Downton Abbey has been delighting worldwide television audiences for many years, with viewers fascinated by this fictional glimpse into a bygone era and way of life.
Realizing the continuing appeal, the filmmakers have created a feature length version, continuing the story of landed gentry born into wealth and privilege with their retinue of attendant servants.
The film commences with the delivery of a letter indicating the Grantham family should expect a royal visit. This understandably sets off a mixture of excitement and panic above and below stairs at Downton Abbey (Highclere House, Hampshire in real life).
The “Earl of Grantham – Robert Crawley” (Hugh Bonneville) with British stiff upper lip firmly in place, must do everything possible to make the visit a roaring success.
Crawley is aided by his wife “Cora” (Elizabeth McGovern), two daughters (Michelle Dockery), (Laura Carmichael), elderly mother (Maggie Smith) and a small army of servants. Downton Abbey is set to put on a show worthy of the King and Queen of England.
However, once everyone is back at their station in life, due to acting head butler “Barrow” (Robert James-Collier) not being up to snuff, we are set for another episode, albeit extended to feature length.
One of the attractions of the series was not much happened, drama could be created if the incorrect cutlery was used for the fish course. Usually no one died, unless that particular actor wanted to leave the series.
Social climbing and rigid etiquette represented the only source of violence, a technique Maggie Smith elevated to an art form, with her infamous withering looks and exquisite put downs.
As a film requires some semblance of a plot, the screenplay centres on a revolt in the kitchen following the arrival of the Royal household staff, including a French chef straight out of central casting.
The film attempts to inject additional drama by introducing further sub plots to add a hint of modern relevance. These distractions do not always work and appear somewhat contrived to add a touch of spice to the main story.
On occasion the screenplay flirts dangerously close to “Carry On” caricature, arguably losing some of the gravitas enjoyed in the TV series. Like most television transitions to the big screen, what worked in an episode is stretched gossamer thin over two hours.
Whilst all the actors are present and correct, most get short changed with a line or two their only contribution. Overall a tighter script and more believable screenplay might have helped all involved, with poor “Mr Molesley” (Kevin Doyle) suffering the worst indignities.
Neither as good nor bad as you might expect.
The period costumes, locations and familiar characters, provides undemanding entertainment for viewers who never wanted the series to end.