If you love Downton Abbey, then you will love Downton Abbey: The Movie. If you do not like Downton Abbey, however, you will not like Downton Abbey: The Movie. The Downton Abbey movie is basically a two hour movie crammed with about four hours of TV show, except the show ended in a final and satisfactory way, so those four hours of TV crammed into two hours of movie is mostly a bunch of silly sh-t that contains no actual drama. Downton Abbey is a very silly movie, but you know what? It’s gorgeous to look at and genuinely funny. There is barely any conflict—and by “conflict” I do not mean people standing around arguing, I mean there are hardly any stakes in any interaction—but damn if Downton Abbey isn’t entertaining.
The movie is set in 1927, one year after the show wrapped up. Things are generally going well for everyone: the Crawleys remain ensconced in Downton Abbey, it seems Tom (Allen Leech) is finally a settled and respected member of the local community, and it is implied his car business with Henry (Matthew Goode) is going well. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is running Downton, and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is very busy and important. Even wretched Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is finally content, now serving as the butler at Downton. Everything is fine! No problems here! But wait, what’s this? A letter from Buckingham Palace? The king and queen are coming for a visit! Will the maids clean every room in time? Will the footmen polish ALL of the silver? Will Tom assassinate the king?!
These are all real plot points. I laughed a lot during Downton Abbey, and not just at the intentional comedy. Downton Abbey concluded as a television series in a way that leaves very little room to maneuver dramatically, so much of the movie feels like ginned up nonsense with absolutely zero stakes or any interesting consequences. Show creator and screenwriter Julian Fellowes seems to realize this, though, and for the most part he leans into comedy. Downton Abbey was a show that could be funny—especially with the Dowager Countess on hand—but it was not a comedic show. The movie, however, is an outright comedy. Because there is nothing of dramatic interest happening, the movie is all hijinks and zingers, which makes for a good time watching. There are way too many hijinks because Fellowes is trying to service as many characters as possible—in a series, not every character has to pop in every episode, but you only have one shot in a movie—but even over-stuffed and too busy, Downton Abbey: The Movie should make fans happy.
There are a couple of dramatic paths Fellowes glances at but that don’t really get room to breathe (everyone is too busy setting out chairs for the king and queen). The most interesting of these is a subplot involving Thomas, who forms a connection with a royal valet (Max Brown). Thomas, whose sexuality was suggested to be a root cause of his malevolence, finally gets to have a romance that isn’t toxic. It’s nice for Thomas, who had one of the most drastic arcs on the show, and it’s also a well-meaning if imperfect look at queer society in a time when being gay was still illegal. In one particular scene, I was strongly reminded of the recent circulation of a set of photos showing two men celebrating their marriage in their home, surrounded by friends but blinds drawn against prying eyes. It’s a reminder that even in less accepting times, people still fell in love and had meaningful relationships, and Thomas’s night out is genuinely romantic and sweet (if marred by historic homophobia).
And there is an abbreviated subplot, well, more of a suggestion really, of conflict brewing around Lady Edith, now Marchioness of Hexham. Edith had been living the life of a thoroughly modern Millie, running her own magazine in London and raising her secret daughter before she married Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton). Now, she seems overwhelmed by her duties as lady of a great house, and she is obviously not happy at losing her identity to her new title. Is this the conflict with which her storyline is concerned? No! Her storyline is all about whether or not Bertie has to go on a royal tour. It would be so much more interesting if her story was about squaring her modern lifestyle with her historic role as a marchioness, but no. Her independent woman blues basically come and go in one scene. (Although I do love that Downton Abbey low key implies the abdication crisis is Bertie’s fault. If there is a sequel movie, please make it about this.)
Still, fans of the show will love spending two more hours with the Crawleys and their loyal servants. The movie is really funny, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) is in fine form, and in one scene Lady Mary wears an eye-meltingly gorgeous silver embroidered ballgown. I cannot stress enough how stunning this movie is, and how lush and vibrant is John Lunn’s score. The various houses and castles are exquisitely photographed by Ben Smithard; there is a shot of Alnwick Castle that is simply breathtaking. The wealth porn is harder to square in 2019 than it was in 2010, when we were generally more optimistic, and it doesn’t help that Fellowes takes a troubling, dismissive position on class inequality, but Downton Abbey has always been about ogling fine clothes and antique cars and those palaces leftover from a bygone era. In that way, Downton Abbey: The Movie is like popping in to see your most fashionable, impractical old friend and finding out they are exactly the same, even if the world around them is changing. Which I suppose is the real story of a place like Downton Abbey that survives centuries of revolution and transformation—fashions change, and the world evolves, but these great houses remain, as grand and gaudy as ever.