‘Downton Abbey’ is flawed, but fans of the show won’t mind

Sep 23, 2019, 6:31 AM | Updated: Sep 24, 2019, 6:34 pm

Downton Abbey is the much anticipated cinematic follow-up to the acclaimed British TV series about an upper-crust family and its lower-class servants, which all takes place in a plummy aristocratic English mansion nearly a century ago.

Fans will no doubt melt into their seats when they hear the familiar strains of the Downton Abbey theme music. This new movie version of the hit TV series is strictly for its legions of fans. And yes, I consider myself one of them.

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The film makes no concessions to newcomers. You either know these characters or you don’t. What makes it hard for the uninitiated is certainly not the ability to follow the storyline. It’s as simple as simple gets. It’s just that it’s not a very interesting plot for those with no predetermined love for the characters. The premise of the movie is that the King and Queen of England are visiting Downton Abbey for an overnight stay and, of course, the Crawley family and its downstairs staff is all atwitter. Crises arise and are averted at a nice clip.

Screenwriter Julian Fellowes deserves credit for crafting a script that allows for at least 20 cherished characters from the Downton Abbey household to deliver lines and still have enough space left over to introduce five new characters as well.

But sometimes putting small-screen stories on the big screen exposes some of the weaknesses and flaws of the original material — this is indeed true of Downton Abbey, the movie.

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Even fans like me fully acknowledge some of the series’ shortcomings — ridiculously miraculous recoveries, melodramatic criminal matters, etc.  This is all set amidst the appealing historical context, the fascinating sociological strains, and the gossipy personal crises of the well-to-do Crawley family and its servants.

It’s just that the flaws were usually overwhelmed by the constant and rapid-fire developments of hours-and-hours of programming made possible by long-form television. In a two-hour film, the plot contrivances stand in starker relief. Even the famed witticisms of Maggie Smith’s Countess of Grantham come off as a little too staged in the film.

At one point, the Countess counters a crack made by her son, the Earl of Grantham, with a curt dismissal: Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. Likewise, one might say big screen versions of top-drawer television shows are the lowest form of cinema, to which Downton Abbey fans might say, “Who cares?”

Tom Tangney on KIRO Radio

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‘Downton Abbey’ is flawed, but fans of the show won’t mind