The Crawley family and those who work for them debut on the big screen in Downton Abbey, based on the ITV Sunday night series.
Set in a couple of years after the series ended, the inhabitants of Downton are all a flutter with the news the King and Queen are to visit the house during a tour of Yorkshire.
Preparations begin apace both upstairs and down as everyone prepares for the big arrival, that is until members of the royal household arrive to throw a spanner in the works – much to the chagrin of those working below stairs.
Meanwhile, for the Crawley family the biggest issue seems to be whether Edith’s new ball dress will arrive in time.
There’s a lot going on for the first 60 minutes or so and it feels like scenes and storylines aren’t given enough time to breathe. Certain scenes are a few lines long before the film cuts and gallops on to the next. That became somewhat jarring after a while, fans of Downton are used to plotlines playing out over several episodes, not several minutes.
One of the interesting things about the film is that it focuses on some of the characters who didn’t always get the spotlight in the series. Allen Leech’s Tom Branson appears to be the star of this show, with two separate stories; footman-turned-butler Thomas Barrow gets his own story; but as they rise others feel like they’re just there to make up the numbers, in particular Robert and Cora (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern), and John Bates (Brendan Coyle). Matthew Goode’s Henry Talbot doesn’t even turn up until the last 15 minutes.
Instead, writer Julian Fellowes introduces an unhappily-married Princess Mary, the somewhat shady Major Chetwode and distant Crawley relation Lady Maude Bagshaw, whose story is the only one that really felt part of the film. It’s as though these new characters were introduced at the detriment of those that viewers have spent six series getting to know.
Luckily, whenever the film felt a bit stuffy, Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess offers one of her trademark spiky bon mot. But even they felt a bit forces at times, as though Fellowes well telling the audience “you can laugh now.”
The film really only finds it feet in the final three scenes, but that’s all I’m going to say as I don’t want to spoil it.
The TV series of Downton Abbey was like a hot chocolate under a blanket on a rainy autumn night. Unfortunately the film feels like the chocolate’s gone a bit cold.