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The Movie: Downton Abbey

February 05, 2020

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On Tuesday, October 8, 2019 – the first day of Yom Kippur – we headed out to our favorite Kips Bay Theatre (2nd Avenue and 31st Street) for a 6:20 pm showing of Downton Abbey. Kips Bay currently has a terrific deal: If one signs up for an “Insider” card (it’s free) you can see a first run movie at any time during the day or night on Tuesdays for $6.00 – which is pretty incredible. Or, paraphrasing The Godfather, I’d say, “That’s an offer we couldn’t refuse.”

 

The movie did not disappoint – it was great and brought back lots of memories from when it appeared on Channel 13 for six seasons: 2011 to 2016. I made a point of watching because I knew there would be lots of chat in the office at the water cooler about this fabulous series. We took everything that happened to the characters very seriously. And, without fail we all quoted Maggie Smith’s deliciously acerbic lines. And then roared with laughter as we shouted, “Can you believe she said THAT!”

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD

When I first started watching this series I imagined that it had a team of crackerjack writers working on it. Not so. The creative brilliance of both the series and the movie is courtesy of Julian Fellowes (born 8/17/49) an English actor, novelist, screenwriter, director and producer. That’s a multi-talent if there ever was one.

In an excellent article that appeared in Town & Country, October 2019 and beautifully written by Elizabeth Holmes (there are 857 people in the U.S. with the name Elizabeth Holmes who are NOT the Theranos founder), the thinking behind the movie is deftly explained this way. She writes, “The movie opens with a messenger on a motorbike delivering the news that (gasp!) King George V and Queen Mary will be coming for a visit.”

This idea or approach came to Fellowes while he was reading a book about a visit the real king and queen made to Wentworth Woodhouse, the largest private residence in the United Kingdom. Fellowes explains, “I wanted something that would affect both the Crawley family and the servants: they would all be drawn into this exciting event. I definitely thought a royal visit would answer that.” It also kept that action within the confines of the Abbey.

DOWNTON’S SUCCESS SURPRISED THE BRITS

The immense popularity of the series in America was a slow build. It became the most watched series in PBS history as it evolved into a runaway hit. Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and Queen Elizabeth are reportedly fans. Salma Hayek allegedly said she would “kill for a role” on the series and Jamie Lee Curtis called herself “totally, maniacally obsessed.” I’m laughing at this because, as I said earlier, we got very caught up in the series also.

“WE ALWAYS HAD LUNCH TOGETHER”

Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) notes that there was a lack of ego from the stars, including Maggie Smith that set the tone for the younger members of the cast. This camaraderie proved useful when it was time to make the movie. Even more remarkable, after Downton Abbey became a roaring success, the vibe on the set remained unchanged.

Photos: Courtesy of Town & Country

THE MOVIE FEELS LIKE AN EPISODE

The royal visit provides drama and pageantry, as well as a natural narrative arc with tensions surrounding the preparations for the king and queen’s stay – including their arrival and during the visit itself. The scenes themselves feel grander on the big screen, but nothing in the script feels out of place.

Is this the end? The final shot of the movie (at least in the cut Holmes said she saw) lays the groundwork for a sequel. And, for the record, Fellowes is on board. He says, “I certainly wouldn’t refuse.”

Will someone please make him an offer he can’t...

No, no, I won’t say it.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick


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