I was entranced by the Downton Abbey series on Public Television. The setting, the costuming and above all, the acting, were superb. Following an English family of nobility and the servants who support them, before, during and after WW I, was fascinating – not only due to the social interactions, but also the effects of the war on the class strata. The affection, not only in the upstairs and downstairs groups but also, with reserve, between the groups, was lovely to see.
The movie takes us back to Downton Abbey with a storyline based on the upcoming overnight visit of the King and Queen to the house, during one of their tours of the countryside. This prospect sends both upstairs and downstairs into a tizzy. In a draw on reality, King George and Queen Mary actually did visit Highclere Castle, which doubles as Downton.
There are actually several storylines all skillfully juggled. Lady Mary, daughter of Lord and Lady Crawley, has taken charge of much of the running of the estate from her father, and she wonders – as the owners of such huge, costly places still do – whether their ownership of the castle and estate can continue in the face of the economy. Branson, Lord Crawley’s Irish son-in-law, is drawn into an assassin’s plot to kill the King. The dowager Lady Crawley, played wondrously by Maggie Smith (she steals every scene) is concerned that her son, Lord Crawley, will not be the heir of a cousin’s considerable estate, despite being the only living male relative. The repartee when she is present sparkles.
“I know several couples who are perfectly happy. Haven’t spoken in years.”
And downstairs, Carson, the newly married and just retired butler, is called out of retirement to direct the servants. He not so reluctantly (he looks like a cat with a mouthful of bird) displaces Barrow, the footman who worked his way up to that position. But just as soon as Carson has established an orderly schedule of preparation, the servants from Buckingham Palace arrive, sweeping in to take over everything with royal arrogance. Even Mrs. Patmore, the Abbey’s wonderful cook, is displaced by a haughty French chef. But never underestimate how the Abbey servants can resolve the situation!
Other subplots: The lonely daughter of the King and Queen is considering a scandalous divorce; a rakish stranger initiates Barrow, who we know is gay, into the nascent homosexual underground of the time; and Daisy, Mrs. Patmore’s assistant, has to deal with a jealous fiancé, one of the footmen.
The movie was like a dinner with old friends – interesting, fun, comfortable. The scenery, the acting and the lush costuming added to the enjoyment. And there is a happy ending.
If you are a fan of the series, you will not be disappointed with the movie. I wish it had lasted for hours! Here’s hoping for another movie, and a long, long life for Maggie Smith.