Downton Abbey movie reviews point to decadent fan service
That seems to be the underlying thread between the first batch of reviews for this feature film, penned by series creator Julian Fellowes and directed by series helmer Michael Engler.
“Life is hard; Downton Abbey is easy,” writes EW’s Leah Greenblatt. Critics for Variety and Slate echoed that sentiment, describing the film as “explicitly designed as a balm for the aching hearts of those who loved watching the TV version” and the equivalent of “running into old neighbors who moved out years ago.”
If you aren’t familiar with the series, Empire‘s Helen O’Hara suggests, “There’s little in this aggressively gentle nostalgia trip to really draw you into their story.”
Downton Abbey, starring many of the familiar faces that made the series such a hit, picks up two years after the events of the season 6 finale. The household is preparing for a royal visit from the King and Queen of England, something that causes drama to ensue. Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, and Matthew Goode are some of those familiar faces from the original cast returning for this big-screen jaunt.
Read more reviews of the film, out in U.S. theaters Sept. 20, below.
Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly)
“There are various bits about the imperious royal household staff clashing with the locals; secret pregnancies and love affairs and assassination attempts — even a sensitively explored gay-awakening subplot for closeted butler Thomas (Robert James-Collier). But nothing in creator Julian Fellowes’ script ever strays too far from its genteel comfort zone; solving problems in Downton-world is like unknotting a tangled necklace: There may be difficulties, but rest assured that by the 122-minute mark, as above, so below; all will be right and dreamy with the Abbey.”
Daniel D’Addario (Variety)
“This new feature film about the lives of a family scrapping to preserve their fortune, and those of the servants attending them, is explicitly designed as a balm for the aching hearts of those who loved watching the TV version… And, just like that series, the Downton film looks back even further than the early-to-mid-2010s, recalling a time of innocence and of understated glamour. That the film opens with the revelation that King George V and Queen Mary are to visit the estate and tracks the visit to its conclusion provides, among other things, an opportunity for the cast to dress in decadent, richly jewel-toned formalwear.”
Leslie Felperin (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Thanks to an infusion of financing, not unlike the way Cora’s dowry saved the family fortunes way back when, Downton 2.0 is literally bigger, broader, more gem-encrusted, punctuated with more drone shots and monarchist pomp, and has all the major castmembers back in place. Even those who made grumbling noises in the press about having had enough (*cough* Maggie Smith *cough*) when the sixth and supposedly final season wrapped have sucked it up and donned the corsets and waistcoats.”
Dave White (The Wrap)
“For this theatrical sequel, set in 1927, two years after where the series ended, creator-screenwriter Julian Fellowes and veteran TV director Michael Engler (Downton Abbey, Six Feet Under) have delivered a densely packed two-hour episode that manages to touch on the lives of every main character (and there are over two dozen of them) and weave together what would amount to a season’s worth of narratives.”
June Thomas (Slate)
“Being reintroduced to the residents of Downton Abbey is like running into old neighbors who moved out years ago—their faces look familiar, and you remember their annoying habits, but their names can be elusive. Fellowes, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay, seems to expect this. Nothing in the script requires viewers to recall anything about Daisy Mason’s backstory—in fact, better not to, since her departure for her father-in-law’s farm at the end of season 6 seems to have been forgotten.”
Helen O’Hara (Empire)
“If you are already a fan of creator Julian Fellowes’ upstairs-downstairs ITV drama, its big-screen debut will likely delight. All your favourite characters are back, and Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess continues to shower us in delightfully acerbic snark. Every character seems to tell someone how proud they are of them, and everyone does their duty, by George. But if you are not already well acquainted with this fine country house and its residents, there’s little in this aggressively gentle nostalgia trip to really draw you into their story.”
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)
“This standalone movie special is based on the smash-hit telenovela of picturesque Brit poshness, Downton Abbey – all about the interwar aristos with problems that go well beyond as anything as déclassé as ‘first world’ – and this film is like the most intensely glucose and sometimes baffling Christmas special. It is structured like any TV episode around a set of concurrent subplots, delivered in a series of little bitesized scenes, played in and out with strident little orchestral stings on the soundtrack. Every so often you can feel the rhythmic thud of where the ad break would normally go – where it will go, in fact, when this goes to TV.”
Johnny Oleksinski (The New York Post)
“PBS viewers will recall those classy evenings spent with Downton Abbey, the charming British series about a noble family in Yorkshire and their giant manse, which aired from 2010 to 2015. The Crawleys’ and their servants’ affairs and silverware disasters were a pleasure to watch. And then, like all good things, Downton ended. Or it should’ve, because its new film continuation is as forced and unnecessary as a curtsy to Meghan Markle.”