Downton Abbey Review – An Elaborate Film with Impeccable Performances

Believe it or not, a clown with an appetite for children is not the most frightening figure in cinema’s right now.

Quite the opposite.

Pennywise would sooner retreat to a sewer than face the unamused curl of an eyebrow of this imposing figure. Someone who makes lesser folk cower beneath their top-hats and could make Miranda Priestly quake in her Louboutins. This figures intolerance for nonsense cuts deep and is matched only by her unmasked elegance; a trait so deep within her veins that it is masked underneath luxurious finery.

The unlikeliest of badasses, Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, portrayed by Professor McGonagall herself Dame Maggie Smith, is reason enough to grace a screening of the surprisingly electric adaptation of the hit British period drama, Downton Abbey.

Where the idea of unpolished silverware is preposterous, fields of lush green manicured lawns are plentiful, and the servants demonstrate the most exquisite posture, Downton Abbey offers a welcomed escapism to royalists everywhere. A fantasy realized on the big screen with enough enthralling scandal to keep viewers – both fans and non-fans – gasping throughout its two-hour length.

It is important to preface this review comes from the eyes of someone who has never gazed into the immaculate confines of the Downton Abbey. Keeping up with the Earls of Grantham, it takes a big event to reunite the inhabitants of Downton Abbey (run by Hugh Bonneville’s dog-loving Earl of Grantham). And no grander of an occasion for an Abbot than to host a visit from King George V and Queen Mary. It is gorgeously indulgent, unashamedly ostentatious, yet surprisingly accessible despite its grand premise. 

The shenanigans that ensue behind the scenes in preparation for the royals visit is where Downton Abbey finds its charm. The mounting pressure from the royal visit becomes overwhelming for the inhabitants, with the difficulty being exacerbated further by economic hardships brought about by war. The resulting pressure cooker of emotions unearths secrets and strained feelings from individuals who struggle to remain composed; their efforts to keep-it-together drawing some solid laughs due to the ensuing buffoonery. 

Downton Abbey is a series whose grandeur is both a detractor and a strength. Its elaborate tang will be an acquired taste, like an expensive perfume with a pungent aroma. The only folks more detailed than Michael Engler’s direction are the servants who leave no bed without creases in their dedicated pursuit of excellence. The servants perform their work with a stern sense of pride, as though their contributions were emblematic of their houses greatness. 

There is a case to be made about how discussion regarding a growing anti-monarchist movement paralleling to a modern-day Britain dealing with Brexit. A case that would better suit an entire article. Subclass governs subclass in a subplot that looks at moral decay with the presence of power given to those otherwise powerless. Downton Abbey makes these sweeping statements known sporadically, braking and accelerating throughout the course of the film to avoid over-whisking the batter. 

Downton Abbey is the sassiest place in the UK with dialogue, let alone most of the humour, drawing from subdued exchanges and shutdowns that allow the zingers to marinate on the faces of the receiver. The cast have mastered the art of politeness dipped in vitriol. A feat achieved courtesy of the well-seasoned troupe of actors who portray occupants of the establishment and staff who cater to the upper echelon’s every whim. 

Downton Abbey moves at a choppy pace that seldom sees the film focus on one set of characters for longer than a few minutes. As though long-time series collaborator Engler were briskly flicking through the chapters of a hardcover book (or worse, repurposed an arc for a series into a two-hour film). There is a distinct, almost deceptive, sense of profound mundanity to the film. One that will register as earnt by fans of the series yet render as trivial for those looking upon Downton Abbey with virgin eyes. Its desire to cast this wide of a net for such a succinct length does leave certain elements of the film, such as stories pertaining to human rights, not enough time for the viewer to digest.

Firmly after the grey dollar, it is a bold move by Downton Abbey to brave a theatrical release considering the era of the streaming revival we find ourselves within. A move that given the stunningly elaborate nature of the film coupled by impeccable performances opens the door of the Abbey to more than just fans of the series.

Director: Michael Engler

Cast: Matthew Goode, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery

Writer: Julian Fellowes, (based on characters by Julian Fellowes)

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