Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)

Baron Fellowes of West Stafford stretches not a single muscle in pumping out more of the same in the tiresomely dull Downton Abbey the movie

“I want everything to stop being a struggle”

To crib the tagline of a certain jukebox musical (here we go again…) you already know whether you’re a fan of Downton Abbey the movie. By any stretch of the imagination, it is just an extension of the TV series and so is guaranteed to maintain that same level of comfort that you have always got from the Granthams et al, whether that’s good or bad.

For me, it means a thoroughly unchallenging film and one which proves increasingly dull. (For reference, I’ve only ever seen (some of) the Christmas Day episodes as my parents are fans.) The hook of the film is that it is now 1927 and King George V and Queen Mary are coming to stay for the evening and heavens to Betsy, we’re all of a dither.

So a series of events come to pass, all loosely linked to the Royal coming, but I hesitate to describe them as a plot as Julian Fellowes’ screenplay treats them as ludicrously inconsequential morsels, over and done with in 15 minutes or so. An assassination event? Over before you know it. Gay men arrested for consorting? Sorted in a jiffy. Catching a thief in the household? The work of minutes. This bitty approach demands so little of its viewers and displays precious little skill from a writer who can do much better

Part of Fellowes’ issue is that he has a massive ensemble to deal with and little sense of how to streamline six series’ worth of cast into a single film’s worth of narrative. So major players such as Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern’s Lord and Lady Grantham do naff all from the sidelines and those that do get lines are forced to recite Baron Fellowes of West Stafford’s cringeworthy love letters to the essential role of the aristocracy in all our lives. Nothing surprises, nothing inspires, even delivering Dame Maggie her requisite handful of one-liners feels same-old same-old, and the late detour into would-be weepy territory is painfully calculated. 

More crucially for me, the dialogue he presumes between upstairs and downstairs rings as false as it ever has. And the detour into the undercover gay scene in York is laughably offensive in its every misguided step. Plus the list of underused talent is huge – Penelope Wilton, Susan Lynch, Geraldine James, even the established players Brendan Coyle and Michelle Dockery… So it’s hard to see what people get from watching – more of the same, except there’s less of everybody.

Downtown Abbey is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 27th January 2020
Photos: Jaap Buitendijk

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