“Everything I wanted and more,” a Downton Abbey Film Review [Spoilers!]

The new Downton Abbey film came out last month and I have already seen it twice and while my wallet isn’t too happy about that, I sure am. I watched the Downton Abbey series a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so I was very excited to see the film and it definitely didn’t disappoint. I was surprised to see, however, that the film did not have the target audience I’d thought it would have. The second time I went to see this film, I was the only one in the room under the age of 60 (mind you, there were about 40 people there). What does that say about me?

In this film the Crawley family receives a letter informing them that the King and Queen are staying at Downton for one night. Naturally, this creates several problems for both the family and the downstairs staff.
This film, like the episodes of the show, features a lot of different storylines. While this doesn’t have to be a problem per se, it meant some storylines weren’t given the chance to develop properly. In particular, the storyline featuring Captain Chetwode was very weak. The strange Chetwode shows up in the village and asks Tom just a few too many suspicious questions. Now, at first Tom thinks the man has been sent to spy on him, as Tom’s an Irish republican (which we know, because it’s referenced many, many times in the film). However, it is revealed that Chetwode actually intends to kill the King, something that is, luckily, prevented by Tom (of all people). Boy, is he loyal to his family – is what this storyline is meant to prove –. The dramatic storyline felt rushed, came quite out of nowhere and just didn’t add anything to the story. By the end of the film I’d honestly completely forgotten that it had even happened. So much so that when the King told Tom he had more than one reason to be grateful to him (the first reason being Tom persuading the Princess not to divorce her husband), I thought “wait, what’s the other reason again?” I understand that in a film like Downton Abbey, it’s difficult to have real drama, but this just isn’t the way to add drama to a film such as this one.
Yes, the weak storyline about a man plotting to kill the King is the most dramatic thing you’ll find in Downton Abbey. Or… is it? One could argue that the most dramatic scene in the film is… the folding chairs scene. Lady Mary shows her true bravery in this scene when she insists on setting up the folding chairs for the ceremony the next day, in. the. pouring. rain. That’s right, the fearless Lady Mary is the true hero of this film. All jokes aside, though, Lady Mary has always been one of my favourite Downton Abbey characters and it’s no different this time around. Like Lady Violet tells her at the end of the film, Lady Mary truly is the heart and future of Downton Abbey. Michelle Dockery is also just one of the most gorgeous people I have ever seen. Seriously, how is a person that beautiful? And Lady Mary’s bob in this film is the hairstyle of my dreams.

Thomas and Richard Ellis

Another one of my favourite Downton characters, Thomas Barrow, is also a real gem in this film. Throughout the film the audience is treated to hard-working Thomas, sassy Thomas and so-happy-he-can’t-stop-smiling-like-a-precious-angel Thomas and I am delighted about it. For the King and Queen’s visit Thomas is replaced as butler by Carson. Thomas’ response to this news is wonderfully sassy and ends with Thomas telling Lord Grantham and Mary, “By the way, the boiler’s playing up and there’s no hot water,” after which he slams the door shut as he storms off. Amazing. Now, so-happy-he-can’t-stop-smiling-like-a-precious-angel Thomas is one of the best parts of this entire film. In the film Thomas meets Richard Ellis, the King’s valet, and the two instantly become good friends. As a part of the Downton staff’s plan to serve dinner to the King and Queen, Thomas and Richard make a prank call to the King’s butler – excuse me, the King's Page of the Backstairs –, a scene that had everyone in the audience in stitches. Thomas and Richard make plans to meet up at a bar, but before Richard can show up, Thomas is invited to Turton’s by a mysterious man. Turton's turns out to be a secret gay bar, filled with men dancing together, kissing and just having a lovely time. “I can’t believe this, I’ve never seen anything like it,” a stunned Thomas utters. He then dances with the mysterious man and is so happy that, watching him, I couldn’t help but feel happy too. It’s a lovely moment that really reminds me of the first time I went to Pride: magical, liberating and just very, very happy. Sadly, Thomas’s happy moment comes to an abrupt end when the bar is raided by the police, showcasing the truly awful treatment of gay men, and the LGBTQ+ community in general, in the 1920s.

This film introduced us to quite a few new characters, including the Queen’s lady in waiting, Lady Maud Bagshaw, played by Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter). Lady Maud is accompanied by her maid, Lucy Smith. When it is revealed that not Lord Grantham, but Lucy is Lady Maud’s heir, this creates some major drama, which provides us with some excellent scenes. My personal favourite moment in all of this is when Lady Violet tells her son, “I never argue, I explain.” That was really like looking in a mirror.
The drama is resolved when it is revealed why Lady Maud wants Lucy to inherit her fortune. Did I for a moment think, perhaps hope, that Lucy was her secret mistress? Maybe. But it turns out she is in fact her daughter. Though this storyline did not turn out the way I hoped it would, I think it was an excellent addition to the overall story told in the film. Also, this way Tom was finally able to find love again. And, I don’t know about you, but that’s something I had been waiting for for a very long time.

The absolute highlight of the film, for me, is the scene with Mr. Molesley. When the King compliments chef Courbet on the food, which was actually prepared by the Downton Abbey staff, Molesley corrects him (can you believe it?), then realises his mistake and completely falls apart. Nervous sweating, panicked mumbling, a real treat. And Molesley’s painfully awkward curtsy really is the cherry on top. I honestly thought he was going to cry for a second. A few more of my favourite things about this film include the beautiful costumes, incredible sets and Dame Maggie Smith. She is truly a legend.

The new Downton Abbey is everything I wanted and more. It had all the happy endings I could have asked for. If I wasn’t a poor uni student, I would go see the film a few more times. I guess I’ll just have to wait until it shows up on Netflix or comes out on DVD (so I can watch it like it’s still the early 2000s).


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