Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Movie Review: "Downton Abbey" (2019)

Director: Michael Engler
Year: 2019
Rating: PG
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

The people of Downton Abbey prepare for a visit from the King and Queen of England.

Movie still for Downton Abbey film where the Crawley family (including Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Harry Hadden-Paton, Matthew Goode) sits around the fire having a drink
"You can love people you disagree with." (Image Source)
For those who have been living under a rock, "Downton Abbey" was a television show created by Julian Fellowes. It originally aired on ITV in the U.K. starting in 2010, and it aired in the U.S. on PBS beginning in 2011. The show ran for six seasons and ended with its 52nd episode in December 2015. Now, four years later, the fans of "Downton Abbey" are finally getting the chance to catch up with the Crawley family and their staff in "Downton Abbey," the feature film finale. This movie is directed by Michael Engler, who is best known for working on various television series like "Sex in the City," "30 Rock," and "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." The screenplay is written by the previously mentioned show creator Julian Fellowes. The movie takes place in 1927, a little more than a year after the show's final episode. It begins with Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), receiving a letter that the King and Queen of England (Simon Jones and Geraldine James) will be coming to Downton Abbey for a night. This sends to entire house buzzing with lots of excitement and chaos as they must prepare for the Royal visit. The Downton servants, including a returning Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), have to figure out how to get along peacefully with the pompous cooks, butlers, and lady's maids from the Royal staff, while the Crawleys must figure out what to wear. 
Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Brendan Coyle, Raquel Cassidy, Joanne Froggatt, Kevin Doyle, and Michael Fox stand to greet the queen in a movie still for the 2019 drama film Downton Abbey
"We can still put on a show." (Image Source)
I was a big fan of the "Downton Abbey" television series. I lapped it up for its lavish costumes, its drama, its inclusion of the magnificent Maggie Smith, and its escapism. It's so far removed from anything I know in my real life that I had a hard time not watching it. BigJ, on the other hand, had never seen a full episode before going into the film, so we will have two vastly different views about "Downton Abbey" (2019).

BigJ's perspective: I have a feeling most people who haven't seen the "Downton Abbey" TV series will bother to sit down and watch this movie, and that's probably a good thing. It has a large cast with a dozen or so characters who each have a massive history that I, an outside viewer, knew nothing about. That's a bad thing for a story like this where so much of the narrative is character-driven and their relationships and histories are so important. For the most part, I was lost about who people were and why should I care (even though Lolo tried to tell me who people were as she watched the show). For me, it was just a movie with a bunch of people in posh outfits who talk fancy, including a couple of elderly women who make snide-yet-witty comments at each other as they reference Machiavelli and Caligula while a bunch of servants fights over who will have ~*the honor~* of cooking dinner and serving food to the Royals. It's a bunch of "have nots" expressing endless gratitude towards the "haves" for the honor to be their servants, and how an entire community would die if it wasn't for this one wealthy family and their castle. It's "opulently rich white people problems: the movie" in a period-piece setting delivered with British accents. By the end, it was a reminder why I never watched the show in the first place. Even if I wasn't totally aware of who was who, I will admit, the acting is solid across the board. Maggie Smith is charming despite playing an "old money" proper English biddy, and her exchanges with the other lady whose name I don't remember (Isobel Merton) are the best parts of the movie. It is also a beautifully shot film, and all of the costumes are fantastic. 

Lolo's perspective: I am offended at the mere existence of the summary above mine. Kidding....well, I'm only half kidding. It's easy to write "Downton Abbey" off as "old, white, rich people problems." There's no denying there is some truth to that sentiment, but thinking about how the characters started and where they are now, I am amazed how far they have come throughout the show and the film. It might look like the "haves" versus the "have nots" to the untrained eye, but it's more than people serving dinners and taking in dresses for a rich family, I assure you.

"Downton Abbey" was nearly everything I hoped it would be as a fan of the series. Hearing the show's theme song as sweeping shots of Highclere Castle filled the screen set my heart aflutter. As corny as it sounds, I got teared up more than once. Watching this film felt like coming home to be greeted by people I had not seen in a very long time. It wrapped up a lot of loose ends that I wish the show had addressed. We get to find out if Branson (Allen Leech) might be able to find true love again after the death of Sybil several years ago. We get to see Barrow (Robert James-Collier) finally finding someone to talk to about his sexuality who doesn't shun him or want to have him arrested. Violet (Maggie Smith) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton) snipe back and forth from morning until night, but we never question their mutual respect for one another. We get to see Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) happily married and thriving with Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) and Marigold (Eva Samms), who Bertie loves as if she were his own. We get to see how Carson and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) have gotten on after he retired, but we also get to see Carson come back and help service the King and Queen of England, the highlight of any butler's career. Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) and Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) flirt a little, but not before Molesley makes a fool of himself in one way or another. We see how Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) has been running Downton Abbey with a forceful and fierce (but much more gentle) hand. These ladies who were once spoiled little brats (well, they still love a good ballgown) have grown up to become strong women who speak their minds and do things their way, 1927 be damned. The sumptuous garments, the dapper suits, the intrigue, the drama, arguing the need for a house like Downton with so much advancement taking place, the witty snickering, the backhanded banter, Branson's "Republican" views coming back to bite him...it's all there in its true grandiose form. Sure, all of the most dramatic moments are pretty silly and predictable (including the richies having to put up chairs in the rain--how ghastly!), but the script is solid, the acting is marvelous, and the cinematography is breathtaking. I had a heck of a good time feeling the nostalgia course through my veins one last time. I would have loved to see more of Cora and Robert together, and Anna and Bates and their child, and more of Mary and Henry (Matthew Goode), but there are only so many minutes for each character with a cast as large as this one. Hell, let's have a second movie, shall we? I'd totally be down for more!
Just be sure you jump into "Downton Abbey" knowing that it will benefit you to be aware of the extensive history of each character from the beginning. Watch the above "Downton Abbey recap" video, then watch the film to your heart's content!

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 5.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.9/10
RT Rating: 84%
Do we recommend this movie: Lolo says, "yes," but BigJ says, "if you like the show, see the movie."

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

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