Cinematic Releases: Downton Abbey (2019) - Reviewed

It’s been four years since Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame’s hit ITV television series Downton Abbey ended after a successful sixth season.  Though many characters and actors came and went through the show as it pressed on, for the most part the story of the British aristocracy at the beginning of the twentieth century around the outbreak of WWI retained most of the ensemble cast of characters.  

Though the show’s most beloved star Dan Stevens departed the show after the third season, Huge Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Maggie Smith, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Joanne Froggatt, Phyllis Logan and Sophie McShera pretty much all stayed through the show’s checkered ups and downs.  In addition to the show’s familiar cast of characters, the film brings on many newcomers including but not limited to Harry Potter actress Imelda Staunton, David Haig, Max Brown and Tuppence Middleton as Lady Maud Bagshaw’s maid with more than a few secrets of her own. 

Originally intended to be a televised adaptation of the hit Robert Altman film Gosford Park also written by Fellowes, the program was rewritten into what became the Masterpiece Theater show Downton Abbey.  Focusing on the interpersonal machinations running the Yorkshire country estate, the Golden Globe and Emmy Award winning series struck a chord with audiences around the world with numerous fan-event revivals celebrating the world of the show.  Unlike Gosford Park which felt like an Agatha Christie murder mystery set within an aristocratic mansion, Downton Abbey instead is historical fiction incorporating real world events with amusing asides, dramatic conflicts and emotional payoffs peppered throughout. 

The series set within the very real Highclere Castle (which the show helped finance the full restoration and tourism of) ended much like the seasonal finale Christmas Special episodes: on a crowd-pleasing high note.  Now four years later, the cast and crew of the show have reassembled once more for one final adventure within the elite interior aristocratic world of Downton Abbey.  The premise this time around brings King George V (Simon Jones of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) to Downton for a Royal visit, with the longtime staff of the beloved estate and the King’s staff clashing over their own respective ways of doing things. 

Much like the Christmas Specials, Downton Abbey the movie is a sumptuous and lighthearted crowd pleaser sure to entertain fans of the series with Fellowes returning to pen the screenplay and veteran Abbey episode director Michael Engler seated in the director’s chair.  Though the scope of the film is much grander and shot in 2.35:1 panoramic widescreen by Ben Smithard, Downton Abbey more or less picks right up where Season 6 left off without missing a beat or changing the rhythm of the show one iota.  Think of it as a two-hour ultimate episode designed for and presented in movie theaters.

Mostly the film is a gift for the fans though newcomers won’t have a hard time picking up on the inner workings of the household and longstanding relations amongst the characters.  Criticisms of the film have complained of the lightheartedness and essential lack of serious conflict within the film, but after the heavy hurdles the cast of characters had to endure and overcome throughout the course of six seasons, they (and we) are entitled a night off in Downton Abbey.

- Andrew Kotwicki