Near the end of “Downton Abbey,” the big screen finale to the widely popular slice of British upper-class life, Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) coos, “I do love our adventures.” I imagine the vast majority of the audience will nod in silent agreement, basking in the reflected glow of highly polished silverware in this very fan friendly film.
The story picks up shortly after the end of the television series. Inside the mammoth country house that gave the show its name Earl Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) sips tea and trades barbs with his acid tongued mother the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), his wife Cora at his side. Daughters Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Mary (Michelle Dockery) are married to the 7th Marquess of Hexham (Harry Hadden-Paton) and Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) respectively. Son-in-Law Tom Branson (Allen Leech), former chauffeur, Irish socialist and current estate manager for the property, raises his daughter with the help of… well, the help, who live downstairs.
Everyone, upstairs and down, are whipped into a tizzy when it’s announced that Queen Mary (Geraldine James) and King George V (Simon Jones) will be stopping by for a visit.
The news sends the house staff into a frenzy of silverware polishing and menu planning. Retired butler Carson (Jim Carter) is called back into service, while his head housekeeper wife Elsie (Phyllis Logan) gets the staff, including snooty butler Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and assistant cook Daisy (Sophie McShera), ready for the Royal visit.
Trouble is, Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting is in the Dowager Countess’s bad books. Seems Lord Grantham is her closest relative but she intends to leave her substantial estate to someone else. Prepare for some grade-a Dowager zingers.
Add to that a suspicious character in the village (Stephen Campbell Moore), the pompous royal staff, questions about Tom’s allegiance, stolen knick-knacks, a mild mutiny in defense of Downton’s honour, unlikely love stories and one royal meltdown and you have a story that feels like a high-falutin’ soap opera made by Merchant Ivory on an Earl Grey binge.
“Downton Abbey” is pure fan service. Most of the characters return, although Lily James fans will be disappointed, the house is as grand as ever and James is just as petulant as ever, if perhaps a little less villainous this time around. Revelations are made, storylines from the TV show are closed and, as always, life goes on at Downton. It all feels very familiar but like a comforting cup of tea, very welcome.