Downton Abbey (2019)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on October 4, 2019 @ tonymacklin.net.

Downton Abbey is the feel-good movie of the year.

That's both its strength and its limitation. At times, the film sacrifices credibility to give the audience what it wants and what it appreciates.

Every single major relationship in the film works out. That's hardly the real world - but it's the reel world.

Fortunately, Julian Fellowes, who created Downton Abbey as a television series for the BBC that appeared on PBS in the USA, still is the writer. He knows his characters, and realizes how far he should push them.

He also knows his audience, but is willing to challenge them a little. The film is rated PG, but one setting is a gay underground club, and two men kiss. We have come a ways. Remember when the Legion of Decency condemned The Moon is Blue (1953), because it had the word "virgin" in it?

But loyal audiences basically trust Downton Abbey. It has the warmth of familiarity.

Most of the characters don't change much. Perhaps the one who changes the most is Daisy (Sophie McShera), who has become more confident and willful. Barrow (Robert James-Collier), who once was almost villainous, is now the most vulnerable character in the film.

But most of the character are tried and true.

Tom Branson (Allen Leech) is more focal then in the past, and he is a major asset to the film.

Obviously, viewers want to hear the lines Fellowes has written for Violet Crawley and they want to see Maggie Smith speak them.

Fellowes still writes pungent lines for Maggie Smith, but none as classic as when Violet once asked, "What's a weekend?"

Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton) is the smart friend and foil of many of Violet's observations.

Violet says, "Will you have enough clich‚s to get you through the visit?" And she remarks, "To you she looks miserable. To me she looks dignified." And, of course, she says, "I am an expert in every manner." And, "I'm glad I'm a revelation and not a disappointment."

In the television series, Violet was haughty but seldom if ever petty, but in the movie Fellowes sometimes makes her petty. It's primarily a set-up, but it's an unlikely trait.

Her pettiness is over Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton). I'll bet you a tuppence you can guess what her history will be. It's not one of Fellowes' freshest moments.

The crux of Downton Abbey is that the King (Simon Jones) and Queen (Geraldine James) are coming for one night's stay. The Royals' staff take over all the Crawley's staff's duties and dismiss them with near-scorn. The King's chef (Philippe Spall) is a doofus, and the rest of the staff have dour expressions.

But have no fear, the Crawleys' staff is up to the challenge.

As Violet says near the end, "We'll live on. Hurrah."

It's a fitting exclamation.

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