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CHRIS KNIGHT: Downton Abbey makes a delightful return with its usual soapy antics and a few racy kisses — blimey!


“Blimey!”

“Heavens!”

“Golly!”

“Oh my goodness!”

“How exciting!”

These are pretty much the first words of several members of the staff and family in the new Downton Abbey movie reacting to the news of an impending royal visit. And if you’re a fan of the six seasons of the British drama about life in a Yorkshire country estate a century ago, you may be moved to even more risqué expostulations. Bejabbers! Tarnation! Judas Priest!

The year is 1927, and George V and Queen Mary (Queen Elizabeth’s grandparents, played by Simon Jones and Geraldine James) are going to stay a night at Downton as part of a tour of the region. This throws everyone, above stairs and below, into a tizzy. The Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), his wife (Elizabeth McGovern), daughters, etc., are worried how Downton will fare under royal scrutiny. Will a stray smudge stain their reputation forever?

But things are even more at sixes and sevens for the help. The old butler, Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), is dragged out of retirement to oversee the staff during this important event, upsetting his replacement Mr. Barrow (Robert James-Collier). But before that resentment can evolve in a full-on butler-off, the King’s servants arrive and take over, not letting the Downton staff do anything.

And they’re really mean and snooty!

It says something about the soap-opera priorities of the show that a plot thread about a possible assassination of the King plays as an afterthought. But Downton has never been heavy on realpolitik, except as window dressing. It’s far more fun to watch Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) go weak at the knees at the thought of waiting on the King and Queen, while married servants Anna and John Bates (Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle) come up with a plan to avenge themselves on the King’s staff, despite Mr. Carson’s warning against “disloyal tomfoolery.”

Those unfamiliar with the sprawling cast of the show will be lost in this film, though they can admire the lovely costumes, the house itself (better photographed than most of the cast) and the wicked witticisms of the Dowager Countess, played to scene-stealing perfection by Maggie Smith. There are relatively few new faces of import, although Imelda Staunton arrives as Maud Bagshaw, the Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting and Lord Grantham’s cousin. (Her own servant, Lucy Smith, is played by Tuppence Middleton, an actress I think was chosen for having the most British name possible.)

In fact, my four-out-of-five star rating is strictly for fans of the show (guilty), who should find this the equivalent of a satisfying double episode without an annoying pledge break in the middle. Everyone – Mrs. Patmore, Andy and Daisy, Lady Edith, Tom Branson, you name it – gets at least a scene and a few words. There are a couple of racy kisses, and a long denouement after the climax of the film, which is when – wait for it – dinner is served. And while this is hardly a Marvel-level spoiler, hang onto your teacups when I tell you that George V escapes with his life. Jeepers!

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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