Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Matthew Goode
Director: Michael Engler
Running Time: 122 mins
Downton Abbey is a British film about the events that unfold when the King and Queen come to stay at the abbey, and the arrival of the Royal housekeepers ruffles the feathers of the incumbent servants, while scandal and controversy abound as old friends and rivals congregate on the big day.
Never having seen an episode of the TV show before, I decided to throw myself into the big screen version of Downton Abbey head first, expecting a degree of excessively quaint Englishness, fluffy drama, lavish production design and the odd bit of fun scandal and gossip.
And that’s exactly what this film is. Doing exactly what it appears to say on the tin, Downton Abbey is a predictably fluffy and harmless romp that features the odd bit of entertainment, interspersed by long periods of dull, inconsequential ‘drama’ and an almost pantomime-like presentation of English aristocracy and high society. In that, there’s nothing specifically to detest about the movie, and diehard fans of the series (which I assume does pretty much the same thing) will be delighted by it, but if you’re looking for something a little bit more meaty, then Downton Abbey really won’t be your cup of tea.
First things first, though, the one thing that you can’t deny about the movie is that it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at. Not necessarily from a cinematic standpoint (in fact, the movie doesn’t really ever try to justify itself as a big screen experience), but with lavish costume and production design that blends a cartoonishly pompous presentation of old aristocracy with the odd bit of striking 1920s fashion, it’s difficult to look past Downton Abbey’s style and elegance, at least on the surface of things.
The problem is, however, that it is only on the surface that the film is so impressive, and despite trying it on with as much pomp and circumstance as it can manage throughout, it doesn’t bother to double down and bring something else to the table, which, over the course of two hours, is something that inevitably grows tiresome.
It’s not an annoyingly flashy movie, but the excess and pompousness is pretty sickly, going way overboard by bringing in as many overly quaint scenes, characters and more into play when they really aren’t needed, and in the meantime overlooking the need for at least a little bit of deeper development and narrative consistency.
And there enlies Downton Abbey’s second major flaw. It may all be a fairly harmless, fluffy romp, but there is way too much going on for the movie’s own good, and despite telling a number of stories that are pretty superficial in nature, the film is packed full of characters and subplots that come and go as they please, never really gelling together or helping to make the movie a solid package.
There’s the odd bit of intrigue and scandal here and there, as well as a few moments of interesting political and historical focus, setting characters of the old aristocracy against those playing a part in the wind of change for the working classes in the 1920s, but all of that just doesn’t last as long as it really needs to in order to make a mark.
As a result, the movie is an irritatingly inconsistent watch, with a number of random storylines seemingly stitched together from TV episodes that never got made, and ham-fisted into an overall story that centres around the King and Queen’s visit. And therefore, whenever there is a little bit of character development or deeper drama, it’s difficult to really connect with anybody in time before the movie switches to a totally different plot, only adding to its superficial nature.
Overall, I wasn’t overly impressed with Downton Abbey. Stylish, elegant and pleasantly fluffy it may be, but as far as telling an engaging story goes, the film is woefully misfocused, with too much emphasis on its excessive pomp and circumstance and too little on narrative consistency, featuring countless random storylines all playing out alongside one another, without any real connection or relevance to each other, and that’s why I’m giving the film a 6.6.