The ‘Downton Abbey’ Movie Does Right By Its Dozens of Characters

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CREDIT: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Max Brown, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Raquel Cassidy, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Michael C. Fox, Joanne Froggatt, Matthew Goode, Harry Haden-Paton, David Haig, Geraldine James, Robert James-Collier, Simon Jones, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Tuppence Middleton, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lesley Nicol, Kate Phillips, Douglas Reith, Maggie Smith, Phillippe Spall, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton

Director: Michael Engler

Running Time: 122 Minutes

Rating: PG for Some Stolen Kisses and Slightly Scandalous Secrets

Release Date: September 20, 2019

I like to be upfront about the fact that I don’t always consume media straightforwardly. Sometimes I start TV shows five seasons in. Sometimes I watch the fifth sequel in a franchise despite never having any seen any previous entries. And sometimes, as in the case of Downton Abbey, I watch a TV-to-film adaptation without ever having seen a single episode of the series. Thus, I cannot report with any expertise about how the big-screen adventures of the Crawleys and company compare to their small-screen foibles. But I can tell you how it works as a cinematic experience while coming in with (basically) no expectations.

In an era of nerd culture dominance, it seems like there is a new superhero movie every other month that expects its audience to be up-to-date on years of backstory for a multitude of characters. Downton Abbey is often the type of movie that tends to get shoved aside in this current marketplace, but it does share one important quality with your Avengers or your Justice League. And that is its magnificently sprawling cast. I’m sure that keeping track of everyone is easier for fans of the show than it is for me, but even so, properly attending to approximately three dozen characters in only two hours sounds exhausting for both a screenwriter and a viewer.

Luckily, show creator Julian Fellowes, who penned the script, knows how to keep the focus, and Michael Engler offers no-fuss direction that lets the actors do what they do. It all starts with King George V and Queen Mary (Simon Jones and Geraldine James) announcing that they will be making an overnight visit to Downton Abbey as part of a tour of the country. Chaos (or chaos-ish) ensues. Along the way, there are small pleasures all over the place that add up to a full feast of pleasures. An arrogant royal chef makes a fool of himself, conversations about how the future might bring more rights to the underclasses are discussed, and the Dowager Countess drops her devastating quips. It’s admiringly economical comfort food.

Downton Abbey is Recommended If You Like: Downton Abbey the TV show, presumably

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Royal Visits

This Is a Movie Review: The Sense of an Ending

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This post was originally published on News Cult in March 2017.

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Dockery

Director: Ritesh Batra

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Serious Matters Confronted with British Reservation

Release Date: March 10, 2017 (Limited)

In The Sense of an Ending, Jim Broadbent plays Anthony Webster, the owner of a boutique camera shop who must confront the sins of his past after an old acquaintance passes away and includes him in the will. I would vote for the focus to be waxing nostalgic about vintage Nikons and Kodaks, but alas, the narrative switches back and forth between the present day and Tony’s young adulthood, when he was courting a girl who eventually pursued one of his friends instead. There ends up being a tangle of long-ago secrets that it takes way too long to make sense of.

The film does not engender mystery so much as simmer in its ambiguity. Dinner scenes involve questions being asked and only being answered after staring into space for what feels like an eternity. Is this that famous British reservation, or just tentative filmmaking? If it is the former, the angst of what is left unsaid should be painfully felt, but that is just not the case, at least not until Charlotte Rampling shows up about halfway through. As the present-day version of Tony’s ex-flame, she says more with a piercing glance than the entirety of the flashbacks.

In the midst of sorting out his past, Tony is also on the verge of becoming a grandfather. He accompanies his daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) to birthing classes, as the father is completely out of the picture. Susie warns Dad not to make any offensive remark about a lesbian couple in the class, as overly cautious children are wont to worry that their parents will go rogue. But Tony not only keep his tongue in check, he becomes fast friends with the couple. And it is not because of any fetishistic desire to diversify his circle. He just happens to be a sociable fellow who likes talking to people. Funny that his daughter doesn’t know that.

Anyway, I would much prefer if The Sense of an Ending were the adventures of Dad and the Lesbians. At least Tony ends up more reliably friendly than he was in his salad days. Perhaps he can take solace in that ending.

The Sense of an Ending is Recommended If You LikeAtonement But Wish It Had Been Difficult to Follow

Grade: 2 out of 5 Angry Letters

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:
Comedy
Drama
Variety

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Commercial
Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program
Community

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”