It was such an odd experience, sitting in the theater watching Downton Abbey with a crowd of other Downtonians. Like many people, I’ve only ever watched Downton Abbey either by myself or with one other person. The raucous laughter that erupted often throughout the screening felt very strange, mostly because Downton isn’t considered a comedy by any measure.
If you haven’t seen the show and are interested, there was a rather amusing 10 minute recap played before our showing. I assume it’s going to be shown before the theatrical showings as well, but if you wanted to see it, Focus Features has posted it and you can see it below.
The film takes place two years after the series ended in the year 1927. The catalyst for the events in the story are the preparations for and execution of an official visit from the King and Queen of England and as a result, hi jinks ensue.
The series itself typically played on the theme of a very traditional household (both the aristocratic family and their servants) dealing with society modernizing around them. However, the film seems to be more of a celebration of royalty and the simpler/elegant times that were pre-World War II England. Julian Fellowes, the writer/creator of the show and the sole screenwriter on the film, is very much what you would call a ‘royalist’ (a person who supports the principle of monarchical reign) and this belief has never been on display more than in this screenplay.
I already hinted at a tonal shift that comes along with this shift in themes. I don’t want to scare any of my fellow Downtonians out there, but this film adds much more comedy than any episode of the show ever did. It seems that Fellowes went through a crash course or sorts in film writing and decided that comedy was the way to go. There are moments that border on slapstick.
And while the comedic moments are terrifically funny and work on many levels, the tone difference was quite jarring for me. The trade-off that the filmmakers make for these laughs is that it does feel slightly less authentic than the episodes did. The film has more of a blockbuster and crowd pleasing vibe than the show did. I suppose that they are simply trying to widen the base of who the film would appeal to, not just the die hard fans.
However, don’t let this criticism of the movie keep you away. It really is loads of fun and a very unique shared experience. Although it’s not quite as sharp or authentic as it could be, it is worth your time.