Class act built on royal visit
Thirteen years’ worth of romance, tragedy and scandal … that’s an awful lot of loose ends to tie up. But Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes interweaves the multiple plot strands with such dexterity, you can barely see the knots.
Set two years after the events in the final series Fellowes’ post-Edwardian soap opera, the movie ups the ante with a royal visit — by King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James).
The old system might be
crumbling under the weight of a rising middle class, as well as the changes brought about by the suffragette movement, but nothing affirms one’s aristocratic entitlement like a personal encounter with a reigning monarch. A similarly renewed purpose can be detected downstairs, where even rebellious assistant cook Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) comes to understand the knock-on effect for the local village of the privilege bestowed on the Crawley family.
While it’s the servants’ job to ensure everything goes without a hitch in the opulent upper echelons of the country estate, all hell breaks loose in their own quarters as the haughty royal staff ride rough shod over Downton’s established practices and routines. Even Carson (Jim Carter), who is summoned back, willingly, from retirement by the besieged Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), is no match for the royal butler (David Haig).
Working quietly behind the scenes, it’s the outwardly unassuming lady’s maid, Anna Bates, (Joanne Froggatt) who orchestrates a successful kitchen coup. While the King and Queen exemplify good breeding, it’s necessary to teach their upstart employees a few manners.
Adding a combustible element to the equation is Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) — Queen Mary’s lady-in-waiting and Robert Crawley’s (Hugh Bonneville) cousin. Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), the formidable Dowager Countess, has Maude in her crosshairs due to a disagreement over how the widow intends to bequeath her substantial inheritance.
A royal assassination plot, a speak-easy for closeted homosexual men and an impulsive act of boiler-room sabotage add drama to a narrative that already has access to plenty of past baggage.
If ever a TV series deserved the big screen treatment it’s this one — the movie’s heightened production values do full justice to the costumes, carpets and corridors of the magnificent York estate
Fans, whose experience is enriched by six series worth of backstories, will not be disappointed.
For the rest of us, this conservative English melodrama amounts to a handsome and thoroughly persuasive argument for the revival of the Republican movement.
DOWNTON ABBEY IS NOW SHOWING ( OPENS SEPTEMBER 12).
A visit by King George V to the Crawley family’s estate is the catalyst for Downton Abbey the movie.