In past reviews I have (to put it bluntly) complained about movies that rely on the audience to remember past installments in order for the current iteration to make sense. There was this danger with Downton Abbey, and had this been a problem with the film, rest assured good and faithful reader, I would have pointed it out. I give this caveat because I loved the show to which this film is basically a sequel, and I was probably going to enjoy it regardless of whether or not it resorted to what I consider lazy story writing. Luckily for us Abbey-heads, our tale was in the hands of the expert hands of Julian Fellowes.
Julian Fellowes deserves all the accolades the cinema arts can heap upon him for both the BBC and film versions of Downton Abbey because he is not a lazy writer. I know of nobody else who can weave together the plot-lines and motivations of so many characters as can Fellowes. There are numerous different people who are integral to the story that it was in danger of losing focus, disappearing down the rabbit-hole of some side bit that is not entirely germane to the main thrust of the happenings. When you are working on a television series, there is more time to indulge these flights of fancy. There is significantly less time in a movie, but I am happy to report that Fellowes masterfully rides the line between keeping your attention on the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary at Downtown Abbey and getting in enough screen time for all the honored vassals.
So how does Downton Abbey keep the story going despite having to service the myriad downstairs staff, and the comings and goings (quite literally) of the upstairs residents? By showing rather than explaining. One of the funniest moments of the film illustrates this succinctly. Fans of the show know all about the well-meaning but bumbling Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle). Rather than having scene-after-scene of Mr. Molesley committing numerous faux pas, we have the spectacular fail of him correcting the king and queen of the British Empire. That, coupled with the slow close-up that squeezes poor Molesley into isolation in a crowded toom, said everything you will ever need to understand about that character.
Thus instead of being a chaotic mess without a main character driving Downton Abbey (which it really does not have), it is the household itself that becomes the focus. Can it overcome its differences and bring about a successful royal visit? Of course, because Fellowes gives us a happy ending without being cheesy or saccharine. I will not go into a synopsis of each person in the story because that would take far too much time. Suffice to say, they all get their just desserts.
Whether I was a fan of the series of not, movies like Downton Abbey are so refreshing. I am not trying to sound like a Catholic choir boy, but a good film does not need excessive violence or sexuality. There is the issue of Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), but I am not going to feed into any Catholic stereotype and will simply say: fare thee well. Yet without his character being a key cog in a well-oiled television, and now cinematic, machine, the film would be all the less for it. As it is, much like our relationship with God, think of what His Kingdom could accomplish if we all pulled in one direction?