January 23, 2020 – I had put off watching this because I don't care for this kind of “Upstairs Downstairs” Merchant-Ivory type of heavy drama about the minor problems of the British upper crust a hundred years ago. I was pleasantly surprised when I watched it last night, though. It is as light, fun and tasty as a croissant.
This film continues the story from the seemingly endless ballyhooed TV series which I never watched. If I had watched the series, I no doubt would have caught many of the references thrown my way in the film. The only reason I didn't watch the series is the time commitment needed and my total lack of interest in the British upper class.
This film is not only about the British upper class during the time period a hundred years ago when there was still a British Empire, but it is about British royalty as well, a group I am even less interested in than the upper class. Despite these two strikes against it, I still liked this film.
The central story is about a visit by the King and Queen of England to the Downton Abbey estate. The visit causes an uproar, not only in the household, but in the nearby village as well. A parade is planned, a ball, and a military cavalry performance. The servants, cooks and staff at the vast Downton Abbey estate embark a flurry of activity to spiff up the place so that everything sparkles and shines for the royal visit.
There is a major clash between the Downton Abbey staff and the King's own staff (Simon Jones plays King George V, while Geraldine James plays Queen Mary). The King's chef and chief of staff show no respect at all for the cook, Beryl Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and head butler, Charles Carson (Jim Carter) of the estate. Mr. Carson is brought out of retirement to help with the arrangements, much to the chagrin of Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) who reluctantly steps aside, after making it quite clear to his employer, Robert Crawley the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) of his objections.
When Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) who oversees the estate, asks the Earl if he intends to fire Barrow for his insolence, the Earl replies, “No. As a matter of fact, I was quite interested. I never thought of him as a man of principle before.” Fed up by the insolence of the King's staff, the Downton staff stages a coup of sorts and takes over the preparations for a dinner, attended by the king and queen.
Meanwhile, several other subplots are afoot as a stranger arrives in town who intends to assassinate the king, and trouble is brewing between Violet Crawley the Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by Maggie Smith) and Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton of the “Harry Potter” movies). Violet objects to Maud Bagshaw's plans for the disposal of her estate, with the inheritance bypassing Violet's own relative in favor of a commoner. There is also a fit of jealousy by a staffer, and an unexpected visit to an underground gay nightclub in town, among other things.
This is basically a high-toned soap opera, but it is not overly serious. It is largely a comedy of manners. There is plenty of humor and high spirits in this story and the acting is excellent. The production values in the film are first-rate. I enjoyed this film, despite the fact that its subject matter is not my cup of tea. This film rates a B.
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