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Servants and lords

Michelle Dockery stars as Lady Mary Talbot and Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot in Downton Abbey. (FOCUS FEATURES)

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Servants and lords

Unequal station doesn’t mean unequal respect in Downton Abbey

If you never watched Downton Abbey, the new movie is not the place to start. Those who skipped PBS’ historical drama on television will have a hard time understanding why their fellow moviegoers are so entertained by two elderly ladies bickering during a garden stroll. They’ll be utterly baffled by the eruption of cheers when a retired old butler ceases puttering in his vegetable patch and marches off to polish silver for the lady of the manor.

FOCUS FEATURES

Jim Carter as Charles Carson. (FOCUS FEATURES)

Likewise, if you failed to fall under the show’s spell when it aired from 2011 to 2016, don’t expect the feature-length film to change your opinion. Because this Downton makes little effort to bring along novices or convince skeptics. It’s content to be exactly what the series was—a high-style period piece so proudly focused on the intricacies and mannerisms of the British class system, Jane Austen herself might consider it a little over the top. 

The plot centers on the kind of low stakes Anglophiles will adore even if they’re not exactly clutching their seat cushions in anxiety. Lord Grantham receives a note from Buckingham palace that the king and queen will be spending a night at Downton during their tour of Yorkshire. In the flurry of preparation that follows, the royal staff arrives early, immediately causing conflict with Downton’s faithful staff. Can you believe it—the liveried blackguards try to usurp the authority of our beloved Mr. Carson, Bates, Anna, and Mrs. Hughes! Even communist kitchen maid Daisy takes umbrage at their majesty’s hoity-toity French chef thinking he can pull rank over Downton cook Mrs. Patmore.

FOCUS FEATURES

Sophie McShera (left) as Daisy Mason and Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore. (FOCUS FEATURES)

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.

Comments

  •  Dave Waldrup's picture
    Dave Waldrup
    Posted: Sun, 09/22/2019 04:50 am

    I loved the series but the movie sounds a little dull.  I'll see it as a rental, likely.

  • William
    Posted: Fri, 09/27/2019 10:45 am

    The movie was not “all little dull". It was captivating from the opening scene.

    It launched Downton, staff, and family into the future - tying up all the loose ends of the TV series. The cinematography and music deserves (maybe even requires) the big screen. You will miss a memorable experience if you wait for this one to come out on video.

  • WORLD User 203964
    Posted: Mon, 09/30/2019 11:29 am

    I normally love Megan Bashan's reviews and went to see this movie based on her thoughts. However, I was wildly disappointed that she downplayed the whole gay spotlight. As she states below:

     

    "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." 

    It wasn't just the two gay night club scenes that I found distressing but the kiss between Thomas and his new lover! As a captive audience we had to be eye witnesses to it on the big screen! Thanks but no thanks! Sadly, this 'political correctness' overshadowed all the good parts of the movie for me. I'm sorry I went to see this movie, and I certainly won't be recommending it or buying the dvd. A drop of poison ruins a whole glass of ice cold water.

    Though culture is doing everything in its power to force/persuade Christians to give up biblical sexuality, I pray by God's grace that we do not. We have the Author of Truth Himself on our side. As Jesus said, "But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female..." Mark 10:6