Elegant as a crystal chandelier, the “Downton Abbey” film is a class act.
If you’re unfamiliar with the television series, as I am, it won’t take you long to get caught up in what’s going on at the front of the abbey and behind the scenes. It’s a gentle, genteel movie that’s rather like a relaxing walk in a British garden.
The King (Simon Jones) and Queen (Geraldine James) are coming to Downton Abbey while they tour Yorkshire. This sets the Crawley family into a frenzy of excitement. The staff, too, is thrilled to be serving royalty. Even the grocer is excited to be providing food for the king.
Bad news comes from Buckingham Palace: The royal staff soon will arrive, and the Abbey staff is being shooed away. Perhaps someone can plot a kind of secret mutiny?
In the meantime, Violet Crawley (Dame Maggie Smith) — who pretty much owns the movie with her catty remarks — is about to get her claws out. The queen’s handmaiden Maud Bagshaw (the wonderful Imelda Staunton) is Violet’s cousin. Violet thinks Maud is making a dreadful mistake with her inheritance, and Violet must know the details so she can make Maud see reason.
Retired butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) returns to manage the visit.
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Highclere Castle, which is the real name for the “Downton Abbey” we see in exterior shots, gets a lot of screen time, as do other environments such as a parade and an utterly gorgeous sunset/evening scene toward the end. Visuals are important here in a movie where the cinematography enhances the mood with lovely light and stunning color. Toward the finale, a lush ballroom scene, with gorgeous music and brief, revealing conversations, is wonderful to behold.
Oscar nominated screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for his “Gosford Park,” wrote the screenplay and also wrote for the television series.
There are a couple of “reveals” that are obvious right from the get-go. Most of them work, even though they’re not gasp-inducing “big reveals.” A couple of them create narratives that very well could be featured in a sequel.
I never saw one moment of the series, but I never found myself lost while I watched the movie unfold. This is a movie that stands on its own: It doesn’t require homework or research to understand relationships.
This is a kind of respite — its tranquility, manners and exquisite visuals are a break from loud, CGI-infused actioners.
If you’re already a “Downton” fan, I imagine you will embrace it even more than I did. Why not put on your finest (lots of viewers are dressing in costumes from the era) and head to the ball?