Sunday, 22 September 2019

Downton Abbey (2019) - Movie Review

In quite a few ways, I was not looking forward to this one. While part of that could be due to my inexperience with the series this film spawned from, it’s not as if that’s been an issue in the past. I haven’t seen any episodes of Dance Academy or Sword Art Online, and yet I left those films quite pleased with the results.

No, my apprehension here is more to do with the genre, as I have stated in previous reviews that costume dramas really aren’t my thing, and the writer and director bringing it together. Between Crooked House, which was less film as it was malformed audiobook, and The Chaperone, which as a possible road-test for Downton Abbey-style storytelling in a feature-length production ended up crashing into a ditch with all its wheels punctured, I wasn’t expecting much out of this. And yet, while still not entirely being on board with it, I walked away from this a lot more chipper than I would’ve guessed.

For one thing, this actually looks and feels like an actual film. Michael Engler’s direction feels a lot more confident this time around as opposed to Chaperone, with everything from the setting to the costuming to Ben Smithard’s gliding camera work giving an appropriate sense of grandeur to the proceedings. Not only that, but Julian Fellowes’ scripting is also more on-side here, as if this and not Chaperone was the story that he truly cared about getting right.

With how many different subplots whirl around this film’s narrative, it’s quite refreshing that they all manage to work in sync with each other like this. From the trials of the kitchen staff when the royal family’s staff enter the picture (strangers entering a house and the occupants needing to take a stand and do things their way; it’s a bit odd seeing Brexit imagery juxtaposed with the British royal family) to Maggie Smith’s countess and her continual sniping of all in earshot (I could easily watch an entire film of just her being snarky) to Allen Leech’s Tom Branson who serves as a linchpin for one of the more clever bits of cinematic irony I’ve encountered this year, everyone gets their chance to shine and everyone takes advantage of that chance.

Of course, standard rules with costume dramas still apply; there is still a lot of stuffiness to contend with, and while not nearly as lifeless as I feared, it maintains a fair bit of what turns me off from the genre in most cases. The sense of humour on display is nicely understated, but it gives an overwhelming feeling that the desired response is for the audience to laugh solely through their noses. And that’s without getting into the “making a big deal out of nothing” trappings of the plot, as mild inconveniences among the upper class isn’t exactly gripping material for me. There’s a reason why my blog background is of the stylised vastness of outer space, not a single chandelier copy-and-pasted a hundred times over.

But then again, this is the latest of many, many TV tie-in films that are designed primarily to satisfy those who already like the main series. Having not watched a single episode of said series, I’ll try not to speak beyond my understanding here but, as a conclusion to a pre-existing work, I’d say that this does fairly well. The pre-existing characters all feel like they’re getting their chance to flourish on the big screen, whatever new additions to the cast exist following in their stead, and with the note the film ends on, it’s a conclusion that closes the book on the overall story while still giving the impression that said story lives beyond the page. Or, in this case, beyond the screen. Take it from a sci-fi buff, that’s a lot better than most film finales to TV shows end up getting.

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