Film: Downton Abbey
Cast: Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Allen Leach, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Imelda Staunton, Laura Carmichael, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Carter
Director: Michael Engler
Rating: * * * *
In real life, Calcutta born Anglo Indian Merle Oberon was forced to pass off her mother as her maid in England. Likewise, in this reel reboot of the award winning TV series Downton Abbey, the blue-blooded Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) introduces her illegitimate daughter as her maid. Today, a coal miner’s grand-daughter (Kate Middleton) is married to a future King of England but back then, things were vastly different.
The titular dwelling’s aristocrats live in a rarefied atmosphere and the royal family which arrives with its own retinue puts the Downton Abbey staff in a tizzy. Screenwriter Julian Fellowes makes the royal visit of King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) the pivot around which the story revolves; enlivened by the same much loved characters from the TV series. Such as Downton’s matriarch Violet (Maggie Smith) whom age has not withered nor custom staled her rapier wit.
Set between the two World Wars when life was slow and oh, so mellow, the film underlines themes of loyalty, teamwork and perseverance of the upper crust and domestics alike. Character strengths are revealed in nuanced sequences: When Irish Republican Tom (Allen Leech), the ex chauffeur turned widowed son-in-law of Downton’s patriarch, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), Earl of Grantham, prevents an assassination and a marital breakdown; and when Tom’s sister-in-law, Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) husband bounds up the ornate stairs to meet her after protracted absence. Their relationship is a stark contrast to that of the Princess Royal and her overbearing, insufferable husband.
But all is well that ends well in this elegantly acted, beautifully shot, sumptuous production. Not to be missed.