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.

Guest Blogger: Jaima Fixsen

Seen It, Done It, Reviewed It: The Blog is participating in the Indie Lights Book Parade throughout the month of February. A parade of talented authors will share excerpts from their stories, provide writing and marketing tips, and answer questions about their work. Today’s guest blogger is novelist Jaima Fixsen, author of the historical romance Incognita, the sequel to Fairchild. The author provides a story synopsis and a letter written by one of the book’s characters.

Incognita and Fairchild

Jilted and faced with returning to the battlefields of Spain, Captain Alistair Beaumaris is quite sure his life can’t get any worse. Then he mistakes a perfectly respectable widow for a female of a much more interesting variety, and discovers he was wrong—on both counts. 

Incognita is the second book in the Fairchild series, which chronicles an aristocratic family in Regency England. The first book, Fairchild, tells the story of Sophy, Lord Fairchild’s illegitimate daughter, who must carve her way through a world that has no place for her. Incognita, the second book, follows Sophy’s rejected suitor, a Captain in the British army during the peninsular war: his unconventional love story and the complex web of relationships in the Fairchild family.

Here’s letter from the conflicted and lonely Lady Fairchild, not included in the novel, that she writes (but is too proud to send!) to Sophy, her estranged step-daughter, in the midst of Alistair’s troubles.

From the correspondence of Lady Fairchild

Incognita by Jaima Fixsen

Incognita by Jaima Fixsen

Dear Sophy, 

I’ve written you so many letters I can hardly close my desk—they slide over each other, ramming against the top of the drawer—but I never send them so they sit here, getting battered about the corners. I’ve started even more that I can’t finish, and they end up in the fire. 

It shouldn’t be this hard. What I want to say is, I’m sorry. For not loving you from the first, when you lost your mother and came to my home, and then, when you became like a daughter to me, for not loving you well. I should have listened, when you told me you loved Tom and couldn’t marry Alistair. I just wanted to keep you close and see you settled happily. Alistair seemed the best chance for both. 

Now I’m less certain. He was broken hearted for a week or two, but now he’s tangled up with a Widow with Problems. I don’t see it ending well at all. He feels though, more than you think. It’s a sad tangle. 

Are you happy with Tom? Is he good to you? It’s hard, imagining you married to a stranger. I wish I knew how you are faring, that I’d listened, and held your hand as you drove to church for your wedding. The chance for that is gone, but if I could convince you that I only ever had your best interests at heart…I’d like to see you, in your home, with your new husband. I’d like to be your friend, if you will let me. I’m not good at apologies, or at starting over, but I want to try. 

Is Tom kind? Does he smile at you and tell you to stay off high-tempered horses? I hope you listen. You’ve had enough scrapes of that kind. 

London is empty with you gone. I miss you. 

With affection,


Learn more about Incognita:


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