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19th Sep 2019

A definitive review of the Downton Abbey movie by someone who’s never watched it

Ciara Knight

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go Downton (Abbey)

Clocking in at a confident 11hrs 30mins runtime, this autumn’s breakout movie comes in the form of Downton Abbey.

The story follows on from where the TV series left off, with the great Lord Chumsbottom still trying to sell his obnoxiously large house without making a loss. In the minutes that have passed since we last saw his life depicted on screen, Chumsbottom has drafted in some expert help to get rid of the property.

A charming handyman (Alan Titchmarsh) and his trainee apprentice (Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen) enter the Downton Abbey with honourable intentions, merely trying to modernise the place so that it can compete fairly in the 2019 housing market. Titchmarsh is a force with his honest portrayal of a people-pleaser, shedding his ‘bad boy of the gardening world’ image he’s spent years cultivating. Llewelyn-Bowen gives a somewhat lacklustre performance, failing to convince the audience that he would be comfortable wearing muted tones and not being posh.

An unexpected twist in the storyline comes with the Dementors’ return. In the final season of the television series, we were assured that these repulsive creatures would no longer torment the inhabitants of the estate after a deal was made between them and Lady Pufflefuff, who heroically sacrificed herself to the Dementors in exchange for peace in Downton Abbey, along with a monthly direct debit of £69 straight into their individual bank accounts. The movie failed to address whether the money had dried up, or if the Dementors were simply feeling mischievous enough to break their agreement, allowing greed and a lust for human flesh to take over. It was a small oversight in the script, but nothing hugely detrimental to the overall plot.

During the big banquet night, the movie really hits its stride. The visuals were spectacular, plunging viewers into a fully-immersive 3D experience. It felt as if I was really there, sipping frosty glasses of milk with the Downtons, chatting about their fondness for the occult and Barbara Windsor’s impressive career. Tensions were palpably brewing throughout as Mrs. Pantyholder confronted Lord Shutterspeed about his alleged infidelity with her sister. Thanks to the 4D capabilities, you could actually feel the saliva hitting your own face and trickling down your plump little privileged cheek. We’re entering a new age of cinema and Downton Abbey is going to go down in history as the trailblazer.

Without giving too much away, the death of a very prominent character rocks the inhabitants of Downton Abbey for a large portion of the movie. It’s heartwarming to see them come together despite their various grievances with each other, setting aside the drama to mourn in harmony. Their beloved pet goldfish may be in the Downton waste system by now, but their love for each other is not.

As the house becomes more marketable throughout the movie, the residents are forced to downsize, resulting in a yard sale bonanza. Friends and strangers from nearby towns all congregate on the abbey’s magnificent grounds, being careful not to tread on the grass. There’s a sense of community among these faces, old and new. All they want is to sell the gigantic house to make a profit. They’re all stinking rich, but money is power. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s cameo really hammers that lesson home as he pays £250 for a candlestick. If you’re patient enough to stick around after the credits, you’ll see what ultimately becomes of that candlestick. (It’s probably best to shield young eyes at that point!).

It was always going to be a struggle for the writers of the movie to find the right ending to do the franchise justice. Downton Abbey has been an important part of British culture since 2010. Such a special place in the heart of the nation must be handled delicately, preserved with the utmost care and sensitivity. A mass shooting was a rumoured writers’ room offering, as was a violent tornado and a suicide pact, so we can be thankful that those options were left unexplored.

As the entire estate slowly plunges into a sinkhole while the end credits roll, the viewer is given sufficient time and space to reflect on what has come to pass. An image that will forever be etched into the minds of Downton fans is Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen and Alan Titchmarsh standing slack-jawed, arms around each other to steady themselves as they realise that a rooftop swimming pool was a step too far in the renovation process.

Goodbye Downton Abbey. Thank you for the memories.

(I have never seen Downton Abbey, the movie or the TV series).