Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for September 13th, 2019

Downton Abbey **

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th September, 2019

Downton AbbeyI am one of that rare breed of people in Britain who never watched a single episode of the long-running cult TV series Downton Abbey, though I did sit in on a live interview with its creator, Julian Fellowes, some years ago. One day, I thought, they will make a film of it, which I shall go to see, even though nostalgia-infused upstairs-downstairs dramas aren’t really my thing. This is indeed that feature film. The screenplay is also by Lord Fellowes and the cast will be familiar to fans of the TV show. In fact, I suspect it was mainly made to provide comfort and sustenance to those who had been feeling Downton withdrawal symptoms. The action is set in the late 1920s — after the general strike has caused a few shudders — and centres on an imagined visit by King George V and Queen Mary to Downton Abbey as part of a royal peregrination among fine houses in Yorkshire and other points North. Highclere Castle (the real “Downton Abbey”) is as glorious as ever in its starring role and Harewood House puts in a cameo appearance. Cue for National Trust members to swoon. And in all fairness, it is all very beautiful. Of course it is the intrigues and amours of both the extended Crawley family and their devoted servants that provide the meat in this period piece stew. A couple of new excitements, including an attempted assassination and a police raid on a pop-up gay dance venue, add an extra frisson, but otherwise the film just drifts gently along like a cricket match on a late summer’s afternoon. Hugh Bonneville, as the Earl of Grantham, is charmingly ineffectual; it is the women of the household who have  some gumption. Maggie Smith as the Dowager matriarch has a few spicy, acid quips and asides, but the part does not stretch her. Remember, this is an actor who is capable of something as remarkable and magnificent as the eponymous The Lady in the Van. There are some handsome men and some pretty women in Downton Abbey, which will please many punters. And I suppose as a couple of hours of escapism from 2019 Brexit Britain the movie has its uses. But, oh dear, surely it could have been less superficial and cutesy make-believe?

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