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Review: Downton's Back, Bitches

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film | September 23, 2019 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film | September 23, 2019 |


downton-abbey-lady-mary-msn.jpg

Downton’s back, bitches. Six seasons and a movie, living the dream.

The movie picks up some vague amount of time after the television show ended. Not enough time for anything really to have changed, but that’s how time works in this fictional universe of the twilight of British nobility. I’ve been waiting for a decade for the timeline to hit the Great Depression so we can see the whole landed gentry system disintegrate and Robert stick a shotgun in his mouth and pull the trigger with his toes. And presumably miss hitting anything critical to keeping his inbred meat sack shuffling around demanding inheritances and losing money. But no such luck, although we hardly could have expected it given that the series exists in order to nostalgically wank off at the memory of better days when incompetents born to riches could annihilate the lives of their lessers.

Yes, such a different time it was.

Note, this review probably has spoilers, but none of them are really spoilers since nothing truly new ever happens in this show — and yes, I’ll inevitably keep calling it a show despite them charging me ten bucks to see the latest episode of it on a large screen with strangers. Also, if you were a true Downtonmaniac you’ve already seen it twice in theaters, so you’ve only yourself to blame for reading this with pre-watch eyes.

The basic framework of the movie is pretty simple: the King and Queen are coming to visit Downton Abbey and DRAMA ensues. Boilers might be sabotaged, Lady Edith’s gown might be delivered late, Lady Mary might fuck another dude to death. There’s no dramatic depth that can’t be plumbed when Downton is on the screen.

Anyway, there are only like five different plots on Downton, that just get recycled over and over again:

1. Someone FANCY is coming to dinner.
2. Someone’s getting married!
3. The estate is in trouble because Robert lost a fuck ton of money because he’s a moron.
4. The estate is in trouble because some selfish cousin wants to leave their inheritance to someone besides Robert.
5. A secret illegitimate child!

You will be happy to know that this episode — and I can’t even call it a long episode since most episodes ran 90 minutes anyway — features three of the five standard plots and heavily hints at a fourth in the sequel. I’ll let you guess which one is hinted at, while telling you that the one left out is Robert actively losing money this time around.

These plot arcs are seasoned with specific character actions so rigorously defined that the plots basically exist in order to have a series of call-and-answer bits featuring each character. In fighting video games, each character tends to have a signature power move in a fight, in Downton each character has one of those, except Britishy and passive aggressive. To wit, here is each character’s power move, due to my years of dedicated study and review of this series:


— Anna connives.
— Thomas is gay.
— (Alternately) Thomas is evil.
— Carson sputters.
— Mrs. Hughes tsk tsks.
— Daisy mopes.
—Mrs. Patmore cooks the shit out of a meal.
— Molesley faux paws.
— Isobel progressives.
— Mary’s a stone-cold competent bitch.
— Edith whines.
— The Dowager Countess verbally flays someone.
— Tom is Irish but not too Irish.
— Mistah Bates murders someone who wronged him.
— Robert’s clueless.
— Elizabeth McGovern pretends she can act.

You will also be happy to know that every single one of these character moves is deployed with the sure hand that we’ve come to know and love. Except for Bates. There are no murders whatsoever, but he smiles smugly a lot so I assume he slaked his bloodthirst off-screen.

If you enjoyed the show, you’ll enjoy the movie. Note, I did not say that if you thought the show was good, you’ll think the movie is good. Despite people enjoying it, I don’t think I’ve yet met someone willing to argue that this is good television or film. This is familiar late gilded age soap opera that is delightful to hate-watch through the motions. The dramatic tension is never in the plot itself, it’s in watching to see which character’s patented move will be dropped in ludicrously from scene to scene to solve an immediate problem.

I’ve found both the series and movie to be profoundly hilarious. Not because they’re supposed to be, but because the melodrama is so overwrought and the absurdity played so seriously without a single whit of self-consciousness that it’s impossible not to cackle at every so-called dramatic turn. And yet simultaneously, they managed to stumble in all of this into a cast that by and large throws themselves totally into their bullshit roles and just own the absurdity.

The movie continues the show’s inexplicable ability to be charmingly idiotically entertaining despite the writing, the plot, the setting, the anachronisms, and literally everything about it except for the acting.

Dr. Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.



Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.


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