Watching the glorious movie version of Downton Abbey on the big screen is just like being welcomed back home to old (rather grand) friends who we have missed . Of course we are not the visitors that Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville & Elizabeth McGovern) are expecting as they have just received a missive from Buckingham Palace telling them that the King and Queen have invited themselves to Downton for a Royal Visit.
It’s a total entertaining storyline that is a great excuse for everyone Upstairs and Downstairs to get into a real pickle about this great honour that had been thrust upon the. More so for Downstairs when they get an advance visit from the King’s Butler (David Haig) and his staff who insist that they will take over the complete running of the House during the Royal Visit.
It’s great to be reunited with all the old characters (and several new ones) in this two hour period dramedy but most of the credit for his success belongs to the two perpetual scene-stealers who are responsible for making a good movie great. There is Downton Abbey and the surrounding Yorkshire countryside which is looks even more magnificent on the big screen, and of course the Dowager Lady Grantham herself. It’s not just the mere fact that they gave her nearly all the best lines in the film, but the fact that in playing her the formidable Dame Maggie Smith knows exactly how to land every acerbic comment so it stings and has the audience roaring with laughter , and with such hallowed respect.
It his her performance in particular that has made Downton Abbey the series such a must see for nearly the entire LGBTQ commmunity. and creator Julian Fellowes has rewarded us by finally having Barrow the closeted Butler (played by an increasingly handsome Robert James-Collier) being kissed by Richard Ellis (Max Brown) a member of The Royal Household. It is a touching scene beautifully done.
The Crawleys (Lord Grantham’s family name) may be a mythical family but many of the other aristocrats in the film are based on real historical figures and facts. Geraldine James was pitch perfect as Queen Mary , and the scenes with her only daughter Princess Mary (Kate Phillips) were actually filmed at Harewood House where she (allegedly unhappily) lived with her older husband Henry Lascelles (Andrew Havill) who would later succeed to the title Lord Harewood.
The other main new character was the Queen’s Lady in Waiting Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton who in real live is marred to Jim Carter who plays Carson the Butler). She is related to the Crawleys although had been estranged from the family for years , and for reasons we cannot disclose becomes the Dowager’s sparring partner.
It is a very large cast and Fellowes generously tries to ensure that all of them have at least one moment in the spotlight, but it means that there is not that much time left to follow through too deeply on secondary plot lines. Fellowes starts things off like Barrow’s kiss and Tom Branson’s (Allen Leech) new infatuation and then leaves us hanging. Does he really mean to do a sequel? And if The Dowager is by chance no longer with us , will it be worth seeing?
Downtown may not be Oscar material (!) but it is by far the best feel-good movie of the year so far. You don’t have to have seen the TV series before, but it does make the whole film so much more enjoyable if you have,