Arts

She's a brick house

'Downton Abbey' wants to make England great again

Back in 2010, the PBS series "Downton Abbey" offered an alternative riff on the old "Upstairs, Downstairs" paradigm: a tale of an aristocratic English household above and their servants below. Even as "Upstairs, Downstairs" saw its own revival the same year, "Downton Abbey" outlived its inspiration, running six seasons, and four years after its television finale, spawning a big-screen follow-up of the same name. Fans will likely delight in this reunion movie; others have no reason to bother.

The swanky English counterpart of America's "Sex and the City" sequel movies, "Downton Abbey" proves so congealed from its 52-episode history that it's hard to tell if the actors are overacting or not. Creator Julian Fellowes pens this fan-service follow up with its "Dick Van Dyke Show" plot: Uh oh! The boss is coming over for dinner. Everything has to be perfect!

In this case, of course, "the boss" means King George V (Simon Jones), accompanied by Queen Mary (Geraldine James). In 1927, their royal tour through the English countryside will include a stop at Downton, the Yorkshire estate of the Earl of Grantham, a.k.a. the Crawley family. The perpetually bemused Earl, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), and his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), oversee the preparations of the staff, now ostensibly led by Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier). But Charles Carson (Jim Carter) steps out of retirement to get the job done right, the internal serving-staff tensions only exacerbated by the arrival of the Royal Staff.

The story's three-act structure roughly corresponds to three royal soirees: a parade, a dinner and a ball. A variety of dramatic subplots follow, including one particularly clumsy and borderline pointless subplot that involves a burst of cheesy peril. Another plot thread that threatens to "out" the closeted Barrow and put him in legal jeopardy. The core plot point for the Crawleys involves guest star Imelda Staunton as Robert's cousin (and Queen Mary's lady in waiting) Lady Maud Bagshaw, who intends to make a play for the future of Downton. Of course, Dame Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess (again in a "Golden Girls"-style double-act with Penelope Wilton's Lady Merton) conspires to shut down Bagshaw.

A couple of fresh romances also stir to life at the story's margins, but "Downton Abbey" concerns itself much more with romanticizing the traditions of privilege, the British Empire and the royal family. The King and Queen prove entirely wise and benevolent, Downton's pride-hurt serving staff grovels and schemes for the right to serve them rather than have a night off, and even Robert's Irish Republican son-in-law, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) -- who claims here to be "not much of a royalist"-- repeatedly goes out of his way to make a case for the royals.

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While none of this is incredible, per se, there's something unseemly about Fellowes turning it into entertainment in 2019. Sure, it's history (sort of), but wildly elite families being served and flattered by grateful servants is so last century. In the world of "Downton," the family and the help act like pals at times, but for every pat on the head the servants get, there's a scene like the one in which staff member Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) flatteringly consoles Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery): "Downton Abbey is the heart of this community, and you keep it beating." Forgive me for suggesting that Fellowes -- or, as he's sometimes known, Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford DL -- might consider "Downton" the cake he's letting us eat.

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She's a brick house

'Downton Abbey' wants to make England great again

Uploaded: Thu, Sep 19, 2019, 5:15 pm

Back in 2010, the PBS series "Downton Abbey" offered an alternative riff on the old "Upstairs, Downstairs" paradigm: a tale of an aristocratic English household above and their servants below. Even as "Upstairs, Downstairs" saw its own revival the same year, "Downton Abbey" outlived its inspiration, running six seasons, and four years after its television finale, spawning a big-screen follow-up of the same name. Fans will likely delight in this reunion movie; others have no reason to bother.

The swanky English counterpart of America's "Sex and the City" sequel movies, "Downton Abbey" proves so congealed from its 52-episode history that it's hard to tell if the actors are overacting or not. Creator Julian Fellowes pens this fan-service follow up with its "Dick Van Dyke Show" plot: Uh oh! The boss is coming over for dinner. Everything has to be perfect!

In this case, of course, "the boss" means King George V (Simon Jones), accompanied by Queen Mary (Geraldine James). In 1927, their royal tour through the English countryside will include a stop at Downton, the Yorkshire estate of the Earl of Grantham, a.k.a. the Crawley family. The perpetually bemused Earl, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), and his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), oversee the preparations of the staff, now ostensibly led by Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier). But Charles Carson (Jim Carter) steps out of retirement to get the job done right, the internal serving-staff tensions only exacerbated by the arrival of the Royal Staff.

The story's three-act structure roughly corresponds to three royal soirees: a parade, a dinner and a ball. A variety of dramatic subplots follow, including one particularly clumsy and borderline pointless subplot that involves a burst of cheesy peril. Another plot thread that threatens to "out" the closeted Barrow and put him in legal jeopardy. The core plot point for the Crawleys involves guest star Imelda Staunton as Robert's cousin (and Queen Mary's lady in waiting) Lady Maud Bagshaw, who intends to make a play for the future of Downton. Of course, Dame Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess (again in a "Golden Girls"-style double-act with Penelope Wilton's Lady Merton) conspires to shut down Bagshaw.

A couple of fresh romances also stir to life at the story's margins, but "Downton Abbey" concerns itself much more with romanticizing the traditions of privilege, the British Empire and the royal family. The King and Queen prove entirely wise and benevolent, Downton's pride-hurt serving staff grovels and schemes for the right to serve them rather than have a night off, and even Robert's Irish Republican son-in-law, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) -- who claims here to be "not much of a royalist"-- repeatedly goes out of his way to make a case for the royals.

While none of this is incredible, per se, there's something unseemly about Fellowes turning it into entertainment in 2019. Sure, it's history (sort of), but wildly elite families being served and flattered by grateful servants is so last century. In the world of "Downton," the family and the help act like pals at times, but for every pat on the head the servants get, there's a scene like the one in which staff member Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) flatteringly consoles Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery): "Downton Abbey is the heart of this community, and you keep it beating." Forgive me for suggesting that Fellowes -- or, as he's sometimes known, Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford DL -- might consider "Downton" the cake he's letting us eat.

— Peter Canavese

Comments

Edward
Bailey Park
on Sep 23, 2019 at 6:55 am
Edward, Bailey Park
on Sep 23, 2019 at 6:55 am
Like this comment

Spoken like a true, brash and uncultured American colonist who doesn't know their place or their history...


Agreed
Old Mountain View
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:02 pm
Agreed, Old Mountain View
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:02 pm
2 people like this

Great review. I couldn't even see the appeal of the TV series. I wouldn't have minded the set-up (like a warmed-over version of several British TV series on PBS set in around the same era, or past movies like "The Shooting Party," or all those Merchant-Ivory movies popular in the 1990s, so full of grand estates and garden parties that one critic dubbed them "England by Ralph Lauren") if the writing had been fresh and interesting. It seemed instead to be about unpleasant people treating each other badly, all playing out predictably.

Maybe the series' appeal was to younger viewers to whom so much of this wasn't already so trite. If so, they'd probably like earlier shows better -- they were better-written.

It's even less original than the reviewer mentioned -- no need to refer even to the Dick Van Dyke Show. The entertaining original "Upstairs, Downstairs" TV series, a model for this genre, had a climactic episode where The King comes to dinner, everything has to be perfect, and existing dramas among the characters are exacerbated. Let's hope British drama can invent some new ideas soon.


downton down, Brits UP
St. Francis Acres
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:15 pm
downton down, Brits UP, St. Francis Acres
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:15 pm
Like this comment

> Let's hope British drama can invent some new ideas soon.

Huh? Ever heard of Britbox Acorn or the BBC, even the Brit stuff on Netflix and Amazon? Some absolutely great programming. Golly, just go read the list of last weekend's emmy noms and winners.

Over the last year or two: Killing Eve. A Very Brit Scandal. Miniaturist. Crown. Victoria. And for guilty pleasures - Peaky.

Anyone who had expectations for DA as anything more than a reunion tour was expecting too much anyway.


The new Murder she wrote
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:41 pm
The new Murder she wrote, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:41 pm
Like this comment

It's not the same genre, but the demographic is a mirror image.
My mom loves it.


Edward
Bailey Park
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:51 pm
Edward, Bailey Park
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:51 pm
2 people like this

I doubt sincerely the film was made to please the likes of The Voice journalists or readers. Thankfully.


The new Murder she wrote
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:54 pm
The new Murder she wrote, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:54 pm
Like this comment

No, more for shut-ins with false superiority issues, IMO.


The new Murder she wrote
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:57 pm
The new Murder she wrote, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2019 at 1:57 pm
2 people like this

...and CERTAINLY not made for the likes of the riff-raff that you might find actually COMMENTING on said paper ;)


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