‘Downton Abbey’ revisited: Movie reunites series’ stars

Movie Review

“Downton Abbey”

You could consider the first movie version of “Downton Abbey,” which NBC airs Monday, May 16, redundant — after all, the PBS series did have a rather definitive ending — but if you’re a fan of the show, you won’t care. You’ll simply be happy to get to spend some more time with the Crawley family and their associates.

The really good news is that virtually all of the original actors are back, including Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, who’s not at all pleased about the arrival of a distant cousin played by Imelda Staunton. It is great fun to watch these British acting veterans go at each other, each giving as good as she gets.

That visit is triggered by the cousin being a servant to the queen (Geraldine James), who arrives at the manor with the king (Simon Jones) … setting up a new examination of the class system between the site’s regular wait staff and the royal escorts. There’s still lots of room, though, for another dive into the personal stories that made “Downton” a “must-see” for so many for so long.

The movie certainly comes from solid sources: original series creator Julian Fellowes and first-finale director Michael Engler. And if you’re looking for familiar faces, they’re here in abundance. Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter and Joanne Froggatt are among the others reprising their roles.

Most of them get enough time to go through the motions, since a movie affords much less chance for true character development than a weekly program that ran for six seasons. But fans know the characters already, so for them, it’s a certain treat that the stately-as-ever “Downton Abbey” simply exists again for any amount of time.

An understandable concern for many who don’t know a project’s previous incarnations might be that they’ll be lost by the latest one … and on the flip side, those who do know the history may worry that too much time will be spent on getting others up to speed. It’s to the credit of the first “Downton Abbey” film that it neatly folds any needed recaps into the progressing action, not really that much of a surprise given the skill of writer Fellowes.

The end product is guaranteed to please the “Downton” faithful who have awaited the movie eagerly ever since it was announced, and it’s quite likely to bring some new fans into the fold, too. And it’s not random scheduling that the film is being televised now; “Downton Abbey: A New Era” opens in North American theaters Friday, May 20.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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