Sunday, October 6, 2019

Downton Abbey (2019): A Review


I find that my mother has the best reviews around. Her take on Gravity is still immortal: "Two hours of Sandra Bullock crashing into things". Mom has never seen or even heard of Downton Abbey, a point made thoroughly clear when she asked at one point, "Who is Abbey?". At the end of the film, I asked her, "You didn't like it?". She looked up and said, "I didn't understand it. It's all very pretty but what was it about?"

I won't expand on her comment that they must have emptied out Egypt of all its mummies to cast the film, but her Downton Abbey views prove what I had suspected: outside those who have long followed Crawley Family Hijinks, Downton Abbey is a waste of time, but as Mom observed, the hats were nice.

The Earl and Countess of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern), along with their daughter Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) are astonished to find that their estate, Downton Abbey, will play host to Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary (Simon Jones and Geraldine Page) for a night. The large Downton Abbey staff is all excited at the prospect of serving royalty until curtly informed the Royal staff will do the serving. Only scullery kitchen wench Daisy (Sophie McShera), a virtual Communist, doesn't care or understand what the fuss is about. This extends to her prolonged engagement to footman Andy Parker (Michael Fox), who grows jealous of the hot plumber come to fix the boilers.

The estate, both upstairs and downstairs, prepare for the Royal visit. This involves Irish Republican sympathizer and Crawley son-in-law Branson (Allen Leech) mixed up in an attempted assassination, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) and her ultimate frenemy Isobel, Lady Merton (Penelope Wilton) mixed up in their own machinations against/for the Dowager Countess' cousin/Queen Mary's lady-in-waiting Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Stauton), the collective downstairs staff mixed up in their own machinations against the Royal staff, closeted Downton Abbey head butler Barrows (Robert James-Collier) discovering the village version of the Stonewall Inn and potentially romance, and Branson himself potentially finding romance with Lady Bagshaw's 'maid' Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), who carries her own secrets. 

Image result for downton abbey movieWhile Mom was quite complimentary on Downton Abbey's hats (for the most part), and did chuckle at the Dowager Countess' struggle in curtsying to His Majesty, she was thoroughly dismissive of the film itself. It was incomprehensible to her, and in her mind of no interest whatsoever as to who is whom or what is what.

She was the perfect person to judge Downton Abbey and not just because she and the Dowager Countess of Grantham have the same worldview of their own infallibility on all matters large or small. I wanted a thoroughly objective viewer's take on things, and found that Downton Abbey's greatest flaw is what many see as its greatest virtue: its very existence. The film does not bother to introduce anyone and expects the viewer to know not just all the characters but their connections to each other.

That's all well and good if screenwriter Julian Fellowes and director Michael Engler want to give Downtown Abbey fans essentially another season's worth of stories crammed into two hours. However, what about those of us who are not into Downton Abbey fan-service? Would the film work independent of its origins?

The answer is a flat 'No'.

If you don't know or learn about these characters during the film, you won't care one whit about their crises or lives, and Downton Abbey does not bother or appear to care about winning non-fans over. Again, all well and good if that's what the viewer wants, but for me, any film adaptation should work on its own apart from the series, not essentially be a continuation of said series.

Image result for downton abbey movieEven that perhaps could be forgiven if the various crises were of any genuine concern. However, much as I could try the idea that I could be emotionally impacted by Lady Mary having to put chairs for a reviewing stand in the midnight rain seems rather odd to me. Add to that the shameless predictability of plot points from the 'shocking' truth about Lucy to Barrows first journey into the demimonde of gay clubs only to end up being raided and you do circle back to 'what is it about?.

As a side note, while I remarked how I was 'shocked' the underground gay gathering was raided, Mom's only reaction was, "And they were having such a good time". Take that for whatever you will.

As I watched, and for the record I have vague memories of the first season and didn't see anything past that, my collective impression was 'what horrible people they all are'. I found Daisy insufferable: not only stomping over everyone else's joy at the Royal visit (no matter how illogical it was to her) but keeping poor Andy waiting and even doing a little flirting with the plumber (albeit perhaps unconsciously). The comedic hijinks of Moseley (Kevin Doyle) revealing the truth about who served the Royal Dinner fell flat to me and I thought 'what a stupid, stupid man. He's supposed to be incredibly stupid, right?'.

Worse was the Isobel/Violet interaction. Was it always like this: Violet making some quip and Isobel just snapping the posh version/equivalent of 'Shut up, you bitch'?

Downton Abbey is not a film. It's the Complete Seventh Season, with a teasing for an Eight Season in feature-length form. Downton Abbey reminds me of all things Sex and the City. Both were television series with a devoted fanbase that had follow-up films to cash in on their successful runs. However, for however bad Sex and the City was, unlike Downton Abbey at least it made an effort to tell us who was who and not leave non-viewers out.

However, Downton Abbey's hats were nicer, so there's that.


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