but the real pleasure here comes from continuing our relationships with characters we already know inside out.  It’s like a family reunion…only you actually like hanging with this family.

Writer Julian Fellowes, who created the series and scripted most of its episodes, provides a screenplay that gives almost every member of the huge cast at least one memorable moment and effortlessly balances multiple story threads.

Director Michael Engler deftly handles the pacing and the impressive technical production (he’s in charge of the actors, too but since most of these players have been doing their characters for the better part of a decade, how much coaching could they have required?).

The plot? Well, there are a dozen of them, but the overriding one has the King and Queen visiting Downton. It’s like when the FBI takes over a local murder investigation…Their Majesties’ arrogant retainers invade the Abbey, relegating the resident staff to observer status.  But not for long, thanks to machinations that come off as a more genteel iteration of “Revenge of the Nerds.”

Among the plot points explored:

  • Dragon-tongued grand dame Violet (Maggie Smith, always wildly entertaining) goes on the warpath against a visiting cousin (Imelda Staunton) who has broken with the family and is planning on giving her vast  inheritance to her personal maid.
  • Chief butler Barrow (Robert James-Collier) gets in touch with his own gayness, thanks to a trip to an underground club in a nearby town.
  • Widowed Crowley son-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech) puts his anti-monarchial sentiments on hold long enough to foil an assassination attempt, then  meets a woman who may very well change his life.
  • Assistant cook Daisy (Sophie McShera) resists getting her love life in order;  she’s less than overwhelmed by her footman finance Parker (Andy Fox)…but that’ll change.

And that’s just scratching the surface.  The emphasis here is mostly on minor characters; figures dominant in the TV series (Robert and Cora Crowley, Lady Mary, the former butler Carson, Mr. Bates and Anna) are in some cases reduced almost to placeholders.  Nevertheless, the film seems crammed to the gills with activity, gorgeous costumes and scenery — never in its two-hour running time do things slow down.

There are even a few plot points left hanging, just in case another movie is in the works. But if this is the series’ final farewell, it’s a memorable one.

| Robert W. Butler

Read the original review and more reviews at Butler’s Cinema Scene

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Robert W. Butler for 41 years reviewed films for the Kansas City Star. In May 2011 he was downsized.

He couldn’t take the hint.

OKAY, so here’s the deal. I write mostly about movies. One good thing about no longer writing for the paper is that I’m free to ignore the big dumb Hollywood turkeys that don’t interest me. So don’t expect every blessed release to be written about here. Many films aren’t worth the effort. Besides, at my age it’s not the $8. It’s the two hours.

UPDATE: OCTOBER, 2014: Well, here’s an interesting twist. The Star wants me back as a freelance film reviewer!!! Apparently enough time has passed that they cannot be accused of firing me so that they can rehire me at a fraction of my original pay (I gather the federal government frowns upon that practice.) So from now on I will probably be reviewing a movie a week for the newspaper.