The much-anticipated film version of Downton Abbey has arrived and I suppose you could describe it as the Avengers Assemble of period drama, where everyone turns up and just does it all over again, but minus the throat kicks in this particular instance. Also, it’s critic-proof and the fans will race to see it even though it is, in truth, extremely predictable as well as extremely dull. Lady Mary? Wasn’t she interesting once? Didn’t she kill a Turk with sex? Why is she now so blah? Some throat kicks would have been welcome, actually. More throat kicks and fewer of Carson’s moralistic pep talks might have worked wonders.
The film is written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Michael Engler, and we have now reached 1927. I must confess once the theme music started up, and we glimpsed the estate, it did feel like coming home, and I say that even though I abandoned the TV show after the second series, mostly due to ennui, but also because I could no longer tolerate seeing Dame Maggie Smith being worked to death as a One-Liner Machine. (She’s 84, FFS; show some mercy!)
The conceit is that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James, wasted) are coming to stay so the house is all in a dither. Silver to be polished. Wine to be selected. Carson to be brought out of retirement. And so on. There is, weirdly, no plot and also a surfeit of plot. There is no plot because there is no through narrative that is high stakes or leads to any kind of tension. And there is a surfeit of plot because the whole film is essentially a collection of side-plots. There is an assassination attempt. There’s Daisy’s (Sophie McShera) marriage plans. There is a dishy plumber. There is the arrival of Lord Grantham’s first cousin (Imelda Staunton) who has Never. Been. Mentioned. Before. There’s another inheritance battle. There’s Barrow (Robert James-Collier) getting it on in a gay club in York. There is a thief at work. There’s Susan Lynch, also utterly wasted. There’s the Downton servants putting the royal servants in their place via a plan that could have come from Ocean’s Eleven, and is plainly ridiculous. See what I mean? And that’s just the half of it.
Meanwhile, some characters, like Lord (Hugh Bonneville) and Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), barely do anything, while Bates (Brendan Coyle) does nothing at all. Mind you, the poor fella has been exiled and redeemed so many times he is probably exhausted. As for Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), she looks lovely but merely frets, as ever, that the time is up for big estates such as Downton. (Maybe the Turk died of boredom, not sex, thidebornking about it.) On the other hand, Dame Maggie, as Violet Crawley, is still that One-Liner Machine, although I forgot to write down any of her one-liners, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they’re still working her to death. At 84!
OK, there are a couple of decent scenes, as when Molesley (Kevin Doyle) is overwhelmed when in the presence of royalty, but mostly the script is terrible. ‘We can fight our way to a better world together,’ is typical. And then it’s all a big rush at the end to tie up the umpteen side-plots that have had to stand in for the main plot, there not being one. A throat kick would have worked wonders. Definitely.