The opening scene of 'Downton Abbey' shows the travels of a letter - by train, truck, bike - from central London to Yorkshire. This sweeping introduction to both the setting and the characters is perfunctory in nature for people who probably purchased a ticket to see an English costume drama. But for fans of the six-season-long show, the opening sequence is a reminder of exactly how the pilot episode opened as well as serving as a nostalgic checklist that we cross off, as we check back into Downton Abbey, four years after the series ended.
The year is 1927 and Mary (Michelle Dockery) is still worrying about the growing expense of maintaining the estate of Downtown Abbey. Adding to her worries is the content of the letter announcing that the King and the Queen of England would be staying over with the Earl of Grantham, at Downton Abbey. This sparks much delight amidst the working class of the Abbey - the head chef Mrs Potmore, cook Daisy Mason, the butler Thomas Barrow, the footman Molesley (a scene stealing Kevin Doyle). We can understand their happiness because, how many ever, in their lifetime, get the chance to serve food for the crown? Even the village shopkeeper, has a list of vegetables and fruits ready for Mrs Potmore before she even enters the shop. Such excitement is starkly contrasted with the worries of the aristocratic class. Berie Pelham is worried if Tom Branson's Irish sympathies will prove to be an issue; the aforementioned Mary is worried that the current butler is not up to the task and she seeks out the retired Charles Carson (how I missed the wonderful booming voice of Jim Carter). Oh and not to forget the series' matriarch, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, the one-line totting acerbic tongue holder that is Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) having an issue with who her cousin Lady Bagshaw, the queen's lady-in-waiting, is leaving her inheritance for.
If you think that is too many characters and too many subplots, welcome to Downton Abbey. These multiple stories of establishment and the working class has always been the series' calling card and to the film's credit, it retains the essence wonderfully. But as with the series, the love for the establishment is still rampant and it is not a wonder given that the film is written by series creator Julian Fellowes. Leech and Mason get anti-monarchical ripostes but soon they are brushed away like the dust on the silver. When the servants of Downtown Abbey find out they won't be serving the monarchs and that the queen's own retainers will, the former plot to overthrow the latter for a piece of the pie. The status quo is always maintained. While it is easy to brush it away as a movie of the times, we have to then wonder why insert an exchange between Mary and her maid Anna, when the former says, “You’re a good friend to me, Anna,” and the latter answers, “I hope we’re good friends to each other, m’lady.”
While the plotlines do feel rushed (this entire film could have been one extra season), I felt it can be given the benefit of doubt for the warmth it brings in those two hours. And for that reason, Downton Abbey is a good much-needed closure to the saga of the Crawleys.
Film: Downtown Abbey
Cast: Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggart, Allen Leech
Director: Michael Engler
Rating: 3 stars
(This story originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)