Downton Abbey

We’ve been expecting you

By Britt Argo

You are cordially invited to bear witness to the King and Queen of England’s arrival at Downton Abbey. The silver is being polished, linens pressed, and crystal glasses and fine china being set out. Everyone is eagerly sprucing up for the big arrival. The highest honor and most lavish dinner ever thrown by the Crawley family. Put on your white gloves, long beaded necklaces, or your dapper tweed suits. Pour some tea, indulge in a biscuit (British cookie), and celebrate this enchanting affair. After six glorious seasons (52 episodes from 2010-2015) on PBS (Masterpiece, formerly known as Masterpiece Theatre) their feature film brings the grandeur and splendor back to life.

Downton Abbey television series
Filmed at the Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England, the cast and crew transported us back to the early 20th century to follow the traditions, customs, and pomp and circumstance of the British aristocratic Crawley family and their staff/servants at their Edwardian country manor. If you still haven’t watched the series, but plan to, there are spoilers ahead. Otherwise, here’s a refresher on the great juxtaposition of the burdens/benefits and struggles/responsibilities of the upstairs/downstairs players.

The upstairs story
It began with the sinking of the Titanic (1912), loss of their heir, and the threat of losing the family home to a distant relative (Matthew Crawley). From 1912 to 1925, we followed the lives of Robert Crawley (Earl of Grantham), wife Cora Crawley (Countess of Grantham), and their three daughters (Mary, Edith, and Sybil) as they dealt with love, loss, turmoil, and triumph at Downton Abbey for 14 years. There were power struggles at the hospital as Robert’s mother Violet (Dowager Countess of Grantham) gave up control to Matthew’s mom, Isobel Crawley, and eventually Cora. The youngest daughter, Sybil, eloped, had their first grandchild, and passed away. Middle daughter Edith had a baby out of wedlock and eventually found love and happiness with her wedding to Bertie Pelham (Lord Hexham). Headstrong Mary, eventually married Robert Crawley (again regaining the estate for the family), was sadly widowed when he passed, but found love, marriage, and a baby on the way (with Henry Talbot) in the end. We also saw the toll the Great War took, loss of men, and Downton becoming a convalescent ward/rehab center during the war.

The downstairs story
With honor, duty, dignity, diligence, discretion, and pride, the staff/servants at Downton give up their own personal lives to run the household and keep the manor working at the highest level of standards. Led by Butler Carson (the beloved Jim Carter), we get a glimpse into the struggles of valets, cooks, lady’s maids, footmen, and staff at Downton. Eager William goes off to war and perishes, Anna marries Mr. Bates after his false imprisonment and they welcome the birth of a son, Carson finds love and marriage with Mrs. Hughes (but eventually must retire for shaky hands), Cook Mrs. Patmore opens her own bed and breakfast, Thomas Barrow (the tumultuous troublemaker) finally gets his chance to come back and take over as the butler in the end, and Mr. Molesley leaves Downton to become a full-time teacher.

Downton Abbey movie
The movie delivers new drama, romance, and family intrigue. The film picks up 18 months later in the fall of 1927, with the royal visit of King George V and Queen Mary. The palace has planned a town parade, formal luncheon, lavish dinner, and expect an elegant, refined sumptuous affair of the highest standard. Everyone at Downton is thrilled and wastes no time resuming their roles to put out their best. Even Mr. Molesley returns from teaching, and former butler, Mr. Bates, is called upon to preside. But they all find a bit of contention when the palace sends the King’s butler and Royal chef, in advance of the visit, to “take over” the preparations. This new team wants them to “stay out of their way,” humiliating the Downton staff. A plan soon forms to “defend Downton’s honor and fight back.”
Upstairs, there is more drama with the arrival of Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) who dislikes and spars with Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith). Lady Mary Talbot, who is very settled (new marriage, new baby) still endures a little sibling rivalry with sister Edith. On a positive note, brother-in-law (and widower) Tom Branson, gets the spark of a new love this time around. As Downton is the “heart of the community,” everyone works together to keep it beating and put on a royal affair.

Will you want to watch it?
Absolutely! If you have not seen the series, it’s still a wonderful world to enter on the big screen. You will be transported and wowed at the epitome of elegance, refinement, grace, and splendor they paint with this story, this family, and the manor (a character in itself). I would recommend watching the series (streaming free for Amazon Prime and Georgia Public Broadcasting members) before watching, to immerse yourself in all the rich characters and stories. But if the movie is your first viewing, I am sure you will be hooked. If you can’t wait to see it, I recommend watching two other lovely British films about class, manor, and refinement—Gosford Park (Robert Altman’s delightful 2001 film about an upstairs/downstairs dinner party in the 30s that also stars Maggie Smith) and Pride & Prejudice (the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden—the story of Mr. Darcy and the Bennet family is always fun to step back in time to enjoy). 

Britt Argo, an avid movie fan for 30 years, sees an average of 150 movies a year in movie theaters. She is the marketing coordinator at Area 51: Aurora Cineplex and The Fringe Miniature Golf5100 Commerce Parkway in Roswell. 770-518-0977.