I attended a sneak peak viewing of the Downton Abbey motion picture last night and this is my review. Let’s jump right into it: While I don’t think this is the finest work we have seen from the historical UK series, and this film seems to stub its toe just a little, it still manages a hearty and robust B (above average) grade in academic terms.
Positive #1 – I absolutely love how many original characters from the television series managed to make the transition to the big screen in their debut film. That is always a good testament to a story franchise when you get buy in from the stars on the screen. While there are some new faces on the movie set the vast majority of the cast are in this movie, which takes place about two years after the PBS series left off. The Bates family has a notable addition, a son, and The Dowager and her main foil (Matthew’ mom) are still trading barbs and verbal blows, and Daisy is getting hitched. All the familiar faces succeeded wonderfully in helping us feel safe and secure that we are peeking in on a timeline that is familiar and completely connected to our previous excursions into the lives and loves of the Crowley family. We all have been here before and while sometimes familiarity breeds contempt that is not the case with Downton Abbey the movie.
Opportunities to improve – I thought there were two areas of concern for me in this first movie rendition. First, while the idea of centering this chapter around the British Crown Royal visit I’m not sure if focusing on the clash of the respective staffs was the most riveting of choices. About three quarters of the way into the film, after realizing that this was kind of “it” when it came to the whole story arch, I felt a little disappointed. I’m not sure if there will be other Downton movies so maybe they will have another opportunity to really hit one out of the ball park. Strength of story wasn’t a complete “swing and a miss” but they definitely “fouled one off in the stands” if you live sports metaphors. The other aspect of this film that fell flat for me were the cut shots of The Dowager at the end of the film. I thought the final scene with Mary and her grandmother in the side parlor when they were discussing the matriarch’s visit to London earlier in the week was powerful and well done. What felt disjointed and harsh to me were all the cut shots and closeups of The Dowager as they panned across the ball room and some of the other shots and characters and they kept coming back to her. I mean, I get it, I know what they were trying to do to honor the character if she should pass in the near future, but the photography and close ups seemed to have been patched worked together after the fact and were very garbled and not in line spatially with other characters. It was just bad and left me wondering who in the world edited those shots, and more importantly, who in the world approved them to make the final cut!?
Positive #2 – I was really happy with what they did around Thomas by happenstance visiting his very first underground gay club and then later seeing him have his first real man kiss. I thought it was all tastefully done, in very much Downton Abbey fashion, and gave us an even keener sense and greater understanding of the plight of GLBTQ folks during the Dark Ages of sexuality. I think Thomas wonderfully channeled the elation, the grief, and the utter relief we all feel when we realize that we are not alone and there others out there that are just like us. It is a harrowing, frightening, and isolating existence when we don’t see or can’t connect with others who are struggling with the same questions about sexual identity. That isolation can lead to despair and that despair can lead to self-destructive behaviors and for some even suicide. Thomas got his wings as a gay man in this one and I love that for him, his love interest, and all of us who have been there in the darkness of loneliness and isolation and found our way out. 🙂