NAD Downton Abbey review

Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

Maggie Smith (left) and Michelle Dockery return to reprise their television roles in the motion picture version of “Downtown Abbey.”

When “Avengers: Endgame” was released earlier this year, I wrote that knowledge of what came before in the popular series was vital. Additionally, knowing the characters who appeared throughout the history of contemporary Marvel superhero movies would be an essential factor for a full enjoyment of this Avengers film.

The same holds true for “Downton Abbey,” which attracted tens of millions of television viewers around the world, including on PBS in the United States. Production on new episodes stopped in 2015. You really do need to know the cast of characters from the TV show to appreciate the movie version. 

Before my preview screening of the film last week, I had never seen a complete episode of “Downton Abbey.” Of course, while changing channels, I’ve watched for a few minutes, but the series never held my attention. 

No real reason. I do like shows from the Brits, such as “The Night Manager,” “London Spy,” and “A Very English Scandal.” My favorite Brit-com is “Keeping Up Appearances,” starring the wonderful Patricia Routledge as the irrepressible, interfering fussbudget Hyacinth Bucket.

The movie edition of “Downton Abbey” is moderately entertaining – unless highly embroidered female costuming is your passion, which might send it into the stratosphere for you. Newcomers definitely need a scorecard to know who’s who because the filmmakers, including director Michael Engler, throw you right into the very crowded, very posh, and very busy mix. 

Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, and Michelle Dockery return, as does, according to the pre-publicity, almost every other performer from the television series. The acting by all is perfection, so there’s that to admire. The film, photographed by Ben Smithard, looks superb.

The story is slight. It’s 1927, and life has gone on at Downton. A fancy note is written at Buckingham Palace, and we follow the permutations of its delivery straight to the Grantham estate in the Yorkshire countryside. King George V and Queen Mary are coming to the area and will visit. It’s not a request, it’s a command.

This throws much of Downton into a tizzy with stiff upper quips and all that. The gentleman repairing the broken hot water boiler gets angry at someone’s romantic entanglement, and breaks the boiler again, on purpose. 

The Downton kitchen staff and other servants will be replaced by Royal employees, thus leading to the film’s primary conflict: Downton folks versus Buckingham Palace folks. Comeuppance, indeed. 

A main male character comes out of the closet, and there’s a scene in a secret gay London club, called the Turton. A political statement is made with a kiss. 

The gay material is handled with good taste as befits the screenwriting style of Julian Fellowes, who is a Conservative peer in the House of Lords and is known to those closest to him as Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, in the County of Dorset, which is where his peerage lies.

He also wrote the television series, as well as “Gosford Park” from 2001, a much better movie with similar characters and themes, which is directed by Robert Altman.

There is a lot of ”Upstairs, Downstairs” in the film and much tsk-tsking and eye-rolling by the haughty haughts and snooty snoots who pop in and out of Downton. 

The audience with whom I saw the movie was comprised of scores of “Downtown Abbey” fans, who, being back in the bosoms of the characters they adored, laughed and cheered and had a merry old time.

My visit to “Downton Abbey” reminded me of the first time I had pumpernickel bread. Never having eaten it, when an adult, I had a sandwich with pumpernickel and thought it was pleasant. However, I never felt the need to have it again. 

THE GOLDFINCH: This film is already considered a failure, and I disagree. Yes, director John Crowley and screenwriter Peter Straughan made a serious mistake in how they adapted their motion picture version of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Goldfinch,” but the book’s story strengths overcome the error. 

The novel is written in linear fashion. Crowley and Straughan fragmented the narrative, causing the movie to leap back and forth in time, which hampers its momentum. Apparently, they didn't appreciate the book as a mystery thriller. 

Not having read Tartt’s work, I did not know why 13-year old Theo Decker is obsessed with holding onto the very rare and important small painting of a chained goldfinch he’s handed during the aftermath of a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in Manhattan in which his mother is killed. I learned why from the movie’s closing sentence. It’s a powerful revelation. 

I also liked this serious drama because of the superb acting by every member of its premium cast. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is breathtaking.

I enjoyed where scenes take place, from wealthy Park Avenue, to a mystical antiques shop, to the high desert of the developed American West. Every setting belongs. Every character is believable. Theo’s turmoil, as both a child and young adult, from crushing loss to his learning shocking truths, is palpable.

“The Goldfinch” begins slowly, but the closing hour is transformative. It’s about art and literature and the human connection to them. You can sense Tartt’s elegant fictional writing and her love of beauty. You are saddened by the horrors Theo experiences. 

The movie takes its time to stun you. You should take the time to see it. 

  

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI newswire. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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