One of the questions that will no doubt be asked this weekend with the release of Downton Abbey in film form is: “Can I watch this without having seen the show and follow it ok?” Yes, you can. In fact, it’s much easier than you may have anticipated such straightforwardness of the film that anyone not familiar will catch-up just enough to make the viewing experience generally enjoyable. The UK television version of the MCU, given the sheer amount of characters to juggle, Downton Abbey has been wildly successful in show form but does it translate to the demands of the big-screen?
The difficulties in bringing an episodic show of any ilk to the big screen are endless, but the biggest of all is that such is the structure of a show in its television form that it’s hard to translate, unless said episodes and show already feel very much like a film. Many rumours over the years have circulated of a Friends big-screen outing, a 24 film and plenty more in between but such is the conundrum they present that many have languished unmade.
Downton, a different beast altogether, allows itself to be stretched over a two-hour movie given the few specials that have been and thus, the leap isn’t too big and for the most part, this is just an extension of that. Here, it’s the King and Queen’s visit that sends a ruckus through the plush household and while it may have worked rather well for an extended hour or so show, a two-hour film doesn’t quite sustain itself even though there’s much to enjoy.
Written once more by creator Julian Fellowes (he of Gosford Park Oscar fame, from which the seeds of Downton grew), the film version is both connected to the show and removed all at the same time: love the show and want to know what happens next, you’re catered for; never seen it, you’ll follow along just fine. It’s a sumptuous, indulgent, over the top affair from the very first frame, all about that upper class life and, for the most part, all the action above the basement is flat and staid – bar the superb Maggie Smith and her razor tongue – but below is where the action really is, with Jim Carter, Sophie McShera and Lesley Nicol – amongst others – absolutely electric.
While it doesn’t break its stride or momentum built up from the shows run, there’s much to enjoy from Downton Abbey at the movies and it will win more new fans than alienate older ones. It’s as indulgent as the dazzling foods on show at the many banquets and while much is over stuffy, there’s a drollness and wit that keeps everything moving along as smoothly as if Carson himself had written it. More Christmas special than film, though.
Scott J.Davies | [rating=3]
Drama | 2019, UK | PG | 13th September 2019 (UK) | Universal Pictures | Dir.Michael Engler | Matthew Goode, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Hugh Boneville, Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter