Downton Abbey – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

After watching nearly 30 minutes of the Downton Abbey staff go into a cleaning, polishing, and food-planning frenzy in anticipation of a royal visit, this period piece pulls the metaphorical imported rug out from under us.

Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery star in the movie version of Downton Abbey. Photo copyright 2019 Focus Features.

What begins as a rather stuffy beginning that introduces the inner-workings of the estate and the central and supporting characters shifts into an entertaining combination of interconnected stories about the devoted servants and high-falutin residents of Downton Abbey (based on the famous Crawley family from the PBS television series of the same name.)

Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

So once the first quarter of the film establishes who (the Crawley family and their extensive staff), what (dinner, dance, and parade for the royal family), when (1927), where (Downton Abbey, of course), and why (why not?), the final three quarters of the film tells us how (with considerable planning, preparation, work, and subterfuge). And how the Crawleys and their staff navigate the visit from Queen Mary (Geraldine James) and King George V (Simon Jones) proves to be enormous fun—even for those unfamiliar with the television series.

Under the sarcastic command of Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, (Maggie Smith) and her tough granddaughter, Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), servants scurry and family members (for the most part) tow the line to keep the two women happy. The problem is with so many people living, working, and visiting one enormous estate, something will always go wrong—a comical state of affairs that rattles the characters, but should delight most audience members.

Stellar Production Values

The chuckles keep coming throughout the film, as do the unexpected plot developments. The costumes (by Anna Mary Scott Robbins) are exquisite, the acting terrific, and the cinematography (by Ben Smithard) an artistic blend of establishing longshots, tight close-ups, and everything in between. Downton Abbey is an immersive film that sweeps viewers back to the past and into the opulent estate where titles, positions, and roles must always be maintained—except when they aren’t.

Downton Abbey

Based on the popular PBS television series of the same name, this film looks at before, during, and after a royal visit to the family estate in the English countryside in the early 20th century.

  • Stars: Matthew Goode, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Tuppence Middleton, Elizabeth McGovern, Allen Leech, Joanne Froggatt, Laura Carmichael, Imelda Staunton
  • Director: Michael Engler
  • Writer: Julian Fellowes
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run Time: 122 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and language)
  • Click here to watch the trailer.

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

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