Edwin Arnaudin: While plenty of big-screen adaptations of beloved TV shows leave audiences cold, Downton Abbey offers pretty much everything a fan could want from a feature-length continuation of the beloved “Masterpiece” series.
Bruce Steele: It’s pure wish fulfillment for fans: a continuation, not an attempt to reconceive the series.
Edwin: Picking up shortly after the 1920s-set story’s final episode left off, the film brings the narrative’s core players back to contend with the King and Queen of England’s visit to the titular estate. The textbook intelligent writing by series creator Julian Fellowes once again expertly juggles a large cast of ladies, lords and servants, hopping between conflicts with a remarkable ease that keeps entertainment at the forefront.
Bruce: As with the series, the more complicated issues — monarchy? republic? — become character tics and excuses for banter, as if to say, “We’re acknowledging this, but we’re not going there.” The British class system has nothing to fear.
Edwin: Consistent with the series’ egalitarian distribution of attention, each character feels represented within the ensemble, though chauffeur turned son-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech) receives a generous number of heroic moments, and Maggie Smith is granted her usual bevy of zingers as the scene-stealing Dowager Countess.
Bruce: Violet’s “frenemy” relationship with Isobel (Penelope Wilton), her granddaughter’s former mother-in-law, is put to especially good use in the film. The pair are triangulated with snippy new character Maud Bagshaw (the great Imelda Staunton), as one of the queen’s ladies in waiting, who has a contentious history with Violet and arrives with the royal contingent.
Edwin: While the visuals are no more or less cinematic than the show, the royal visit proves a worthy excuse for a reunion. Other than abrupt endings to a few scenes and some foggy drama concerning Princess Mary (Kate Phillips), the film’s main oddity is the paltry use of Lady (Elizabeth McGovern) and Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). Still, the couple have received their fair share of focus on the small screen, and it’s a pleasure to see certain supporting characters and a few new ones in the spotlight.
Bruce: Now that you mention it, the Earl and Lady are rather sidelined, but they’re still a satisfying presence. Nor does Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) get much to do, other than support Tom’s story line. And her new husband, Henry (Matthew Goode), is absent until the big royal ball at the finale. Maybe Goode was tied up filming Official Secrets. Henry’s arrival has the satisfying feel of the final club member completing the picture.
Edwin: Accessible to newcomers and a treat for viewers who’ve seen every episode multiple times, Downton Abbey is like an NBA all-star game, in which cherished players are thrust into heightened situations and get a chance to showcase the skills that earned them adoration. The jaw-dropping alley-oops and long-coveted showdowns are all there, and it’s a pleasure to witness it all.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG. Showing at the Fine Arts Theatre and other venues.
(Photo: Focus Features)