The continuing story of the Crawley family, wealthy owners of a large estate in the English countryside in the early 20th century.
Downton Abbey delivers magnificently on its promises of a glorious and elegant reunion with the Crawley family. The theater audience reacted with soft cheers and royal-like clapping as our anticipation was satisfied in being reunited with our old friends again. It seems like forever.
The main plot of this much anticipated cinematic gift is remarkably simple: His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen are visiting Downton Abbey for one night. In this simplicity, we are able to enjoy the individual story lines and subplots and truly hang out with our favorite characters and whatever surprises they have in store. In fact, sitting close enough to the screen creates a sense for devoted “Downtoners” of visiting dear friends. And what a visit it is!
Every scene is gorgeous. Our hearts beat with the charging of the locomotive, and we sail along the shoulders of the downstairs staff to enter rooms and shift scenes. Ah yes, this is Downton. Plus, the film opens with a considerate and swift recap of each character’s storyline, so no advance study is required.
The relationship between Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley and Penelope Wilton’s Isobel Merton sets the narrative for the past, present (and future?) of the generational tale. Their wit and wisdom keep us delighted and centered, and we’re reminded often of the threat of their unpredictable verbal daggers. Throughout the visit, the women are caring and wise and solve the dilemmas with love (and cunning), while the men are brave, principled and responsible.
One of the points of tension is with the character of Thomas Barrow, played by Robert James-Collier. Through the course of the television series, Mr. Barrow, always dealing with the cultural problems of being a gay man, matured from despicable to honorable and proud in his work. In this story, he and other gay men are abused by the police and we wince at the violent oppression. The situation gives us a chance for conversation in our families of the true meaning of loving our neighbors. (Parents will want to engage directly on this complex topic.)
In the flurry of downstairs politics, the staff are faced with the mother of all insults when the Royal staff means to take over all the duties of managing the Monarch’s visit. Indeed, what could be more devastating to the proudest professionals in the land? This conflict sets the stage for many twists and tumbles as the dedicated Downton Abbey staff concoct a plan to reestablish their supremacy and control.
It all makes for a wonderful diversion with an evening of symphonic and visual beauty and ongoing chit chat about our somewhat complicated friends in the Village of Grantham in 1927. Downton Abbey is Dove-Approved for Ages 12+.
(Editor’s note: We have revisited the rating on this movie and revised it accordingly.)