“Downton Abbey: The Movie” Is a Gift for Only Loyal Fans


Lara Garay

“Downton Abbey: The Movie” picks up where the television series left off.

Lara Garay, Illustrations Editor

Rating: 3/5 Falcons

I am an avid Downton Abbey fan, and so nostalgia might have let a few things slide in Downton Abbey: The Movie, but not even Maggie Smith’s reprisal in her role as the Dowager Countess could make up for the film’s biggest flaws.

The 2019 period drama picks up one year after the critically-acclaimed series left off. The Crawley family remains as grand as ever, and director Michael Engler continues to spare no expense on stunning aerial shots of English landscapes. Centered around a royal visit to Downton, the film’s visuals take full advantage of the show’s transition to the big screen. Scenes are dense with high-quality footage of servants being servants and fully saturated shots of aristocrats being aristocrats. Overall, it definitely looks like a movie. But aside from some heightened cinematography, last week’s release does little else to distinguish itself from a television special. 

Beneath all of the enhanced glamour and despite some distracting blights, Downton Abbey fundamentally maintains all of the heart, wit, and magic that got fans to fall in love with it in the first place. Although we aren’t given a “previously on Downton Abbey” as the movie opens, this film is definitely not a standalone piece. It isn’t supposed to be one, either. This movie is a two-hour-long fan service dedicated to the series’ loyal audience, not meant to be watched by those unfamiliar with the show. That’s where screenwriter Julian Fellowes went wrong. Instead of exploring the new storytelling methods offered by a movie format, Fellowes continues to follow the already exhausted Downton Abbey formula that just doesn’t work on the big screen. This results in both awkward and sporadic pacing that makes the first act extremely difficult to get through, even for a committed fan. 

Despite some distracting blights, Downton Abbey fundamentally maintains all of the heart, wit, and magic that got fans to fall in love with it.

The first twenty minutes are spent giving each and every member of the main cast their “oh look it’s so-and-so” moment. The following hour establishes twenty different subplots, most of which are resolved halfway through the movie and have no real bearing on the outcome of anything, while the rest are never even mentioned again until the very end. The only exceptions are Thomas’ romance plot with the king’s footman, Richard, and… yeah, that’s about it. Although brief, Thomas’ new relationship provides some closure to his character arc’s abrupt conclusion and actually makes an impact on Thomas’ identity, as opposed to other subplots, which are included solely for the sake of easy drama. Meanwhile, these scenes are constantly interrupted by what feels like a compilation of high-quality housekeeping stock footage; there’s definitely at least thirty minutes of just straight-up dusting. 

Fellowes relies too heavily on how much fans will remember from the series itself, and overestimates what they’re willing to forgive in order to cherish one last moment with the beloved cast, most of whom are not a part of any compelling plot points, get zero character development, and are easily lost in the crowd among such a huge cast. 

Nonetheless, although the first half of the film feels like an entire season condensed into a single hour, the second half manages to settle into itself and almost rekindle what made Downton so special in the first place. Ultimately, Downton Abbey is the story of a house and the lives of the people under its roof. Despite all its faults, this movie still is able to capture just that. And in the end, it doesn’t really matter whether if it falls short here or there. It’s got heart, which means Downton Abbey fans (including myself) will be watching this film for years to come.

This piece also appears in our September 2019 print edition.