Review: Downton Abbey (2019)

This 2019 British historical period drama, directed by Michael Engler, serves as a continuation of the television series of the same name that ended in 2015. It stars Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, David Haig, Tuppence Middleton and Imelda Staunton.

It’s 1927, and life comfortably continues for those living upstairs and working downstairs in Downton Abbey, set in the rolling countryside of England. When Earl of Grantham Robert Crawley (Bonneville) and his wife, Lady Cora Crawley (McGovern), receive word that the King and Queen of England will be paying a visit as part of the royal tour, the Abbey is turned upside down. Head butler Charles Carson (Carter) takes charge downstairs while Grantham’s daughter Lady Mary (Dockery) oversees upstairs as they pull out all the stops to make sure they uphold the Downton name, regardless of what is thrown at them…

Award winning actor and writer Julian Fellowes brings his historical period drama television series to the big screen after years of questions asked about the continuation of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants. With the show receiving acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic and winning numerous awards, as well as helping launch the careers of actors such as Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery, as well as featuring screen icons such as Dame Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton, Fellowes was onto a winner from the start.

Set one year after the show ended on the small screen, nothing seems out of place, out of sync or out of style on the big screen. The only evident difference is the orchestra swells to full bloom in the classical soundtrack, the Highclere Estate in Hampshire, doubling as the fictional Downton, gleams in the sunshine with crisp HD shots, and everything feels that little more…grander.

‘Downton Abbey’ has been created for the fans, and there is nothing shameful about that. The cast and crew know their target audience, and so don’t change what isn’t broken. If, like me, you have only seen snippets, clips and interviews across the original six series show, you will still know how big a business Downton has been for TV drama and British culture as a whole. There is little for those new to the experience to be fully isolated from – there is little in the way of nods and winks and references to the past. In fact, this does serve new and old fans by giving you what you expect from a period drama, but also asking those new to go back and discover more about our Abbey.

With little to no change in the cast, Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern slip back into their roles as Lord and Lady Grantham and lead a roster of familiar faces back to comfortable ground. To add new stories and characters, a quality slice of talent joins the cast including David Haig, Geraldine James, Tuppence Middleton and Imelda Staunton, all adding to the subtle humour and drama in their expansion of the Downton lore. All those upstairs and downstairs get their moments to shine, but in an effortless and non-obvious way. Fellowes is here to continue a small screen, not make some out of place blockbuster.

In that respect, kudos to all involved for retaining what made Downton so successful originally – gentle, decadent, sumptuous family drama. No gratuitous sex, nudity, violence or bad language. Sometimes people just want to slip into a comfortable slice of British pomp and circumstance, and Fellowes lets you do just that, especially in a narrative that involves the Royal family themselves. Get out the bunting and the horses ten-fold.

Will this appeal to everyone? No. But will it appeal to the wealth of fans of both the show and well produced and acted drama? Yes. In a world of noise and extravagance and uncertainty, ‘Downton Abbey’ offers warmth, gentle humour and emotion in a story where the biggest climax to things is who will polish the silver and just WHAT will the Marchioness of Hexham wear to the Royal ball if her dress doesn’t arrive in time?

Your presence at the Abbey is requested, and you are required to escape the modern age for a couple of hours and slip into those comfy slippers and surround yourself with all that Downton Abbey offers.

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