Downton Abbey returns in style

By Amy Grace Drinkwater

Jim Carter comes out of retirement to ready Downton Abbey for a royal visit. (Focus Features/Kirksville Daily Express)

The extravagant 5,000-acre Highclere Castle estate is hosting a reunion of the beloved Downton Abbey characters, and you’re invited.

The film opens in 1927 with a letter making its way from London through the Yorkshire English countryside to servants of Downton Abbey, announcing the king and queen’s plan to stay at Lord Crawley’s manor.

The film, directed by “Sex and the City’s” Michael Engler, was highly anticipated by Downton fans and has already brought in $89.6 million in the box office gross since opening in theaters Sept. 20.

Engler presents the younger cast in an energetic wardrobe by abandoning the long and modest Victorian-era gowns in season one for sexier attire and showing off period headbands.

Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) sporting a short, flapper-style bob, and Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), the sarcastic and witty matriarch of the manor steal the spotlight as the audience’s favorite characters.

Wearing classic pearls, jewels and pastel silk Victorian era gowns, Violet and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) bicker in good nature, throughout the film. The disagree over arrangements during the royal visit and feuding family relations. The film makes evident Violet and Isobel’s now close friendship.

“Will you have enough clichés to get you through the visit?” Violet asks Isobel, over the concerns of the royal visit.

“If not, I’ll come to you,” Isobel spews back.

Suspense and excitement commence with the announcement of the royal visit, along with a community parade followed by a royal ball. At once, the shocked household is thrown into chaos as they prepare for the fancy occasion.

The camera jumps from the bustling of servants in the kitchen, including the audience’s favorite flirt Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) and dreamy Andrew Parker (Michael C. Fox), to the relaxed luxury of the Crawley household, separating the two distinct classes, all while capturing the breath-taking scenes of the stately gardens and intricate architecture of Highclere castle.

Engler captures each character at their best during the film. Lady Mary leads as the overseer of the estate directing the royal plans and keeping the cast in check.

Rob James-Collier, playing Thomas Barrow, stars in the movie in a whole new light, redeeming his previous sinister character as a now reformed butler of the manor who’s discovering more about himself.

Mr. Carson (James Edward Carter) returns from his position as butler emeritus, willing to help out Lady Mary and take over for Barrow in the royal visit, which sparks a bit of drama.

Highclere Castle, the stand-in for the fictional “Downton Abbey,” is hosting a Christmas gala this year. Photo by Catharine Hamm

A new character makes her way into Downton. Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) is a cousin of the Crawley’s who feuds with Violet throughout the planning for the royal visit. She appears snobbish and distrusting of others, but, more importantly, she holds the power of inheritance over the Crawley family as she’s the rightful heir.

Repeatedly, Violet pokes her nose in her cousin’s affairs in the most proper way to get to the bottom of family business. The tables have now turned, and while Violet was once giving advice to Isobel, now Isobel is the one providing the wisdom.

Not to worry, for Enlger keeps the Downton fans on their toes as the drama unfolds with suspicions of a cheated inheritance.

Major Chetwode (Stephen Campbell Moore) pushes his way into the scene as a mysterious man with a possible interior motive, seeks out and discusses matters of the King’s visit with Tom Branson, the beloved late Sybil Branson’s husband, played by Allen Leech.

Branson is a politically conscious Irish man who returned to Downton Abbey at the end of the final season and is now in the auto business with Lady Mary’s husband, Henry Talbot.

Upon the arrival of the royal family, the royal staff takes over, bewildering the Downton staff. Everyone is under the spell of the royal family as they compete for their jobs.

Mr. Wilson (David Haig), as the King’s butler, is introduced into the servants’ quarters along with other royal staffers, which sparks a dispute between the confident butler and former footman Mr. Barrow and the softhearted Mr. and Mrs. Bates (Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt), the servants at the head of the household.

It’s clear Carson is also not pleased with the abuse from the pompous royal staff. The prideful royal butler, stuck-up French chef and sassy head housekeeper dismiss the Downton servants from having any involvement upon the king and queen’s arrival.

Engler does an excellent job of spicing up the plot as the Downton staff devises a conniving plan to sabotage the royal staff efforts to impress their royal employers.

Meanwhile, inquiries about the rightful Crawley heir arise as forbidden romances, revealing status, class and sexual orientation, start to bloom.

Engler clearly wants the film to continue the Downton Abbey series on the big screen, since the ending of this film has the audience’s mind spinning with quetions, such as will the Crawleys decide to leave the estate? Thereby opening the possibility of another Downton Abbey film in the near future.

With a rating of 84 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and an audience score of 95 percent, this Carnival Production and Perfect World Pictures film excels with its visual appeal, sarcasm, wit and comedy, keeping Downton fans satisfied, but ready for more.

Contact Amy Grace Drinkwater at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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