Downton Abbey: The Motion Picture [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (29th December 2019).
The Film

No sooner does the household of Downton Abbey start discussing economizing measures than they receive a letter from Buckingham Palace announcing a royal visit from the King (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's Simon Jones) and Queen (Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows' Geraldine James)during their Yorkshire tour, planning to stay there single night after a town pageant before going on to Harewood for a ball. Mary Talbot (Anna Karenina's Michelle Dockery), daughter of Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham (Notting Hill's Hugh Bonneville), and retired head butler Carson (Shakespeare in Love's Jim Carter) both have their doubts that young newly-promoted head butler Thomas Barrow (The Ritual's Robert James-Collier) is up to the task of getting the house up to the standards of the other great houses of the country the royals have already seen. Upstairs, they are worried about former chauffeur turned widowed son-in-law Tom Branson (The Imitation Game's Allen Leech) who is an Irish Republican while downstairs maid Daisy (Cinderella's Sophie McShera) shares some of the same sentiments; however, only Branson's are questioned by visiting Major Chetwode (Man Up's Stephen Campbell Moore) who is lurking around the town. Robert's American wife Cora (Once Upon a Time in America's Elizabeth McGovern) and Mary are in the dark about Lady Maud Bagshaw (Vera Drake's Imelda Staunton), the Queen's lady-in-waiting who turns out to be a distant relative who is at odds with Robert's mother Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (A Room with a View's Maggie Smith) who believes that Robert should be Maud's heir since she has no children of her own and is plotting to have her son ingratiate himself with Maud (who herself is trying to avoid visiting Downton Abbey at all despite encouragement from the Queen herself to resolve the issue). Barrow fails to take a stand when the entire staff is put off by the arrogance of visiting Royal Butler Mr. Wilson (Four Weddings and a Funeral's David Haig) and his retinue who have arrived ahead to see that things are to the standards of the King and Queen, particularly earning the ire of cook Mrs. Patmore (The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe's Lesley Nicol) with the announcement that the King's chef will be taking care of the meals. While Carson and the staff – including Barrow despite his wounded pride and the distraction of a fellow covert gay man in King's Dresser Richard Ellis (The Tudors' Max Brown) – plot to wrest control back from the Royal staff, while Tom falls for Maud's maid Lucy (War & Peace's Tuppence Middleton); however, an assassination plot may do more than ruin Downton Abbey's planned festivities.

After the series finale of the six season ITV/WGBH Boston historical drama popular on both sides of the pond, a motion picture spinoff was an inevitability; however, what we get is higher production values masking a messy story in which the commercial element of the assassination plot is actually a subplot and its improbably foiling takes a backseat to the usual upstairs and downstairs plotting and the attempt to incorporate characters from six seasons of the show and give them all something to do along with new characters whose added complications are no more grander than an average story arc from the show. Everything not only feels so overly familiar from the show, it feels just as much indebted as a feature film to creator Julian Fellowes's earlier triumph Gosford Park (although it may have as much to do with the presence of Smith and her zingers); indeed, one is not sure whether that is a defect of Fellowes' influence on the realization of the period or director Michael Engler's visualization of the period not just in trying to maintain the look of the series in a motion picture but also the influence of Gosford Park director Robert Altman's collaboration with Fellowes on the upstairs/downstairs mise-en-scène. The cast is fine overall, and there are some nice small moments between some characters, but the film is not entirely successful at giving every one of the beloved characters a chance to shine; and one wonders how many of the cast members appeared in the film more out of a feeling of obligation to fans than for what the script had to offer them.

Video

Digitally-lensed at 3.4K, Universal's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray looks as spectacular as expected with an enhanced sense of depth in the drone aerial shots rushing up on the estate and the various wide angle movements through the authentic interiors. Detail is quite good even in the more moodily-lit interiors both upstairs and downstairs, including textures of costumes and facial features (important in a film where the actors have to do more work than the script).

Audio

The primary English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track is not particulary epic but it is able to contain the spaciousness of the settings with clear dialogue and often subtle atmospherics with some larger scenes and the sweeping score making fuller use of the sound stage. There are also DTS 5.1 dubs in Spanish and French as well as a Descriptive Video Service track in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Optional English SDH, French, and Spanish tracks are also provided.

Extras

The most substantial of the extras is an audio commentary by director Michael Engler who also directed the show's series finale. He discusses the challenges of re-welcoming the dedicated audience to the film while also trying to do something new and bigger, delaying some of the more familiar visuals and scoring choices, subtle callbacks to earlier in the series, as well as introducing new characters. There are also a pair of cast conversations featuretttes (16:25) with the upstairs cast (7:26) and the downstairs cast (9:26) discussing how the feature film was more of an inevitability to the fans than the cast (including their own family members) as well as how their lives have been effected by gaining recognition via the show. The Royal Visit (3:15) discusses the custom of such visits during the period and the expectation that the great houses would host them while True to the Twenties (2:15) looks at not only the design and lighting choices for the period but also the social situation with the aristocracy during that decade. The deleted scenes (5:33) are such that they could have been included in the already long film without seriously affecting the pace (although one short scene does appear to be an unnecessary additional dig by Carson at Barrow's abilities coordinating the royal visit) while Welcome to Downton Abbey (2:47) has the cast reflecting on returning to the Highclere Castle three years later and the crew on coming up with new ways of filming the location for the feature film. The Brilliance of Julian Fellowes (2:14) is a shoulder-clapping bit with the cast and crew discussing the creator of the series while the "Downton Abbey" Series Recap (10:09) hosted by Carter and Phyllis Logan (Secrets & Lies) may actually be quite helpful in familiarizing viewers with the cast of characters and their story arcs.

Overall

The motion picture version of Downton Abbey should be satisfying to those already in love with the series, but those unfamiliar with the show or who saw the series as a soap opera with higher production values are better off just rewatching Gosford Park.

 


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