Movie Review: “Downton Abbey”, Starring Dame Maggie Smith and Imelda Staunton
SPOILERS AHEAD: PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Fans of Downton Abbey and Harry Potter will be more than delighted to see Dame Maggie Smith return in her wit-wielding role: the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley. To be bluntly honest (you know Violet Crawley would want us to be), Maggie Smith’s character makes the TV series. The Downton Abbey movie is no exception.
The King and Queen are coming to Downton! With a few twists and turns along the way to add a dash of spice to the plot, the storyline behind the Downton Abbey movie essentially begins and ends with the royal visit. The movie is “cute” and “quaint” – and not poorly so. It is a genuine treat to see all our favorite characters on-screen together once more. The costumes are stunning, and the set design is breathtaking. The movie is everything we’ve been missing since Season 6’s “Auld Lang Syne” finale tugged at our heartstrings.
The Downton Abbey movie picks up just a few years after the series ended. The Crawley girls are still pretty happily married (with some minor drama to push the plot along), and Tom Branson is given the opportunity to peacefully move on from Sybil, who has been gone many years now. There wasn’t much room for character development, but they did what they could.
Speaking of Branson, the movie briefly revisits Tom’s Irish roots and the trouble his insurgency caused in Season 2. If Season 2 Tom was around for the royal visit, Downton would be in for one heck of an evening. But Tom is “older and wiser” and much more placid about the whole affair. He even sets aside any political views he may have once had to save the English king’s life. His old friends downstairs, though, have fun planning and overthrowing the royal household servants and chef who invade Downton. Giving the head chef, butler, and housekeeper of Buckingham the boot and the movie’s audience a few laughs, the staff gets their time to shine in front of their royal visitors – with a hilarious, and foreseeable, faux pas from Molesley.
In addition to her own servants, the Queen of England brings a few members of her court, including her lady in waiting: Lady Maud Bagshaw (played by Imelda Staunton). Believe it or not, Lady Maud Bagshaw is related to the Crawleys, and believe it or not, Violet Crawley has an ongoing feud with her. If you need a blast from the past with some McGonagall shade thrown at Umbridge, you get it. Only this time, Umbridge is innocent and McGonagall is super snarky.
One of the more main subplot points between Lady Maud and her cousin provides many excellent opportunities for Violet Crawley’s stand-out wit. However, it also may be a setup for something else. It is no secret that Dame Maggie Smith was the last Downton Abbey cast member to sign on to the movie. Her return to the role was only confirmed last month. It is hard to believe that her only hesitancy about returning was purely casting related, especially with the movie’s final revelation that her character does not have long to live (though sad, not at all surprising).
At 84 years old, Dame Smith is still the star of the show, and though it is hard to imagine Downton Abbey without Violet Crawley’s one-liners, it is understandable if she would want to retire from the series. With a second Downton Abbey movie already mentioned (and maybe considered if this one goes over well with fans), Imelda Staunton’s character has room to grow. She could never replace Violet Crawley in wit beyond measure, but she could occupy that “dowager” space as Tom Branson’s new mother-in-law of a lavish Downton-like estate. And of course, the Downton Abbey series would continue to have a beloved Potter actress in its cast list.
The Downton Abbey movie is ridiculously full of minor subplots for each character and lacks focus. It is a 100% “fan service” movie but one that fans will most certainly enjoy! The movie hits all theaters in the United States this Friday, September 20.