I love “Downton Abbey.” I love its world, its characters, its Britishness, the elegance and feel of the time and culture that it resurrects from the past. “Downton,” as both a television show and a film, is a program that asks you, with the utmost politeness and chivalry, to suspend your disbelief and give in to its fantasy. If you are willing to give in, the experience of watching “Downton Abbey” is beyond rewarding. Its world is one I feel very safe in — even though the characters certainly have their struggles, many of them hilariously melodramatic, they always manage to surmount them. It’s an incredibly comforting show to watch.
Given all of this, how am I supposed to review the “Downton Abbey” movie based on merit alone, without letting my personal love and affection for the series taint my impression of it? The more I think about it, the more I realize I don’t need to. It wouldn’t make sense. The “Downton” movie was made for its fans, for the people who watched the show and have grown to know and adore its characters. I, with total subjectivity, love this movie.
“Downton Abbey” transitions seamlessly from television to film, picking up in 1927, not long after the events of the series finale. The marketing for the film focuses on the King and Queen’s visit to the Downton estate, and how the presence of royalty in the house affects both the Crawley family and the Downton staff alike. While this royal visit does occupy a significant portion of the film’s plot, it’s really just an excuse for us to spend more time with the characters we love, to see how they have continued to grow and change after the end of the series. The film feels like another, more expensive episode of the TV show, in the best way possible. We see Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery, “Godless”) finally settled with her husband (Matthew Goode, “The Crown”) and a new baby. We see our favorite chauffeur Tom Branson (Allen Leech, “Bohemian Rhapsody”) find love again in an unexpected place. We see husband and wife duo Carson (Jim Carter, “The Golden Compass”) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan, “Lovejoy”) grapple with the uncertainty of Downton Abbey’s future.
Given the wholesome, crowd-pleasing nature of “Downton Abbey,” it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that everyone in the film gets a happy ending, even the butler Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier, “The Ritual”), a character I went from wholeheartedly hating to admiring by the end of the series. This isn’t realistic, of course. However, “Downton Abbey” isn’t interested in realism. It is the ultimate form of escapism, and we all desire and deserve an escape from reality from time to time. To know that there’s a world, whether it be fictional or not, where everyone ends up where they’re supposed to be with the people they’re supposed to be with has meant a lot to me, and “Downton,” both the show and the film, has generously given me a world like that to escape to. Even if real life doesn’t work out as perfectly as “Downton Abbey” does, there’s nothing wrong with donning 1920s period attire and playing pretend just for a little while.