Downton Abbey Movie Review

Downton Abbey movie poster

Oodles of handsome gay men and odd assassination plots may not be what you expect from Downton Abbey, but the movie offers up stories and subplots for everyone, leaving no rock unturned. The movie adaptation/continuation that no one was really asking for but that any fan of the show likely doesn’t mind is a largely enjoyable affair that largely captures the magic of the show, even if tries a bit too hard to give every character something to do.

It certainly helps but isn’t required to have watched the show—myself, I watched three seasons before finally losing interest—as director Michael Engler and show creator Julian Fellowes immediately dives into the plot at hand: the King and Queen are coming to Downton, and everything has to be perfect.

Of course, if everything went splendidly we wouldn’t have much of a movie, and in true Downton Abbey fashion, the film is able to evoke melodrama from even the slightest of problems, relying on the tried and true characters and the actors behind them to express a sense of urgency and immediacy.

It’s here, just as in the show, that the movie thrives, creating tension, developing characters, and finding humor in the little things—and the absurdity of classist Britain.

Of the dozens of characters, it’s no surprise that Maggie Smith chews scenery left and right, her banter with Penelope Wilton and just about everyone else she clashes with a highlight. But the rest of the cast is game for whatever is handed to them, no matter how silly the plot is.

Where Downton Abbey struggles is the bigger stuff, as if a plot revolving around the arrival of the King and Queen isn’t enough. There is an absolutely terrible assassination subplot that is wrapped up as quickly as it emerges—it’s truly shocking how bad and stupid this stretch is—and while amusing, the whole Downton servant mutiny stuff feels a bit beneath the show, though perhaps not as much as I think. Other characters are given big news (new romances! Pregnancy!) that really deserved a multi-episode arc, not a few quick scenes intended to check the boxes and move onto the next thing.

It isn’t a great movie, but it’s a reliable, epic episode of Downton Abbey befitting of the big screen, at least as much as Downton Abbey deserves the big screen. This is a movie made for fans, but even if you aren’t—even if you didn’t spend years watching these characters evolve and grow—there is enough here to elicit a few laughs and a sense that the filmmakers were expecting you.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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