Downton creator Julian Fellowes pulls a few other minor twists from his sleeve. The dowager countess—as always, mistress supreme of the arch one-liner—tries to convince a cousin to leave her estate to Lord Grantham. Former chauffeur and Irish Republic sympathizer Tom gets mixed up with a bit of political intrigue. But none of it does much to threaten the peace of the bucolic English countryside or the harmony of the bustling village streets.
Taken together with the luxurious art deco sets and costumes and the stunning aerial scenery, is it all mere fantasy of the past? A bit of tea-and-crumpets comfort food? Of course. But, sometimes, isn’t that exactly what you want from an evening at the movies?
Christian viewers will be less comforted by a same-sex romance that sees Thomas visiting a gay jazz club with a royal footman, and that takes the film beyond the PG rating. Otherwise, Julian Fellowes’ script is so mild and lovely, you might not notice that it settles, once and for all, the clash of worldviews subtly debated throughout the TV series.
Must inequality breed enmity? This was the question we saw play out over various storylines. Here, Fellowes answers, emphatically, no. His film is as strong a rejection of the politics of envy as any we’ve ever seen.
While meritocracy can be a wonderful thing, Downton Abbey shows us it goes too far when it assumes that merit is found only in those who rise to grand stations. What it celebrates is a world of order where people are free to pursue dreams and move up in rank provided their methods are honorable and their motivation isn’t resentment.
No one spells this thesis out more explicitly than lady’s maid Anna. First, she scolds the queen’s dresser, asking, Because we cannot all inhabit a lofty place, does it mean no one should? Later, she encourages Lady Mary to weather the difficulties and headaches of running a massive enterprise like Downton because of the livelihoods it provides.
The story is even so countercultural as to suggest members of the servant class should take as much pride, if not more, in their roles as does the aristocratic Grantham family. To take liberties with the Apostle Paul, can the upstairs say to the downstairs I have no need of you? So long as servants and lords have equal concern for each other, all can rejoice in the honor of the estate.