Downton Abbey *** 2019

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Downton Abbey wasn’t press-screened in my country; perhaps understandably, because it’s hard to imagine anyone mistaking this greatest hits package of tv faces for an actual movie. It’s a television special, hitting cinemas in September, to enable raking in the grey pound in three months time for thoughtlessly gifted Xmas DVD’s to fill the shelves of tomorrows charity shops. The plot is; Downton Abbey receives a royal visit. Creator Julian Fellowes has made no effort whatsoever to broaden the programme’s substantial nostalgic appeal; if you’re not a fan of the series, it’s taken as read that you already know everyone involved, so no new audience is possible or welcome. The only thing that’s big screen here, in this Upstairs Downstairs-lite battle of the geezer Downton regulars with the posho royal staff, is star Maggie Smith, who takes every opportunity to wring every ounce of wit out of Violet Crawley, master of the bon mot. She’s one of a number of plot-lines converging on a royal visit, with a touch of Gosford Park-style intrigue, some contrived confusions, and a ball that drags the story on for one hurdle too many. Fellowes clearly envisages this as a curtain call, and indulges himself with a few sub-plots; there’s a plea for gay rights which fell flat with the elderly audience on opening day, who tutt-ed and murmured disapproval at a man-on-man kiss. It feels like Fellowes has misjudged his audience in this instance, yet it’s one of the few moments where any kind of drama surfaces. Fellowes clearly wants to make fun of people todying to the monarchy, yet his whole film is an act of todying. Equally, he wants to point out how the Establishment sideline homosexuals, and yet his writing is in thrall to the Establishment that oppress gay people. It’s a permanent contradication in Fellowes’ writing that, Gosford Park aside, has kept him in televsion and out of cinemas. Downton Abbey is a well-upholstered, well-cast and generally pleasant way to spend an afternoon in the cinema with elderly relatives, but it’s absolutely not a film, a motion picture event, or any reason for non-adherents to enter a cinema.

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