Culture / Entertainment

Defending the Downton Abbey Movie — This Royal Return is No Bore, It’s Marvel Drama Worthy

Creating a New Cinematic Universe?

BY // 10.05.19

The lords, ladies and plucky servants of Downton Abbey, who left our television screens four years ago, recently made a royal entrance into movie houses. On their way to a $100 million global haul, they easily outclassed a Brad Pitt sci-fi flick and a Rambo sequel.

Yet some critics, and a recent Saturday Night Live sketch, have proclaimed the film just one long, mundane episode of the series. As a Downton expert — in that I’ve written about the show a few times and once wore a ’20s styled turban as a guest on the syndicated Downton after-show Manor of Speaking — I vehemently disagree.

Downton Abbey the movie is actually a whole season and a half of storylines smushed into two hours. Yes, the main plot hinges on silver polishing and gown alterations for a dinner party, but its tangential subplots also delivers murder conspiracies, jewel heists, waitstaff wars over platter carrying, illegitimate heirs, secret gay nightlife and royal courtly intrigue.

In fact there were so much happening, I wondered if Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes, was trying to follow a Marvel Studios strategies and create a connective cinematic universe. During the Monday night screening I attended, the gaggle of women in the audience cosplaying Downton dinner guest gave further evidence to this notion.

Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey has plenty of drama amidst the pretty settings.

To further explore this Downton Cinematic Universe theory, let’s take a mildly spoiler look at the most spectacular elements of the film and then most surprising storylines that might just lead to our next must-see Downton spinoff movie.

Tiaras

That is all. Tiaras were the best thing about the Downton movie. In fact, there were several moments watching when I wished the human beings underneath the tiaras would quit yammering in their attempt to steal scenes from the true stars of the movie, the tiaras.

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Lady Mary’s black and silver party gown

At the very least the dress deserves its own PBS miniseries.

Branson, Thomas Branson, of His Majesty’s Irish Secret Service

Tom Branson began the series as the Irish loyalist, chauffeur who romanced and married the youngest Crawley daughter, shed many manly tears when she died in childbirth and then stuck around to help manage the estate. He also picked up a car dealership and string of bland to annoying girlfriends along the way.

Tom gets multiple subplots during the film but the most surprising came in the shape of some James Bond moves including: spying, taking down an assassin and wearing the hell out of a tux.

Who would have thought? Tom Branson, international (or at least inter-village) man of mystery.

Thomas Barrow Finds His Groove

Thomas Barrow, who perhaps achieved the most personal growth throughout the series, journeys into the night for the most historically realistic and poignant storyline of the film. Barrow began the series as the scheming, gay sidekick to the occasionally full-on evil lady’s maid O’Brien and ended as the Downton butler more secure with his place in the world.

In the mid-series episodes when insulted or slighted, Thomas would concoct a season-long Byzantine revenge plot, usually involving the family dog or cricket, but which would eventually end up benignly ineffective.

In the film, after being slighted and insulted Thomas just exclaims (translated into our modern vernacular) “Peace out, Bitches. I’m taking the night off and going clubbing,” and proceeds to lead his best life.

Anna Bates: Lady (But not Lady) Detective

Anna spent most of the series as a witness or person of interest in the many murder inquires that plagued Downton. From these experiences, she honed quite a few crime solving and crime committing skills. She puts them all to good use in this outing.

Bonus point for giving the boring Mr. Bates almost nothing to do but stand around playing her henchman.

Dowager Countess, Body Modification Rebel

On the big screen, nothing is hidden. So one of the most surprising character reveals came during a close up shot when we learned the queen of quips, the exalted Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham – born in the 19th century and pulled with refined kicking and screaming into the 20th century – possesses pierced ears.

When did this happen? What wild child phase did she run through in the 1850s or ’60s that led her to stick pins in her earlobes. Was it when she almost ran away with that lordly Russian dude? Does she also have a navel ring hidden beneath all that silk and taffeta?

Oh, the Violet’s scandalous piercing-of-the-ears-years prequels to be written.

Lady Edith, Instigator of House of Windsor and Possible Linchpin for the Allies Winning WWII

This is one of those “for want of a nail” scenarios, so stay with me because it gets complicated.

Later in the film, Edith’s husband Bertie (a.k.a Herbert Pelham, 7th Marquess of Hexham) gets an offer he can’t refuse from King George V to take the job of being respectable aristocrat role model and nanny to the Prince of Wales (aka Edward). For various character and plot reasons, Edith remains unenthused about her husband leaving her for many months and (depending if you are a card carrying member of Team Mary or Team Edith) either whines about it or stands up for her due rights as a wife (albeit with a whining tone).

In the end, Edith gets what she wants and Bertie doesn’t head off with the off-camera Prince.

But what if he had? Would Bertie’s steading good guy influence have changed Edward, perhaps even keeping him from falling for the divorced American Wallis Simpson, and thereby making it possible that King Edward VIII wouldn’t have abdicated. What if the crown had never gone to his brother, who we know as King George VI, Queen Elizabeth’s father? And would King Edward have rallied and inspired the British public during the war the way George’s Oscar winning speech and his mechanic and military truck driving daughter did?

Luckily we never have to know because Edith got her way, and the whole world changed. In the Downton Cinematic Universe future the royal line from Prince Charles to adorable baby Archie should give thanks to Lady Edith for their existence.

You go (save the world) girl.

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