Ads have touted this film as "the movie we've been waiting for," even though Downton Abbey itself has only been off the air a mere four years. But if you're a rabid fan of the British soap exploring the lives of the Crowley family and its many servants, that has been an eternity. For non-fans, this movie will merely feel like one.
Yes, the movie takes time to check in with each and every major cast member, and also introduces a few new ones, each of which must face the most trivial of conflicts. There is no death, no wrongful imprisonment, and no sex scandals. No movie this year will have fewer stakes than this one.
Of course, like the show, the film is well-made if frivolous. The acting is solid, the costumes and sets are extraordinary, and when Violet (Maggie Smith) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton) are sniping at each other, it's a delight. But the film itself feels both rushed and undercooked, as if all this extravagance is for nothing.
The whole plot of the film contains nothing dramatic or serious. But the King and Queen of England are due to visit York and the Crowley's estate, which leads to chaotic efforts by Mary (Michelle Dockery) to ensure every second of every event is organized and each item used is perfectly placed. There's also an odd snobs vs. slobs section of the film, in which the Downton staff mess with the snooty royal servants for, I suppose, the honor of delivering food and water to royalty. Even the once-radical Tom Branson (Allen Leech) is now loyal to the crown.
In fact, the movie is so bound to convention (even as it's making progress in areas of gay representation), that some scenes feel like writer Julian Fellowes is trying to teach you kids with your progressive politics the importance of manners and respecting traditions because they're more important than your feelings.
But at least we get the radiant Imelda Staunton and Tuppence Middleton – playing the Queen's chief of staff and her maid – as the two most interesting new characters. And of course, as any fan of the Harry Potter franchise will notice, seeing Staunton and Smith face off again in giant houses is a joy.
Fans who have watched and rewatched the series will be delighted to see all these characters yet again, while non-fans and newcomers will be baffled, bored or both.