Film Review: Downton Abbey Gets Two Hits

Fans of the television series “Downton Abbey” will not be disappointed in the enlarged screen version of the Crawley Family in their 300-room estate with all of their servants. The larger screen gives us expanded views of the elegant grounds and tidy, graveled driveways, a fitting setting for the required moments of gracious hospitality touched by grandeur.

Having already won an Oscar for his screenplay of Robert Altman’s movie “Gosford Park,” writer Julian Fellowes, creator of the television series “Downton Abbey,” seems equally at home on the big screen. In the meantime, the cast, on their own, have enjoyed several reunions, usually at the behest of our favorite butler, Mr. Carson, played by Jim Carter. The former television cast is pretty much complete with a few new characters added.

Maggie Smith, left, stars as the Dowager Countess of Grantham and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Talbot in “Downton Abbey,” a Focus Features release.(Jaap Buitendijk / Focus Features)

As the opening credits roll, a letter written in London is placed on a silver tray, delivered by a train that winds through the Yorkshire countryside, handed to the mail service and driven to the door of Downton Abbey. The contents contain a letter from King George announcing that he and Queen Mary will be visiting Yorkshire and would like to stay a day and a night with the Crawleys at Downton Abbey.

Lady Mary Crawley Talbot (Michelle Dockery), the eldest daughter of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), has pretty much taken over the business of running the estate. Her sister, Edith (Laura Carmichael) is more interested in the publishing business in London, and her husband is in America at a collectors’ cars event. So Mary, not trusting the organizational abilities of the new butler, seeks help from recently retired, Mr. Carson, who agrees to come back and ready the house for the royal event.

Besides the King and Queen, Fellowes adds some new characters, mainly a Crawley cousin, Maude Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), estranged from the family over an inheritance dispute but now a guest in the home because Maude is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary.  She brings with her a young maid/companion, Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), who will bring a love interest to Irish patriot son-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech), widowed now for five years.

The new additions to the cast are strong and they hold their own in scenes with the inimitable Dowager Countess, Lady Violet Crawley, played by Maggie Smith with all the aplomb for which she is famous. No one else could deliver a dissenting opinion with such acerbic confidence as Lady Violet’s “I don’t argue; I explain.”

Although “Downton Abbey” has a large cast, audiences who missed the television series can follow both the upstairs and the downstairs characters because they are so clearly delineated by cast members who have inhabited them for several years. And Fellowes has been careful to add plot developments that involve dramatic political intrigue and some more contemporary social issues.

Rating system:

TWO HITS: Don’t Miss it!

A HIT & A MISS: You Might Like it.

TWO MISSES: Don’t Bother.

Categories: Arts

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