Downton Abbey (2019)
PG, but that's because it is the child of a PBS show. There's some light sexual content in here. But I would also give this a PG if I had my druthers. It's one of those movies that would normally be rated PG-13 because it's targeted at adults. Also, live action just seems to relish being bare-minimum PG-13. I know I'll probably upset someone, but there is some questionable stuff in here. Regardless, I can probably stand by the tenuous PG rating. I am on the fence on this one. Both make sense. It's too intense for PG; too safe for PG-13. How about this? PG-11?
DIRECTOR: Michael Engler
Yeah, I'm one of the many people over the age of 30 who decided to see this instead of the wealth of other movies that somehow got ignored at the box office. I don't really regret it. I enjoy Downton Abbey quite a bit. But I am going to rip into this movie, despite being perfectly fine. Do you know why? Because there's no reason that this movie should have ever hit theaters. My in-laws saw it before I did. I asked some questions. I did. I wondered what made this movie a theatrical release and I was told that it was the cinematography. It looked nicer. I couldn't possibly believe that because one of the many things that the television version of Downton Abbey had for it was that it was a gorgeous show. Well, I was right. The movie perhaps uses drones and crane shots a little bit more than a traditional episode, but it really from start to finish feels like an episode of Downton Abbey.
Perhaps it would have been a very special episode. Maybe a Christmas one because the film is really trying to be self-contained. It has to open cans and then immediately resolve them by the end of the movie. I really want to break into that because it actually has somewhat hilarious results over the course of the film. But the movie plays it safe. I mean, I guess it worked. The way I understand it, Downton Abbey made a lot more money than people expected from this film. I remember the viral marketing for this movie. The second that the final season was announced, I think the rumblings of a film were in the works. Now, I'm not going to shoot down a television show making the leap to cinemas. After all, I wrote all about the Star Trek films in depth. It's just that I think that Downton Abbey went the other direction with it. If Star Trek had to evolve to make it last and move past the confines of television, ultimately sacrificing an important part of its identity, Downton Abbey kind of sacrifices its legacy to make a movie that maintains its voice exactly. What I'm dancing around is the idea that adaptations seem to have treated the movie to the big screen as a binary choice. I love the idea of growth and Downton Abbey does not do this. I AM PUTTING IN A SPOILER WARNING because I'm a human being. Remember, just reading an analysis page of film implies that there will be spoilers, but regardless. The closest thing to evolution is Maggie Smith loosey-goosey pulling a Data in Star Trek: Nemesis. Maggie Smtih has been teasing leaving Downton Abbey for a while. It's not exactly shocking that she would have required the filmmakers to give her an opening to leave. I don't blame her. It's just clunky. But that's not really a goodbye. Han Solo dying in The Force Awakens is less shocking, but more of a choice. But with both Data and the Dowager Countess, that's a way out without actually committing to it. It's an emotional moment, saying goodbye to a character favorite. But instead, we get kind of a "sorta goodbye." For all intents and purposes, Maggie Smith could make a half-dozen more of these movies because the franchise kept it very vague. OR, this could be the end. I don't actually know if I've said goodbye or not. That's almost not really fair. Also, knowing the politics of a show kind of puts a damper on the reality of the characters. In what was supposed to be an emotional scene, I couldn't help but think, "Maggie Smith really has been fighting to get off of this show." It's a bit of a bummer.
But now I really want to talk about the movie. Or the episode. Whatever it is. I like the people behind Downton Abbey. At least, I think I do. Julian Fellowes seems to be a pretty smart guy. It's so funny that he is completely overwhelmed when it comes to making a movie out of a television show. By all accounts, the story of the film is pretty tiny. I don't care that the King is visiting. It doesn't feel any bigger than another episode. But Fellowes and company wanted to make something large. So they planned an entire season's worth of plot into one movie. How does one do that? By introducing huge huge plot moments and then just undo them. This is honestly one of the most insane things I've ever seen in a movie. The movie introduced this whole subplot about TOM BEING FRAMED FOR THE ASSASSINATION OF THE KING OF ENGLAND! That sounds amazing. I would watch that movie in a heartbeat. Do you know how that device was resolved? He just didn't. He stopped a real assassin. Like, with a tackle. That's it. It doesn't come into play into the main plot whatsoever. Do you know what the most resolved storyline in the movie was? The house staff risks treason so that they can work harder. That is one of the central plots to the story. The staff feels unappreciated, so they rally to serve the King on the night of the party. That's the big story. This really irked me. The entire story was being dwarfed by subplots that just instantly fizzle out into nothing. I was wondering why Fellowes would do this. And then I realized...he approached writing the movie in the same way he plans his seasons. When subplots interact with the events of the house, they have slow unspooling. We are are allowed to breathe in those moments. Let's use the most absurd subplot in the film listed above. In a season of Downton Abbey, there would be a lot of time between the announcement of the King's arrival and the actual arrival. We would wonder who the mystery man was and we would allow Tom to wallow in his own Irish heritage. There would be misleads and investigations. We wouldn't just have Lady Mary just happen to see him the night before. There would be a complete resolution to this plotline and the story would move on. Instead, we have these grandiose moments that just fly by. What we're ultimately left with is "Pagentry: The Movie". There are so many shots of things that are polished coupled with a soundtrack that we're all familiar with. There's not even new music. It feels very recycled from the show itself. I don't really want to hear more of that. Geez, imagine if I bought the Downton Abbey soundtracks and realized that they all sounded exactly the same.
It feels like such a struggle for Fellowes to make this movie. I know that this is a problem with all ensemble cast stories, but Fellowes don't really have a lot of things to do with his supporting cast. I never thought that a Downton Abbey movie would give the most attention to Tom of all characters. Perhaps it is only because everyone else's story is wrapped up in the series. Which is why I kind of cringe that the movie had to actively take steps back to make the film functional. Mr. Carson has to be brought back into the house. Like, I agree. Carson is great. But it is manufactured conflict. I know, all conflict in fictional stories is manufactured. But it is just drama that shouldn't exist if it wasn't for the fact that the franchise is stressing that this is a movie, not an episode of television. Again, Carson is Worf. Worf was on a different show by the time many of the movies were out for The Next Generation. So there was always some hamfisted explanation about why Worf would just be there. In this case, it is at the expense of Barrow. I also forgot that Barrow's resolution was so nice for him. Remember how he is partially responsible for Lady Crawley losing her child? That's a weird plot point that a lot of people forgot. But no one that we really care for has a major plot point. Okay, the Dowager Countess is given a half-way decent plot. But everything in the movie feels really low stakes...with the exception of the assassination plot. We are all aware of what can and can't happen on Downton Abbey. We kind of just watch it for the characters and the pagentry. And Fellowes embraced the heck out of that. When I watched the show, I really did look forward to some of those plot issues. But a film doesn't really add anything to the world of Downton Abbey. As much as I enjoyed the film, the movie really does feel like an appendix. It feels artifically constructed and like everything is there for the sake of being there. There's not a great script. It's just a bunch of pretty things being put on parade.
But Mr. Mosely, God bless you. I was enjoying a fairly boring movie and then you had your moment. I think we can all be grateful for one of the most cringey, hilarious moments that the show had to offer. It was perfect.
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Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.