REVIEW: Downton Abbey

Having watched all six seasons of the British drama Downton Abbey, which aired in the United States on PBS, I was intrigued by the prospect of a big-screen sequel. It would mean a chance to revisit familiar characters, once again appreciate the sumptuous period costumes, and hear the show’s distinct theme music.

Elaborately beautiful costumes are one of the film’s strengths.

In these areas, the film certainly delivered – in many ways, it was (somewhat predictably) a 122-minute festival of fan gratification. One only needs to see Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) sapphire blue gown made of a fabric with countless tiny pleats, or her elaborate beaded ballgown with its dramatic back detail, to see that the film’s costume designer, Anna Robbins, did her job and did it well. The Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) returns with an ample supply of wry zingers, generally hilarious because of their disconnect from everyday life. The camera work is done in sweeping shots that showcase the grandness of the Crawley residence, with magnificent lighting that lends a sheen to the entire setting.

The King and Queen visit Downton Abbey, causing quite the stir throughout the household.

That said, the entire premise of the movie is somewhat absurd, even more so than the Crawley’s over-the-top, aristocratic lifestyle may seem to modern-day Americans. When Queen Mary and King George stop by Downton for a visit, the staff are irked  when they find out that the royal couple’s servants – chefs, valets, maids, footmen – are to take over the running of every last detail during their stay, leaving  Downton’s regular staff to sit back and “go read a book.” They are so upset, in fact, that the Downton staff, led by lady’s maid Anna Bates and her husband, valet Mr. Bates, hatch a plan that allows them to cook and serve dinner to the King and Queen. It is as ridiculous as it sounds, not to mention (in my opinion) out of character for the likes of strait-laced housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Anna Bates, who was ever the kind-hearted person on the show. I will admit, however, that the absurdity of the entire situation lends it some humor that makes it somewhat enjoyable in the end.

Despite a plot that I thought lacked believability and nuance, however, the film did deliver several scenes that somehow got at what the rest lacked. One of the best of these (of which I will not go into too much detail, to not spoil the film’s ending) was an emotional scene between the Dowager Countess and Lady Mary, two characters who often come of as cold and unfeeling, where their underlying humanity was made clear. Perhaps the lifestyle of the Crawley family is cloaked in jewels and expensive fabrics, but the people themselves are just that – people, with sentiments, fears, and sadness, just like the rest of us.

All in all, I enjoyed the Downton Abbey movie as a gilded escape from everyday reality. However, I would not recommend it to anyone who has not previously seen and enjoyed the Downton Abbey television show. As I said, the film excels at gratifying its fans, but without the framework of the original series, it lacks the plot and character development that would make it interesting as a stand-alone feature.


JM is a dual degree student in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and the College of Engineering. Some of her favorite things include running, reading, all things creative, and the color purple.

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