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Read: Downton Abbey makes a graceful debut on the silver screen

Downton Abbey was a hugely successful TV show because it showed a slice of British life that has mostly disappeared. It provided a picture perfect view of Edwardian aristocratic life complete with grand homes, rolling English countryside and quaint villages. Of course there was conflict and drama but over all of this was a sense of nostalgia for a time in British history where things seemed relatively settled. 

But despite the glamour, Downton Abbey wasn’t a historical masterpiece, it was a soap opera in a genteel setting. And let’s face it, that’s what most of us found appealing. The plots were rapid fire and sometimes over the top – remember Mr Pamuk?

But what raised the show above your average soap was the cast who managed to create memorable and genuine characters we came to care about or loathe.

To take that formula and rework it as a feature film is risky, but thankfully Downton Abbey the movie works incredibly well.  It’s probably because the makers have stuck to the formula they know works, so the movie is pretty much a really long episode of the show with a bit of extra money thrown in. 

The main plot is fairly simple – King George V and Queen Mary are to visit the Crawley estate. This brings excitement and also anxiety for all concerned. The strict protocol and utter snobbishness of the King’s servants leads to thoughts of rebellion among the Downton crew. There are lots of subplots attending the main one – some of them silly, many of them a little obvious, but all of them deliciously satisfying.

What struck me most about the film was reactions of the audience around me. Watching TV is a very different experience to sitting in a theatre. In a cinema you quickly get a sense of the bits that resonate. There were a lot of appreciative ‘oohs and aah’s’ during tender moments or unexpected plot twists, (particularly one involving Thomas, but I won’t say more on that). 

Predictably all the one-liners delivered by the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) were received with appreciative laughter. But it was Kevin Doyle as Moseley who managed to provide the most hilarious, and at the same time cringeworthy, scene in the entire film. Again, I won’t spoil the moment for you, but trust me, when you see it, you will be both laughing and squirming in your seat.

Viewing Downton Abbey will not change your life –  it doesn’t explore any deeply political philosophies or challenge any of our cherished beliefs. Instead it offers an incredibly satisfying re-connection with people we watched for five years on the TV. It’s a reunion of sorts with old friends we haven’t seen for a while. Most particularly, it provides a warm hearted bit of nostalgia that I think we need in our own turbulent time in history. 

DOWNTON ABBEY

In New Zealand Cinemas from 12 September 2019

Starring:    Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton

Directed by: Michael Engler

122 Minutes

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