Class act built on royal visit

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

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.

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