Downton Abbey movie provides a royal revisiting to the Crawley household, a treat for fans of the British drama
Even as the Downton Abbey movie does not usher in new characters or events, it is a dip into an episode in the lives of all the familiar faces of the show.
Magnificent. Exquisite. Glamorous. Extravagant. Grand. The Downton Abbey movie is everything that the ITV series was celebrated for. It promises an indulgent treat for fans who were left wanting for more after the series ended in 2015.
"Come war and peace, Downton Abbey still stands, and the Crawleys are in it." The movie, that released on 18 October in India, lifts the curtain once again on the Crawley household, where it is business as usual until the royal post from Buckingham Palace notifies the family the King and the Queen will be come to stay at their house while on a tour of Yorkshire. The drama unfolds as the family and staff are thrown into preparations to welcome and entertain the royal entourage, and struggle to put their best foot forward.
Running for six seasons from 2010 to 2015, the show concluded much of the original storyline so as the movie does not usher in new characters or events. It is a dip into an episode in the lives of all the familiar faces of the series.
Created by Julian Fellows, the period drama is set in the early 20th century, and traces the story of the aristocratic family of the Earl of Grantham, who live on a traditional estate in Yorkshire. The show explores two broad storylines: the life of the Earl’s family upstairs and the day-to-day of the servants downstairs. It showcases in much detail the class structures prevalent in Britain at the time, and a way of fine living that was slowly but surely ebbing away.
The brilliant portrayal of the glitz and glamour of the era is replete with small rituals such as changing for dinner, giving luncheon parties, organising hunts, and being waited on by ladies, maids and valets. As well, the housekeeper keeping shipshape the great halls and large bedrooms, and the butler sorting out the wine is like stepping through a looking glass.
Across the world, the show brought back to life a sophistication and elegance that had died so much so that according to a 2017 article in The New York Times, the rich Chinese inspired in part by Downton Abbey "aspired to old-school decorum." It fuelled the demand for services of butlers trained in the ways of the British manors.
Comprising a stellar cast, including Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Wilton, Michelle Dockery, and Laura Carmicheal among others, Downton Abbey opens with the sinking of the Titanic, which also brings the tragic news that the heir of the estate was on board the vessel. Left with three daughters the Earl, Robert Crawley, battles the winds of change that herald a modern world, and welcomes the new heir, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) to their household.
At a warm, soothing pace, the series explores the conflicts in the lives of each character – Lady Mary, whose scandalous dalliance with a Turkish diplomat endangers her reputation, and young Lady Sybil, who falls in love and marries the chauffeur, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) – in no rush to finish off one story and move to the next.
While such is the life of the family upstairs, downstairs, the servants are entangled in their own messes. The butler, Charlie Carson, and the first footman, Thomas Barrow, do not get along; the lady’s maid, O’Brien, and the valet to His Lordship, Mr Bates, do not see eye to eye either; and the scullery maid, Daisy, is being pursued by a footman she does not care for.
Watching the drama unfurl is rather like unwrapping a beautiful gift. Its treatment of trifling domesticity, provides a much-needed respite from every other overpowering entertainment content, rife with violence, dystopia, and apocalypse.
That is not to say the show does not take on larger concerns. Season two of Downton Abbey set in 1916 was a narrative of World War I, of men fighting on the fronts and the penury, rationing, and deaths brought on by the conflict. The show questioned the purpose of the war, the animosity towards homosexuality in the 1900s, and delved into issues around rape, divorce, and the rise of the middle and lower classes. There are bittersweet moments in the film too, even as the stage is set for a deliciously grand dinner, a royal parade, and a ball to conclude the festivities.
And there is of course the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, the family matriarch, in kicking form, keeping her children in check. Essayed brilliantly by Dame Maggie Smith, she is one of the most interesting characters on the show, and the writers have been consistent in their depiction of the matriarch’s sass, her tongue-in-cheek comments, and some of her choicest remarks that are relevant, modern, and utterly memorable. I leave you with one:
"There's nothing simpler than avoiding people you don't like. Avoiding one's friends, that's the real test."
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