Downton Abbey Movie Review

Downton Abbey (2019) is the movie sequel to the popular British period drama of the same name, centered on the Crawley family and their staff, serving as a coda to the series which ended in 2015. The premise is simple: the Crawleys are expecting a visit from the royal family for one night, leading to a web of cause and effect. It’s an interesting one, and the focus of the movie is split between the Crowleys and the staff of the house. Do you need to have seen the original series? The movie does an okay job at reintroducing itself, so while it is not necessary, it definitely helps.

Each main character gets his or her own storyline, some almost like vignettes in how they deal with issues that emerge from the main event. The acting is great and each character is brought to the big screen faithfully. Maggie Smith, as usual, steals the show and chews scenery as matriarchal Elizabeth Govern, but that’s not to cut short on everyone else’s chops, like Michelle Dockery’s Mary, whom the Crawleys are looking to for the next generation. The sets, the costumes, the mindful-ness of history—like in the series—are excellent, but something’s amiss. It’s not tone; although the sliding scale for the tone of what happens in these vignettes can be a little distant at times, it shakes things up nicely. What was off was a quiet but underlying presence, felt from the very beginning, that the movie is barely held together by a script whose nuances are lost as its contents threaten to burst at the seams. 

The script feels cramped at times, up to the point where most characters’ motivations and arcs depend on one defining moment. Defining moments are great, but most of stories were centered one moment, which made them feel hollow and unearned. Barrows, one of the Crawley family’s employees, exudes anger at being brushed aside as head butler, but passes it off relatively smoothly. His story, despite being one of the stronger ones, feels somewhat disconnected as well, and would have been better if his plot interacted with anyone else’s later in the movie. Romance-related plot lines get lost as well—when important beats in these situations occur, it feels like the only conversations happening between these people, save Barrows, can be implied offscreen. As a result, the depth of these characters is a little glossed over for the sake of screentime.

The movie almost felt like it was all setup (pun not intended). Yet Downton Abbey (2019) does have some punch to it, which for some reason I didn’t expect, which felt real. Mainly, it’s the lingering question that surrounds Mary as the family moves on to the next decade—will they keep living this lifestyle? It’s briefly commented on here and there, making a pass at an interesting and important debate, doubled down with a poignant and sad moment. 

This is not to say it is a bad film. Overall, one gets the impression that this was one long episode of Downton Abbey. Isn’t that what the fans want? One more chance to spend time with these beloved characters? And yet justice would have been done to make it into an actual season, or at least story arc. There are rumours of a sequel, which would be nice—because even though almost everything resolves too neatly it felt like there was yet something more to say with these characters. But for now, this movie is a standalone epilogue for the series. And you walk out of the theater with an airy gift that was wrapped with a pretty bow. Which is honestly not a terrible thing, not a terrible thing at all. Sometimes, we need something that’s “just right,” and to fans of the series, this movie is just the right thing.