Ever since the sixth season of Downton Abbey wrapped at the end of 2015, there has been speculation of it making a comeback. In 2019 we finally return to the Downton Estate for another instalment, this time as a feature film.
Nothing much has changed, and we pick up right where we left the Crawley family, their servants and house staff. All the main recurring cast are back and given relatively equal parts to play in this new story. Some characters feel a little bit forcibly inserted such as Head Butler Carson played by Jim Carter, who had a satisfying end to his story arc as the series wrapped, who is now back with some conveniently written, yet unnecessary plot points. Others are essential such as Dame Maggie Smith who plays Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, the matriarch of the family with her trademark grace and elegance contrasted with burning comedic comebacks.
As with the television series, the film also has fact and fiction collide when fictional Downton Estate is chosen to host King George V and Queen Mary of England as they pass through the area on a royal tour, in 1927. The families are connected as it is revealed that the Queen’s maid is actually the cousin of Hugh Bonneville‘s character, Robert Crawley.
For those familiar with the original show, the main theme that continues in the film counterpart is the conflict and tension between aristocracy and the staff whose servitude keeps them kept. The relevance of this lavish lifestyle was questioned heavily in the shows closing episodes and remains an issue of contention here.
This film will ultimately delight anyone familiar with the show. It is a light story that takes little risks and is exactly what you would expect from a continuation of the show. The film is identical in pace and tone, with slightly elevated cinematography and production values. I left the cinema not questioning the need for this new instalment, but just if it was necessary on the big screen. The same story would no doubt have felt more comfortable and would have received the same reception as a special one off episode or mini-series.
Downton Abbey’s big screen debut is like reuniting with a warm hug from an old friend, however, you and the friend have drifted apart over the years, have moved on with your lives, and the re-connection leaves you wondering if there is enough depth there to rekindle the friendship.
Sometimes it is better to walk away on good terms, and not look back.