Cert PG 122mins Stars 4
Rolling out the red carpet for it’s big screen debut, the award winning TV period drama serves up a sumptuous and satisfying banquet of intrigue, scandal, humour and heartache.
Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern return as the owners of Downton, the Earl and Countess of Grantham. Along with the rest of the cast they’re so well practiced in their roles we’re plunged straight into the story before we’re even re-introduced to their characters.
The arrival of royal guests, King George V and Queen Mary causes huge excitement upstairs and downstairs, and kickstarts events which will have repercussions for the household.
Not everyone is thrilled and Daisy the cook isn’t shy in voicing her republican views, while also handling the attentions of a local handyman and dealing with her possessive fiancé.
Carson the butler is tempted out of retirement for the occasion as it wouldn’t be the same without him, and your favourite characters are each given their moment to shine.
Newcomer Imelda Staunton plays Lady Bagshaw and provides a terrific adversary for Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, even as Smith indulges her habitual sparring with Penelope Wilton’s Baroness. As well as being given plenty of her famously withering put-downs, Smith also delivers an emotional speech which won’t leave a dry eye in the house, and screenwriter Julian Fellowes clearly delights in writing for her.
However his belt and braces approach for everyone else means we’re rarley unsure of what anyone is thinking, yet that’s probably just as well considering he crams in a series worth of subplots.
It’s set in 1927, a year after the General Strike, and insurgency is still very much in the air with the social institutions facing more than one challenge.
Plus there’s romance, a pregnancy, a disputed inheritance, a storm, sabotage, thefts, arrests, attempted murder, and an arrogant French chef.
Having previously directed some of series six and the two hour Christmas TV finale which wrapped up the TV series in 2015, Michael Engler returns with a sure hand, respect for the show and a determination to make this the most sparkling Downton yet.
Standing on the strong foundations of the series’ success, the filmmakers sensibly resist the temptation to do anything other than build on their established crowd-pleasing formula.
Crucially it’s filmed once again in the majestic Highclere Castle, which stands in for the Downton Abbey estate, where the bulk of the action sensibly takes place. So there’s no trying to spice up the formula by carting the cast off to a different location, as used to happen with movie spin-offs of British TV series, such as Are You Being Served? which saw the staff of the Grace Brothers department store packed off to Spain. Mind you, it might be fun seeing Lady Mary experience the pleasures of a popular Edwardian resort such as Blackpool. Maybe in the next film.
Of course there’s a great deal of heady nostalgia for a bygone age and is unashamedly supportive of the aristocracy. However it’s also forward looking in it’s sympathetic treatment of gay characters, its celebration of the strength of women, and its salute to the ambition of the self-employed working class.
Offering a unified, cosy and tolerant respite from the world, Downton presents an idealised vision of Britain, a green and pleasant land, which – the occasional bad apple aside – is full of fundamentally decent, kind and honest folk who do their best to rub along in the face of life’s challenges and stand steadfast in adversity.
And as such it’s a hugely reassuring slice of comfort cinema which will amuse, charm and entertain the most casual of viewers such as myself, while longtime fans will absolutely love it and should book their own state visit to Downton straight away.