“Downton Abbey”; Cast: Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Robert James-Collier, Joanne Froggatt, Sophie McShera, Phyllis Logan; Direction: Michael Engler; Rating: *** and 1/2 (three and half stars)
There is something magnetic about this period drama. It holds your attention from the first frame to the last, in spite of its frothy and lightweight narrative.
“Downton Abbey”, is a reboot of the television series of the same name. The film picks up the saga of the Crawley family and their mostly loyal servants in 1927, a year and a half after the series ended.
The saga is set into motion with Robert and Cora Crawley, the Earl and Countess of Grantham, receiving a letter from Buckingham Palace that informs them that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) will visit Downton Abbey as part of a royal tour through the country.
The excitement of receiving the royals keeps the momentum of the narrative racing, and this is maintained till the very end.
The spreading of the news deftly allows for an introductory montage, as each character is personally addressed by their name so that those unaware of the series are not lost with the numerous protagonists involved. While the house is being spruced, with buffing, polishing, dusting and plumbing, several major subplots emerge.
Every scene is precisely, uncannily and exactly what we expect. It is finely tailored to deliver what the series did. The film spends a good deal of its running time on the furious preparations that precede the arrival of the royals, and on the specifics of the Downton staff’s interactions with the royal retainers.
Overall, the performance of every actor is effortless and natural, so much so they make their characters remarkably believable.
With its numerous characters and their crises, the film feels like another episode of the series — a lengthy one, though — reproducing with remarkable fidelity its various strengths and numerous weaknesses. The plot keeps moving ahead where people are doing their stuff with absolutely no consequence whatsoever.
Despite this, the script, with all its complexities, is dexterously woven. The exposition though verbose, with its stiff, upper-lip English humour, surfaces effortlessly. It also brings to fore the rigid class distinctions where high-born and low know their place and keep to it happily. Unfortunately, with romance, comedy and minor shenanigans that rupture erratically, the telling of the tale is flat.
Visually, the film is mesmerising. The shots are magnificent. The sweeping camera work with wide-angle lens keeps you gaping at the screen as cinematographer Ben Smithard’s lens captures the locales, the costumes and the finer nuances of histrionics with precision.
The era, despite appearing sanitised, is pitch-perfect and alluring. With brilliant production values, the film is majestically mounted. The seamless edits and excellent background score further enhance the viewing experience.
Overall, “Downton Abbey”, with all its lightness makes you nostalgic about a bygone era.