Okay, so watching this movie was exactly like being lowered into a warm, fragrant bubble bath for two hours. The water always stayed warm, and the bubbles remained their ebullient, iridescent selves the entire time. You never really wanted to leave this setting ever again. I sure didn’t.
This was a Downton Abbey fan lovefest. A woman from my book club, who never misses unless something huge is happening—a wedding, a vacation etc—said she would be missing our discussion of “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett because her sister was flying into Michigan from North Carolina so they could attend the premiere. Other members have also dropped out for the same reason. Ah, well, Sara Crewe’s warm currant buns will keep another week when the book club reconvenes (and by “keep,” I mean I can buy them next week as well as this week). This movie is a royal summons after all.
If you thought Downton the series was sumptuous, it pales in comparison to the luxury, the opulence, the plushiest plush of the movie. Why? Because it’s not just lords and ladies we are dealing with this time. It’s not even just the Marchioness of Hexham (Edith) who is bringing the plush (although she has landed very well, thanks to Marquess Bertie and his Mary-toppling title). King George V and Queen Mary (Queen Elizabeth’s grandparents) are coming to Downton—the pudding spoons must be polished!
Queen Mary is played to perfection by Geraldine James, Marilla on “Anne with an E.” Not only is James the consummate Marilla—crusty, with a maternal heart for Anne beating underneath her severe presentation—she gives Queen Mary a perfect blend of regal bearing and human touch. Oh, she’s good.
Speaking of pudding, the downstairs crew was flapping their hands as much as the upstairs lords and ladies and marchionesses (although Edith is now a grand lady of her own estate, so she was flapping her hands over there). Mrs. Patmore (my favorite) gets some good screen time as she and the immediately annoying Daisy planned the royal grub at the hub—the Downton kitchen. Yes, Daisy instantly irritated me by the way she treated her fiancé, ANDY (originally I had James as her fiance, but now I wonder where I got James from). But wait! There’s a reigning wrinkle in their plans.
Something had to go wrong—right? Otherwise, we would have no plot, such as it is. Apparently, their Royal Highnesses have their own staff, footmen and valets and cooks and lady’s maids, who look down at their Downton counterparts and insist on doing it themselves. They will be buying the provisions and cooking the meal and serving the king and queen themselves, thank you veddy much.
Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, Bates and Anna, Carson and Mrs. Hughes (“Elsie,” he calls her now that they know each other biblically and the formalities can be tossed along with the nightgowns), and Thomas all balk in their own ways. Spearheaded by Anna, they plot against the snooty royal staff (who are much snootier than the actual royals) and take measures to seize back control of the domestic bustling.
Your favorite may not get a lot of airtime unless your favorite is Tom, Mary or Violet. Thomas (again, Julian Fellowes, as good a writer as you are, why did you bestow the name Thomas/Tom on two major characters? If you needed character naming help, all you had to do was ask) also gets a pretty extensive subplot, if he is your favorite. After all, the movie dips into the lives and loves of no less than 20 characters, all in the hopelessly inadequate timeframe of 2 hours. So, if Bates is your favorite, and he used to be mine, before all that drudgery of his murdering his first wife, you will learn precious little about him.
Tom, a favorite of us all, is as dashing and affable as ever. We want things to go quite well for Tom, do we not? If this were “Days of Our Lives” or “Jane the Virgin,” Sybil (and Matthew, for that matter) would have arisen from the dead somehow. (Perhaps they had been poisoned with an herb that made them breathe so shallowly they were just thought to be dead, and then exhumed later after the funerals by whoever administered the herb…) However, in this slightly more “realistic” world at the Abbey, everyone has stayed dead, necessitating new love interests. Of course, we all loathed that scratchy Miss Bunting they tried to foist upon Tom in the latter seasons, did we not? No, no, no! Not right at all for our Tom. But in the movie, Tom just may have met his match in a lady with a major Sybil vibe. And the actress’s name in real life is TUPPENCE! In my heart, I can ask for no more.
Violet is everything we want her to be and more. She will make you laugh several times and cry at least once. She is given, appropriately, all the best lines.
Lord Grantham: “Let’s not argue.”
Dowager: “I never argue. I explain.”
And so she goes on to “explain” many things, and we adore them all. We love her every utterance, which makes it poignant indeed that she is getting on in years. Surely this is the last we will hear from our beloved Countess Dowager.
Love is all you need
Basically, as I told my husband, who wanted to know about the movie even though he “didn’t want to go,” everybody but the kitchen sink finds love (and perhaps the kitchen sink was lovingly scrubbed by Mrs. Patmore). It’s a dreamy, romantic way to spend two hours. Cue all the sighing.
Speaking of sighing…that warm, silky bubble bath was over much too soon. Sure, the movie won’t win any acting awards (almost everyone is a bit player because there are just so many bits), and not any major awards. Maybe for costumes or something like that. The costumes are grand.
But who cares? Awards, shmawards. This is a beautifully made fan piece, a throwback to a more civil time period, and an eyeful of elegant people in exquisite clothes, saying charming, pithy things against the backdrop of a golden castle. As I said, it is a bubble bath you never want to leave. And that’s more than you can say for most movies.
What did you think? Love it or lump it?
Each comment below will be entered in a drawing for Downton Tea!