Downton Abbey (12A)
For many moons now, people have been wondering when the Crawley family would hit the big screen. What better way to do it than with a plotline featuring a king and queen?
Michael Engler’s film is based loosely on a royal visit to a Jacobean mansion called Wentworth Woodhouse that took place in 1912. Built on a 15,000-acre estate, it contained no less than 350 rooms. You won’t be surprised to hear it’s still believed to be the largest private residence in the UK.
Simon Jones is King George and Geraldine James Queen Mary. They descend upon the eponymous abbey in 1927, Engler varying the date just as he has the venue. Cue much chaos among the servants. But at least it’s a fine day. (“The weather proves conclusively that God is a monarchist.”)
If opulence is your fancy, this is for you. A suitably sumptuous offering, it looks set to play to packed houses for those who’ve been hooked on the fortunes of the Crawleys and their ilk over the past eight years. Preaching to the converted, it might well spawn a franchise.
As Violet, the incorrigible Dame Maggie Smith drips acidic oneliners from Julian Fellowes’ eloquent (if occasionally contrived) script. She’s 84 now but time hasn’t dented that incorrigible spirit. Nobody can time an insult as bitingly as she.
There’s everything here, including a homophobic police raid on a gay tavern. And an illegitimate birth. At times the plethora of themes seems excessive. At times they seem concessions to political correctness. It might have been better to concentrate more on less. There’s even an unexpected royal pregnancy – and a slice of kleptomania.
In the ‘downstairs’ world we witness rivalry aplenty. The king’s servants are sabotaged by Downton’s ones. His highness’ butler is a pain in the neck so that’s okay. Gentlemen’s gentlemen, we learn, can be just as sniffy as gentlemen. “I must go where my king needs me,” says Charlie Carson (Jim Carter) triumphalistically. He comes out of retirement to oversee the visit.
Tom Branson (Allen Leach) is the reformed Irish republican who’s taken the king’s shilling. Fellowes, in a sense, gives him centre stage. If there’s a sequel I can see him developing a relationship with Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) the maid (or is she?) due to inherit the estate of Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton). Lady Bagshaw carries a secret about her past.
Tom also intercepts a plot to kill the king. In the Downton world, this isn’t quite as important as a broken boiler or an item that goes missing from a patch box on a dressing table.
Matters conclude with a ball as perforce they must. Here Lady Bagshaw reveals all to Violet. Violet, meanwhile, talks Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) out of wanting to sell Downton. Perish the thought! What would happen to the sequel?
Where’s Robert (Hugh Bonneville) in all of this? Bumbling around the place as usual.