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Downton Abbey


‘…the whole film is a calculated act of posho todying…’

With the latest cinematic iteration of Downton Abbey due to finally hit cinemas like an old bat out of hell next week, it felt like the time was right to exhume the first feature film spin-off from the hit tv show. The takeaway for novices is that this less of a movie than a television special, aimed at raking in the grey pound for thoughtlessly gifted Xmas DVD’s to fill the shelves of tomorrow’s charity shops.

The plot is; Downton Abbey receives a royal visit. And that’s your lot for plot. Creator Julian Fellowes has made no effort whatsoever to broaden the programme’s substantial nostalgic appeal; if you’re not a fan of the series, it’s taken as read that you already know everyone involved, so no new audience seems possible or welcome. The only thing that’s proper big-screen here, in an Upstairs Downstairs-lite battle of the geezer Downton regulars with the posho royal staff, is star Maggie Smith, who takes every opportunity to wring every ounce of wit out of Violet Crawley, master of the bon mot.

Crawley features in one of a number of plot-lines converging on a royal visit, with a touch of Gosford Park-style intrigue, some contrived confusions, and a ball that drags the story on for one hurdle too many. Creator Julian Fellowes, aka Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, to give him his full title, indulges himself with a few personal sub-plots; there’s a plea for gay rights which fell flat with the elderly audience I saw this with on the opening day, who tutt-ed and murmured disapproval at a man-on-man kiss.

It felt like Fellowes had misjudged his audience in this instance, yet it’s one of the few moments where any kind of drama surfaces. Fellowes clearly wants to make fun of people todying to the monarchy, yet the whole film is a calculated act of posho todying. Equally, he wants to point out how he believes that the Establishment sidelines homosexuals, and yet his writing is similarly in thrall. It’s a permanent contradication in Fellowes’ writing that, Gosford Park aside, has generally kept him in television and out of cinemas. Downton Abbey is a well-upholstered, well-cast and reasonably mild way to spend an afternoon in the cinema with elderly relatives, but it’s no reason for non-adherents to take a look, and despite the New Era title, the sequel doesn’t promise much will have changed.


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    • I walked him back from GFT to Malmaison, with a few diversions around Blythswood Square; he’s certainly interested in history and culture, and that’s what you get from a night on the town with me. I’m still grateful to you for getting me safely home after the Linklater night at Drygate, was too drunk to drink when I got home, and I think that’s the last time I had such excess in public…

    • It’s no plotting masterclass, but then again, it’s not even trying to be one; just lots of nice little details…

  1. You’re entirely right – this is one for the faithful. I am one of the faithful, and thus enjoyed it immensely, not for its own merit, but just to see these characters again and on the big screen.

    I have to say I was disappointed by the end of the TV series (though what TV series doesn’t have a disappointing ending?!). I felt that the whole series, from day one, was about the constantly changing world and how the society that made the class system that enabled estates like Downton Abbey to run was crumbling. Every plot line was ultimately pointed to the fact that the Crawley family would lose D.A. and have to find a new life (they couldn’t afford it anymore…)

    That was the only ending that made sense, and could have been beautifully bittersweet, but Fellowes was ultimately unable or unwilling to pull that trigger (possibly because it would have made sequels and movies like this one impossible). I enjoyed this film, and will be there for the next one, but I would trade them in a heartbeat for the series to have ended leaving everything out on the field.

    • I hear you, and there’s no argument about whether Fellowes knows his stuff; he does. I gave him a late-night tour of Glasgow once, having the rsponsibility to walk him back to his hotel. He loves this period, and this set-up, and I think it’s his genuine passion that makes this show fly. But it’s interesting to hear from an insider like yourself that he’s never quite tied things off, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to do so now. I’m glad to hear that this film works for fans, but to passers by, it’s Gosford Park withoiut the murder…

  2. 3 posts today? Now who is toadying to the posho crowd eh? Yes, that would be…..
    * epic drum roll *

    YOU! in the library, with the wrench, AT MIDNIGHT! Consider yourself under arrest….

    • She probably remembers when you were still calling yourself Queen Victoria. But yes, that’s why I chose the image. Could you do a glowering quiz?

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