Unsurprisingly, there aren’t many television shows that unite three generations within my family; our separate interests couldn’t be further apart from each other. Yet, the golden exception to this rule, Downton Abbey was watched and adored each week by my grandmother (who loved the history), my mother (who loved the costumes) and myself (who is still utterly in love with Tom Branson)! Naturally, we were all thrilled to discover that our favourite drama had made it to the silver screen and I went to watch it with my grandma on its opening night.
My family are certainly not alone in our shared love for Downton, with the final episode of the sixth series bringing in just under ten million viewers – which frankly begs the question: why have we been waiting almost four years for this spin off? Perhaps, due to the highly sought after stars and their presumably hectic filming schedules. Though there is a definite sense of nostalgia throughout, with the majority of the series’ much loved characters returning, a sense of newness also pervades the film, which welcomes new audiences. This fresh feel is naturally enhanced by the inclusion of several new characters into the drama – including Imelda Staunton as Violet’s (played by Dame Maggie Smith) cousin-in-law whose arrival stirs up all sorts of trouble. The centre of the drama throughout the film derives from the royal arrival to Downton by King George V and Queen Mary, an event which welcomes back our beloved Mr Carson and allows for possibly the funniest moment of the film, involving Mr Molesley, which is sure to make you laugh and cringe simultaneously!
The film felt even more anxiously anticipated for me, as I had decided to go into it without fully watching the feature trailer, desperately seeking that element of surprise that always greeted me within the episodes of the televised series. Though it must be said that viewing the initial title sequence, featuring the renowned Downton music score and extensive shots of Highclere Castle in a cinematic duplex immediately felt almost sacrilegious. I soon overcame this; distracted by the welcoming presence of our national treasures, I drifted off into the 1920’s Yorkshire countryside. Possibly my favourite aspect of Downton, which I believe was especially well played within this spin off, is the familial humour of the downstairs staff mixed with the intellectual mockery of the upstairs family. The relationship between Daisy and Mrs Patmore has matured into that of a Mother and her adult-daughter seamlessly and the witticisms of Isobel Crawley remain no match for the sharp-tongued Dowager of Grantham. The moments between Mary and Edith seem tender, all sour tensions that viewers may remember from the tv series having dissipated. On the topic of tender moments, this review would not be complete without mentioning the new love interests for both Branson and Barrow, whose knowing glances and secret gestures between their respective crushes gave me flutters.
The only critique I would pose is that there are moments in which some threads of the plot feel a little hurried through, particularly in instances where characters are reaching a resolution, which they seem to make in no time at all and the film speeds on as if that particular conflict had never arisen in the first place. This is especially true of the encounter between Lady Grantham and Lady Bagshaw, which I would have liked to have seen fleshed out somewhat further. That being said, other characters – particularly Lady Mary’s maid Anna Bates – are given real agency within the film which allows for a genuine insight into their characters that viewers hadn’t previously seen.
In just two hours, Downton Abbey took me on a journey – from first loves to forbidden ones, laughter to tears and then back again, within what felt like the blink of an eye. I was welcomed back into the lives of my favourite faces, and it was an absolute joy to watch their matured characters navigate through difficulty towards contentment. The final ballroom scene, to me, seamlessly captured the beauty of Downton with its prestige, glitz and glamour, the perfect ending to the sequel we all wanted but didn’t realise how much we needed!
– Emily Bond