The release of the new Downton Abbey movie on Sept. 20 sent scores of white, middle-aged moms into a tizzy. The movie, which didn’t even have the courtesy of giving itself a real title besides “Downton Abbey,” was practically one very long, very undramatic, and almost-plotless episode of the original series that ran from 2010 – 2016. But with enough good costumes, lots of pretty shots of the house, and the extreme beauty of Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), it gave enough period-drama junkies happy feelings of nostalgia to get an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (“Tah-mah-toes,” as the Crawleys would say).
The movie, picking up a few years down the road from where the series ended, opens with a letter delivery: the most intense and dramatic letter delivery imaginable. This breathtaking piece of mail is from Buckingham Palace, announcing that the King and Queen of England will be coming to spend the night at Downton Abbey as a part of a royal tour of the country.
Approximately the next 30 minutes of the movie consist of dramatic house cleaning. Dramatic dusting. Dramatic grass-cutting. Dramatic grocery-shopping. Lady Mary even has to get the beloved-but-retired butler, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) to help temporarily with the dramatic fiasco. What ho!
Finally the king and queen arrive. There is tension downstairs among the estate’s staff when the royal staff tell them to get out of the way. The Downton wait-staff manages to play an elaborate prank, locking royal staff in their rooms, so they can have the privilege of serving dinner to the king and queen.
Upstairs, the Crawley’s Aunt Violet (played by Maggie Smith — yes, she’s still alive and surprisingly agile for an 84-year-old) contrives to get her son Count Grantham another inheritance via a cousin who has also arrived with the king and queen’s entourage.
The movie also updated viewers on the lives of all the main characters from the cast. When the series ended in 2016, Lady Mary was remarried and pregnant. In the last episode, Lady Edith finally got married and was happy and Count and Lady Grantham were happily presiding over the family.
In the movie, Grantham’s daughter Lady Edith has gotten a nice haircut since we last saw her in the finale of the show’s sixth season. She’s pregnant now, and happy with her husband the Marquis of Hexham. Tom Branson is conveniently not missing his late wife, Lady Sybil anymore, and makes eyes at a pretty maid who is enamored that the former-chauffeur knows what it’s like to be a commoner. Lady Mary sports an array of cool dresses that make every female audience member want to be tall, thin, and from the 1920s. Her husband Henry Talbot (played by Matthew Goode, one of the better actors in the cast), on the other hand, is only in the movie for about five minutes.
Shockingly, and unlike the original series, no one died.
Rather than attempting something new, it’s a happy return to the good old Downton days. The movie was bland, though well-shot and nostalgic.
Matt Seitz put it perfectly in his review for RogerEbert.com.
“Every element you expect to see, you see. The movie knows what it is and is on top of its game,” Seitz wrote.
Everyone gets a happy ending. The king doesn’t get get shot by the radical who wants Irish independence. Tom Branson is falling in love, and so are a couple of maids. For those who were already married, the king and queen’s visit seems to spark new life into Downton, and the movie ends with literally everyone dancing.
As SNL’s mock trailer said, it was “exciting for the people who liked the show.”
If nothing else, it proved that Maggie Smith is still alive and snarking.