Film and Book Reviews

Love and loyalty prevail in a battle for the honour of Downton

Film

By Wendy Knowlton

October 7 2019When the final episode of Downton Abbey screened in 2015 there was a satisfying sense of completion. After six series of drama – tragic deaths, murder trials, scandals and emotional extremes – the Crawley family and the staff who provided the foundations of their world seemed content at last. The announcement of a film set less than a year later couldn’t help but provoke trepidation. Happily, fears proved groundless. It is not only a pleasure to be back at Downton – it feels as if we have never really left.

The film has clearly been made for devotees of the series. Without this history, you could feel like a last minute addition to a country weekend, forced to lurk in corners, knowing no one. The chief delight here is catching up with old friends, and it takes only a few notes of the familiar theme to whirl the audience back to the elegance and etiquette of 1927, where some sadness awaits, but for the most part, life is good.

The announcement of a royal visit provides the story’s impetus. Whilst such an event must resemble a graceful swan on the surface, the “demented paddling” that occurs below is not only a matter of necessary preparations, but the below stairs revolution organised by Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle), when royal retainers threaten to marginalise the Downton staff and run proceedings. What follows is highly improbable, but warmly satisfying.

When justice has to be done to more than 20 beloved characters and several new additions in just two hours, moments have to shine. There is humour in Mr Moseley’s royal faux pas and the quips that continue to fly between Violet and Isobel (Penelope Wilton), but this is set against a quiet triumph for Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Edith (Laura Carmichael) and a moment of revelation for Daisy (Sophie McShera), who has grumbled and worried her way through much of her life, and now realises with surprise that she is happy. Those who were once outsiders are finding ways to belong – Tom Branson (Allen Leech) acknowledges where his loyalties lie and Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), discovers a world he never suspected.

However the conflict between those resistant to change and those eager or forced to embrace it has always been a mainstay of Downton, and the most telling moment comes from Anna. When Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) rather wearily wonders if she should stop battling to keep the estate financially viable and sell it off and move to a manageable manor house, Anna – more mentor than maid – advises her to continue the fight. Downton is the lifeblood of the community, so Mary’s duty is not simply upholding the family name and traditions, but continuing to provide this sustenance. Ultimately, the nobility are there to serve as much as be served, and as Mrs Patmore wrestles with pots downstairs and Mr Carson strides towards the castle that has been his life, Violet passes the legacy of Downton to her granddaughter, knowing the future is in good hands.