As sweet as the most frothy of Mrs. Patmore’s souffles and as welcoming as a nuzzle from Lord Grantham’s retriever Teo, the Downton Abbey movie is a more-than-satisfying return to the life and times of the posh British domicile’s inhabitants, which held fans rapt for six seasons until its 2016 farewell. Hail, hail, the gang’s all here (save, alas, for Spratt and Denker and Dr. Clarkson), helping the two-hour feature film arrive as a seamless continuation of the series—though thankfully Downton devotees finally get to savor the splendor of the real-life Highclere Castle on the big screen.
(If you are unfamiliar with the world of Downton, and if any of that opening paragraph reads a bit like gibberish, don’t bother trying to jump in with the feature film. Save your money or perhaps enjoy Brad Pitt’s turn as an astronaut in the phenomenal Ad Astra instead.)
As the opening credits roll, we follow a letter from a secretary’s office in Buckingham Palace through the countryside until it lands at Downton, announcing a forthcoming visit from King George V and Queen Mary. Naturally folks both upstairs and downstairs are all a-twitter, not the least among them is the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), who sees it as an opportunity to confront her second cousin, the Queen’s Lady in Waiting Lady Maud Bagshaw (welcome newcomer Imelda Staunton), who is causing a stir by ignoring Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) as the rightful heir to her estate.
The help, meanwhile, are excited at first at the prospect of serving His and Her Majesty but almost immediately see those dreams dashed as they’re informed the Palace is sending its own chef, butler, and various other maids and footmen. Fear not, though, for Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), Anna (Joanne Froggatt), Bates (Brendan Coyle), and the rest of the beloved gang have a plan…
Too much more would risk venturing into spoilers territory, but suffice to say Series creator Julian Fellowes gets everyone involved in the immensely pleasing story, and he even has space to add some appealing new characters. Along with Lady Bagshaw, we’re introduced to her maid Lucy (a radiant Tuppence Middleton), Kate Phillips as Princess Mary, and Mark Addy, cameoing as a local shop owner.
As for the returning cast, none has lost a single step and deftly fall right back into the roles that, by and large, define them. Of particular note are Sophie McShera, who finally gets a likable character arc as Daisy, and Robert James-Collier, who sinks his teeth into a compelling subplot as Thomas Barrow.
Fellowes says he still doesn’t know why exactly Downton Abbey struck a chord on both sides of the Atlantic, but strike a chord it did, making a feature film almost inevitable (if not certainly a logistical nightmare, scheduling and then orchestrating a cast of dozens). With elements of subterfuge, sabotage, and intrigue, plus ample comedy and even some touching romance, it’s a film that will sit well with Downton fans the world over. If it’s your cup of tea, take a long, satisfying sip and relish the opportunity to stroll the grounds once more.