The Crawleys Look to the Future in ‘Downton Abbey’

It’s been nearly four years since “Downton Abbey” ended, and now the cast have reunited to bring the aristocratic Crawley family, and their mostly loyal servants, to the silver screen for the “Downton Abbey” film. The purpose of this movie isn’t to tie up loose ends, per se, as the characters that fans have invested in for six seasons don’t wallow in the past here, but look to the future in this feature that presents an idyllic portrait of British life in years between the world wars.

At lot happened in the years in which the original series were set, 1912-1926, namely the sinking of the Titanic, WWI, women’s suffrage, and other monumental events that resulted in dramatic social change in the UK and elsewhere, which greatly impacted the formerly rigid class system. When the saga picks up in 1927, the latter part of the Roaring Twenties, eldest daughter Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), who is happily married to Henry (Matthew Goode, whose role is reduced to a cameo) and now has a little daughter in addition to her son, is contemplating selling Downton and living the more streamlined, modern lifestyle that many of her peers have adapted. This is something, considering the lengths Lady Mary and her father, Robert, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), have gone to in the past to preserve the estate. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is adjusting to life as the wife to the Marquess of Hexam, Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton). Sure, it’s a role she was raised to aspire to, but after her stint running a magazine, she’s understandably finding it difficult to go back to playing a more traditional female role. In the end, her storyline turns out to be the most underwhelming. She’s pregnant and desperate to convince Bertie to put their growing family ahead of royal duty. 

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual downstairs, and less time is devoted to the personal lives of the servants. We only get a brief glimpse of Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna’s (Joanne Froggart) little son, and there’s no update on the love life of Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol). Daisy (Sophie McShera), meanwhile, has cold feet when it comes to her pending nuptials to Andy (Michael C. Fox), and complications arise upon the arrival of a hunky plumber (James Cartwright).

The Crawleys may be all about modernity these days, but that doesn’t stop them from getting swept up when they receive one of the highest honors that could ever be bestowed upon a British aristocratic household since the founding of the kingdom, a visit from the king and queen, in this case George V (Simon Jones) and his consort Mary (Geraldine James). The whole house is sent into a tailspin, and a host of new characters are introduced, including Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), a lady-in-waiting to the queen and a childless cousin of the Crawleys with whom the dowager countess, Violet (Maggie Smith) has feuded, and Princess Mary (Kate Phillips), a royal daughter contemplating a separation from her domineering husband, Viscount Laselles (Andrew Havill), whose bad behavior Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), witnesses firsthand during an awkward luncheon. 

Once the royal visit gets underway, hijinks ensue as the Downton staff find themselves being overtaken by the royal servants. The situation gets rather silly as they band together to take back their house, a plot that involves sitcom-like antics like drugging people with sleeping pills and locking them in their rooms. Thomas (Robert James-Collier), however, who is pushed aside after Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) comes out of retirement for the visit, has a more compelling storyline that includes his stumbling into the 1927 version of a gay club. Thomas, once a villain, had one of the more intriguing arches throughout the series as he came to terms with his sexuality and other issues. Here, we see him genuinely happy for the first time, but, sadly, the moment is too brief.

The MVP of “Downton Abbey” the movie is Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the Irish rebel who, through a series of events, found himself living in the lap of luxury. It’s been seven years since the deal of his beloved wife, youngest Crawley daughter Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), in childbirth, and the single father has yet to find another love. Tom has always been interesting to watch as he struggles to reconcile his political beliefs with his position as the son-in-law of a great earl, but his democratic side always seems to win out, as here we see him falling for Lucy (Tuppence Middleton), the maid of Lady Maud. However, his big moment is when he goes up against a royal assassin with help from none other than Lady Mary, a thrilling moment that seems to come out of left field.

Overall, “Downton Abbey” is a treat for true fans of the series, although those who have never seen an episode will no doubt have little trouble following along. Truth be told, it’s very much just a grander version of one of the series’ extended Christmas episodes, with plenty of warm fuzzies. A potential sequel would probably not be unwelcome, provided that it be a television feature. 

 “Downton Abbey” opens Sept. 20 nationwide.