Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes has stated that this feature spin-off was made “so that everyone can take two hours off Brexit”. It’s sweet of him to care, and some respite is much needed. The snag is that this aggressively bland film’s brand of nostalgia is so cloying and panders so much to the Brexiteers that it’s made me even more furious about the whole damn thing.
Politics aside, even the most devoted fans of the upstairs-downstairs television drama will find it hard not to admit that this handsomely made big screen transition is a whole lotta nothing. It’s the equivalent of an extended Christmas special, one that sees the Crawley family and their servants prepare for the arrival of the King George V and Queen Mary to Downton. Cue countless lifeless subplots that range from a strangely tension-devoid assassination attempt, some butler-on-butler rivalries, a problematically handled gay romance, to the thrills of a boiler getting fixed. And make no mistake: the most tachycardia-triggering moment in Downton Abbey is that anti-monarchist boiler getting a good seeing to.
Ordinarily, this cosily undemanding fare wouldn’t be worth getting angry about… Except every undercooked storyline is introduced and wrapped up in 10 minutes flat, adding to a choppy structure that works on television, but which dies a slow death on the big screen. There’s no doubt that Julian Fellows can write and has done some fine work over the years; however, the “throw everything and see what sticks” approach to storytelling here leaves you with a messy exercise in monarchy-celebrating frock porn that’s lacking ambition. Instead of going out with a polite bang, Downton Abbey is content in bowing out in the dullest way possible, with an eye-rollingly syrupy “all’s well that ends well” ending which not even the combined talents of Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt and the great Maggie Smith can redeem. The finale, however, does deliver one key bit of dialogue:
“I do love our adventures”, plummily exclaims one character whilst waltzing and playing it fast and loose with the word ‘adventure’.
“But isn’t it fun when they’re over?”, merrily retorts her dancing partner.
Yes. Yes, it is. We now return you to your regularly scheduled socio-political dumpster fire.
Downton Abbey | Directed by Michael Engler (UK, 2019), with Maggie Smith, Joanne Froggatt, Tuppence Middleton. Starts Sep 19.
Check our OV search engine for showtimes.