3 Stars - Thoughtful
“Downton Abbey” is the movie addition to the highly successful British Mini-Series that became a worldwide sensation. What started out as a single season of the lives and times of the Crowley Family and their magnificent estate, evolved into six seasons and 53 episodes of a captivating look at the transition of upper-class Britain from the remains of the Victorian Era in 1912 through to the Avant Gard 1920’s.
Rarely do British period pieces gain the kind of notoriety and following of Star Wars, but the viewing parties that sprung up all over the world catapulted the acting ensemble of the Crawley’s estate into the heavens as stars. Highclere Castle, the historic estate near Bath, that became the backdrop for the fictional Abbey, is now one of the most visited places in England outside of the homes of Queen Elizabeth II.
In “Downtown Abbey”, the movie, we get to revisit most of the divine characters of the series, including the queen of the series, the Dowager Violet Crowley (Maggie Smith). This was the part that Ms. Smith waited her whole life to play, and the exquisite lines that she was fed to say by the series author, Julian Fellows, have been reproduced in books that have become best sellers. In the romantic style of the period, “all’s well that ends well.” Every unresolved relationship finds happiness as the series reaches its conclusion.
Most striking throughout the series is the fact that life in the British Empire that had survived almost a century of Victorian rule, was now in the unforgiving throes of change. No matter how much one loved or admired (or disliked) the class system of its day, the world no longer tolerated and supported what once had been. By the end of World War 1, not only had the British empire changed, but the Hapsburg Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire had disappeared off the face of the earth.
Much of the 19th century was centered around the marriage of culture and religion, and for many it was hard to separate their influence and meaning. Within a few short years, that world collapsed and values had to be redefined. America had been going through the Protestant “Great Awakening” during much of the 19th century, and by the time of the “great war” in 1914-18, it emerged not only as a world superpower, but also as the face of redefined religious and civic values. For many in the old guard of Europe, this was a bitter pill to swallow, and much harder to understand or accept.
The quaint world of the Crowley’s seems like ancient history, but for many this was but a mere generation ago and the greatest influence on our parents. “Downton Abbey” may be a fictional look at the historic times of British Life, but it had, and continues to have, a profound influence on us today. By the end of the story, King George V (Simon Jones) pays a royal visit to the Crowley Family. Considering the fact that King George used to bounce his granddaughter (today’s Queen Elizabeth II) on his lap, it is a reminder that the Victorian Era still impacts the heads of state, well into the 21st century.
If you are a fan of the television series how do you think the movie of Downton Abbey compared? With which character do you most identify and why?
The central theme of the series was the tension and difficulty of change. Do you think the movie was able to keep that depth or did the resolution of so many relationships impair its power to move and entertain? Why do you answer as you do?