I’ve never watched Downton Abbey. There I’ve said it. I’m sure I’m not alone. The TV series ran for six years and by all accounts was very popular and very good. I missed it completely and never sought to catch up. But now the series comes to the big screen and doing, what I do, I had to go watch it. I was not perturbed by the prospect. I do like a good costume drama like the next person and the cast is top notch. What could go wrong? It turns out, absolutely nothing. The screening I was in clearly had fans of the TV show and judging by the whoops and laughter - it hit the right notes.
Does one have to have seen the TV series to see the film? No. The tropes here are well worn and within a few minutes I knew who everyone was and their role in the drama. For me though, absolutely nothing happens in the film. But said nothing happens in a sumptuous, gorgeous setting with all involved at the top of their game.
The film involves a royal visit to Downton — yes, that’s it, that’s the plot — with a few little sidebars involving Edith (Laura Carmichael) pouting about something, Daisy (Sophie McShera) up in arms about something, Tom (Allen Leech) trying to find his place in Downton’s world, etc. etc. Meanwhile, the upstairs people complain about how very, very exhausted they all are (these are folk, mind you, who literally don’t have to dress themselves), and the downstairs people blather on about Downton’s glory.
Fellowes’ great strength: he creates characters that we care about. There’s a scene involving the Dowager (Mggie Smith) and Mary (Michelle Dockery), late in the film, that brought me to tears. It's a testament to the script for this film that I was emotionally affected by these characters I had just met. There is a moment of sweet hopefulness for poor, vulnerable Thomas (Robert James-Collier). And then there’s that glorious eye candy — call it Downton porn — writ large: the costumes (by Anna Robbins, each lovelier than the last), the twilight, the landscapes and, most of all, Highclere Castle itself, getting its magnificent big-screen due. It’s not a great film, not by any definition, but I happily lapped up every minute as I cried and laughed along with these wonderful characters I had just met.