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Downton Abbey’s Big-Screen Turn Raises a Big Question: Can Movies from TV Shows Succeed?

When one of the most popular television shows of the past decade wrapped up its sixth and final season, fans around the globe were left wanting more. Just over two years later, the call for an encore has finally been answered. However, while the creators ensure all the glitz and glam of early 20th century British aristocracy is preserved intact, the film “Downton Abbey” fails to offer the grand finale the series deserved.

The film is set two years after the events of the final season. Series creator Julian Fellowes and director Michael Engler bring back all of the beloved characters to navigate the highs and lows of 1920s English aristocracy and hired help. Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) have been notified that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are planning an overnight stop at Downton while on tour. Everyone in the household must perform as never before to create a reception literally fit for royalty.

Downstairs, the focus is on the familiar faces of Downton staff Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), Carson (Jim Carter), Anna (Joanne Froggart), Mrs. Carson (Phyllis Logan), Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and Daisy (Sophia McShera). When they find out that the King’s pompous, dismissive crew plan to push them aside during the royal visit, they are infuriated. Immediately, they form a plot to give the unwelcome royal servers their due so the house staff have the chance to serve their king. Just when everyone is supposed to be coming together and working in harmony, the downstairs team has its own agenda and won’t let anything, including propriety, stand in its way.

As plans unfold with the staff, family members Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) all work together to ensure the planning and vision for the visit is complete. Unfortunately, even though the formula of twisting, braided storylines feels familiar, something is amiss. The royal visit just doesn’t have enough juice as a catalyst for compelling plot lines for the entire ensemble. Even Granny’s (Dame Maggie Smith) relentless scheming and banter with Isobel (Penelope Wilton) can’t save the film.

There also seems to be an overarching need to ensure every character is fully redeemed. This feels unnecessary, since the high frequency of well-written character flaws contributed to the charm of the series. For example, viewers love Barrow not because he is a good guy, but because he is deeply human.

The nostalgia is real for Downton Abbey fans. But as much as we may miss a favourite television show and the beloved characters we befriend in it, a TV story does not always translate well to the big screen. Intricate plotlines and character development that not only fit neatly into a single episode, but have a cohesive arc over multiple episodes and even seasons, are hard to bundle into a satisfying big screen experience that is neither the single bite-size show nor the large-scale story. While it’s delightful to see our beloved characters’ faces again, this feature film doesn’t deliver at the standard set by the series. If anything, it leaves the audience missing “Downton Abbey” even more.
Amy Kellestine headshot

Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.