Saturday, June 15, 2024

Review: “Downton Abbey” Premieres in NY Like a Rock Concert with Fans Cheering Giddy, Happy Movie Reunion


We haven’t had a night in New York like the premiere of “Downton Abbey” in some time. Glamorous and star packed the event at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall followed by a party at the Plaza Hotel felt like the old days when we weren’t barking at each other and getting ulcers in the middle of the night from trade wars and children in cages.

Seeing “Downton Abbey” on the big screen with everyone back and looking swell, John Lunn’s symphonic theme music swirling around around our hearts and Julian Fellowes’ crisp, tight screenplay telling stories within stories…it was like seeing old friends from before the apocalypse. I think the Brits dealing with Brexit feel the same way. The movie is a smashing success in Britain.

Now that it’s a motion picture, “Downton Abbey” can afford big cameras, wide shots, panoramics that show the grandeur of the real Highclere Castle and its surroundings. Some might say that the movie is a TV episode on steroids, but it’s more than that. Director Michael Engler and Fellowes have shaped a movie going experience that’s such a delicious fantasy trip into the past, you’re a little groggy when it’s over.

You may already know that it’s not too long after the series ended, we’re still in 1927. The royal family– King George V and Queen Mary (parents of the stuttering King George VI of “King’s Speech” fame and rotten David, er, Edward who married Wallis Simpson) visit Yorkshire and stay at Downton for one night during a weekend of fanfares. The idea came to Fellowes from the royal couple visiting the area in 1912. “We just decided they visited again,” he told me last night.

With the King and Queen comes the royal staff, determined to supplant the Downton staff and order them around. That, of course, won’t do, so Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Patmore take matters into their own hands. This gives Fellowes a big canvas to work on. At the same time, son-in-law Tom Branson, the rebel Irishman, must deal with his loyalties. And the Crawleys can expect among their visitors a distant cousin (Imelda Staunton) whose fortune they expect to inherit.

Well, that’s the set up, and it works like crazy. Thee are many spoilers, I won’t give them away except to say no one dies and there are plenty of opportunities for one or two sequels. Nearly everyone involved expects them. Too many questions are left lingering. And everyone will want to see Alan Leech’s Branson get his pot of gold.

Engler keeps everything moving at a brisk pace, there is no slacking off although there are plenty of “moments.” One, between Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) really resonates. Smith. who doesn’t care one way or another, deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Her ripostes with Penelope Wilton (Mrs. Crawley) are like a daring game of table tennis. Each one scores quite a few points, although Smith manages to get and deliver the best lines.

All of the below the line production stuff is top top notch. You won’t find a Starbucks coffee cup on this set.

No, it’s not edgy and not even as sly as an individual episode because the “Downton Abbey” movie must fit in a lot of people and hit some expected notes. It’s a fan’s film, that’s for sure, of the highest order. Could I see it again? Why not? If only to see Mr. Moseley (Kevin Doyle) steal the show from everyone, including the Dowager Countess.  That’s worth 10 bucks right there.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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