Approach the “Downton Abbey” movie like you would the Marvel Comics Universe: Don’t even bother if you aren’t already steeped in what’s come before.
“Downton Abbey,” as a British TV series (and, in the States, a PBS staple), ran from 2010 to 2015. Set at a roomy English mansion between 1912 and 1925, it tracks the melodramatic activities of aristocrats and servants alike.
The show is nostalgic nonsense of the most shameless kind, a gushing mash note to the British upper class. Even when it pretends to poke fun at these wealthy but clueless folks, “Downton Abbey” wallows in their overstuffed pillows and sumptuous ball gowns.
It’s the creation of screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who concocts a one-off story line for the movie adaptation. In 1926, Downton Abbey is all a-twitter over an upcoming visit from the King and Queen.
Such an event would be challenging enough, but the usual romantic misunderstandings and class anxieties are also percolating. The Earl (Hugh Bonneville) and his American-born wife (Elizabeth McGovern, navigating her endlessly fascinating mid-Atlantic accent) will have their hands full.
The Irish member of the household (the immensely likable Allen Leech) is drawing attention as a possible subversive. The former butler, Carson (authoritative Jim Carter), is called back into duty, much to the irritation of the current butler, Barrow (Robert James-Collier).
Naturally Maggie Smith is around as Violet, the Dowager Countess, hurling her withering put-downs in every direction. Currently she’s fretting about a cousin (Imelda Staunton) and a questionable inheritance. What would an English aristocrat do if they didn’t have a questionable inheritance to fret about?
Fellowes invents some comedy in the servants’ quarters: the Downton downstairs crew is feuding with the intrusive royal staff over who gets the privilege of bowing and scraping to the royals. Will Fellowes ever write an episode of this thing where the servants stop fighting amongst themselves and realize this system is defined only by accidents of birth?
Probably not. That sort of satirical bite was present in the classic 1970s series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” which “Downton” imitates. But that was the ’70s; nothing terribly critical about rich people comes through in the fantasy here.
The various plot threads weave together in a clever way, and little character beats detonate just where they should. If you’re a “Downton” devotee, it will satisfy, no question.
I realize “Downton Abbey” is beloved and supposed to be harmless fun. I remain skeptical. The overall effect of the movie is to make the viewer clamor for imaginary simpler times when royalty took care of everything. This I can live without.
“Downton Abbey” (2 stars)
A big-screen one-off from the beloved TV series, in which the King and Queen come by Downton for a brief stay. All the overstuffed pillows and sumptuous ball gowns are in place, as is the usual cast, and faithful fans will be satisfied, even if the whole enterprise remains shameless nostalgia for imaginary simpler times.
Rating: PG, for subject matter
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