Six seasons and 52 episodes of “Downton Abbey” weren’t enough.
The popular British television series about the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants encores this week in a two-hour movie. Returning to the grand Edwardian country house, Downton Abbey, the movie reunites the original characters and the sprawling ensemble cast that played them. Fidelity to the series is further ensured by a script written by “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes as well as the return of Highclere Castle in the role of the Crawleys’ ancestral estate.
In the series’ one-hour television episodes, stories involving individual “Downton Abbey” characters could be spread from week to week. In the stand-alone feature film, Fellowes and director Michael Engler, who helmed some “Downton” TV episodes, are tasked with giving the 20 returning characters something to do and say. Somehow the filmmakers manage this feat, although some characters inevitably get more screen time than others.
For this perhaps final visit to the Crawley household, the filmmakers and cast perhaps too obviously aim to please. But why — given their loyal, built-in audience — should they do otherwise? If they simply echo the storytelling and characterizations that millions of TV viewers throughout the world already love they’ll send “Downton” fans home happy.
With no need to belabor introductions to Maggie Smith’s formidable dowager countess, Violet Crawley; Michelle Dockery’s brittle yet progressive Lady Mary; Jim Carter’s devoted and dependable butler, Mr. Carson; and the dozen-plus other familiar "Downton" characters, the movie instantly gets down to business. The king and queen of England are coming to Downton Abbey for an overnight stay — and the Crawleys get two weeks’ notice.
The royal visit gives the film a hook from which to hang a blooming new romance; a potentially deadly plot; seething jealousy over love and money; and heated conflict between the Downton Abbey staff and the snooty royal staff that accompanies the king and queen.
The plot of the TV series began in 1912 and progressed to 1926. The movie picks up the Crawley saga in 1927. Lady Mary has taken the reins of the household from her father, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville). Keeping a great country house in the black is financially challenging. The royal visit, honor and duty though it is, puts further strain on the Crawley family’s shrinking budget.
But if anyone can keep Downton Abbey from closing house, Lady Mary can. When she concludes that the estate’s new head butler, Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), is not up to the task of preparing for the royals, her survival instincts send her marching to the home of Downton’s recently retired butler, Mr. Carson.
A plea from Lady Mary is something Carson cannot refuse. Witnessing the request, Carson’s wife (Phyllis Logan), who’s still employed at Downton as head housekeeper, reminds him that he could never refuse Lady Mary anything.
Carson’s return sets up his humiliating confrontation with the royal butler, Mr. Wilson. If this movie has villains, Wilson and his insufferably smug gang of royal servants are them. Playing the royal butler, David Haig lords his weight around Downton like he owns the place. Wilson informs Carson as well as feisty household cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and the Downton staff that they are not to cook for, serve or otherwise be in the presence of the king and queen during the visit.
The bustle and displacement that precedes the royal visit annoys even Robert Crawley, the seventh Earl of Grantham. “It’s like living in a factory!” he cries.
Engaging though “Downton Abbey” is for most of its two hours, the film feels as if it should end before it reaches the two-hour mark. And not all of its many subplots are worthy of prime-time viewing.
Even so, there’s plenty of Downton-style charm and characteristic wit from Violet Crawley to go around. Enough for even nonfans to enjoy and “Downton Abbey” fans to love.
NOW PLAYING: At AMC Mall of Louisiana 15, Cinemark Perkins Rowe and XD, Movie Tavern Citiplace and Movie Tavern Juban Crossing (Denham Springs)
MPAA RATING: Rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material and language
EXCELLENT (****), GOOD (***), FAIR (**), POOR (*)