Elegance and grace are standard and a bit of drama is required. Match that with royal expectations and you have yourself a great story! Downton Abbey revisits the Crawly family and their title estate. The film is based on the smash-hit series of the same name. Many television stories don’t make great movies, but the grandeur of Downton Abbey requires the silver screen. The show always felt too big for the small screen anyway. Julian Fellowes penned the script and created the original series and his style shows his upmost respect for character and story.
A Royal Visit
In Downton Abbey, the family is preparing for a royal visit from George V and Queen Mary along with their daughter Princess Mary. The house needs to be perfect and the staff and family prepare for every detail until their plans switch when the royal household takes over for the Downton residents to ensure royal quality service.
The most remarkable part of Downton Abbey is the production design and costume design which make the film a delight to watch. The intricacy of recreating 1927 to the letter should be well celebrated come award season. The series set the precedent of historical accuracy and the design teams spent months crafting every piece to the highest of expectations. As an audience member, you probably wouldn’t notice if a fork was out of place, but I can assure you, there is not.
The house is spectacular and becomes the centerpiece of the cinematography. The house is the lead character in this ensemble showpiece. Very few close-ups or bokeh backgrounds are used so you don’t miss the set design. The house is in fact real, so many more fans will be clamoring to visit Highclere Castle, as they have since the series started.
The story of the film feels like one long episode of the show. The film brings back the best of Downton and not recreate the searing pain of Matthew and Sybil’s deaths in the series. The largest side story fits in with the loved and hated character, Butler, Thomas Barrow. He’s shiftiness and lack of loyalty in the series didn’t provide him much sympathy, but when the audience learned he was a closeted gay man in an era that fully disregards this lifestyle, his attitude is better understood. An exploration of his sexuality proves Fellowes’s ability to interweave social commentary within a historical context that presents more like a fine lace rather than a bold tapestry of political messaging.
Fellowes has a brilliant way of juxtaposing plot lines to create drama. While the King, Queen, and Crawleys are at dinner in the dining room, Barrow is out dancing and the staff is proving their value downstairs. The climamtic scene is fun to watch as you see not only the finished product of a royal dinner but all the work, and some conniving to create it. Further, the scene cuts with Barrow’s “indecent” outing that could be a major scandal if discovered on the night of the royal visit. The tension builds enough to keep you connected to the story.
The New and Old
This film is not a deeply dramatic story of how the rich other half used to live, but rather a classic case of Hollywood (and British) escapism. The film is beautiful and for new and old fans, alike, there is a lot to appreciate. Overall, the story of the series runs deeper than the film, so fans of the series leave with a greater connection because of their background knowledge. In essence, this film shares the greater story of how to transition from the era of old into the era of new. Maggie Smith’s much-beloved Violet Crawley shares deep wisdom on the subject at the end of the film offering, we don’t do anything the way previous generations did, so creating our own interpretation of tradition is the only way to keep their meaning alive and well. Downton Abbey keeps many traditions alive while offering a glittering modern-day interpretation of what used to be.
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