I have never seen an episode of “Downton Abbey.”
I’ve always been acutely aware of the show, but I’ve never given it much of a chance. This could be attributed to the show having aired while I was still in high school, since my own unjustified angst as a 15 year old restrained me from watching a show that my parents were passionate about.
The popular British series concluded at the end of 2015, which made the announcement of a follow-up feature film a bit of a surprise. Although the fanbase of the show is strong, film adaptations of TV shows typically don’t fare well.
Yet, “Downton Abbey” has managed to become a surprise hit. It took the top spot at the box office last weekend, beating out both the Brad-Pitt-led “Ad Astra” and Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo: Last Blood.”
When I sat down to watch the film, my chief concern was whether or not it would make sense, considering I knew very little about the characters and their relationships. I was curious to see if the “Downton Abbey” film would go out of its way to bring in new viewers, or if it would strongly adhere to its already established fanbase.
Directed by Michael Engler, who also directed multiple episodes of the show, “Downton Abbey” chooses to do the latter and bank upon its already existing fanbase to drive it to success.
This movie feels like an episode of the TV show, which isn’t a bad thing if you like what the show has to offer. However, it is somewhat off-putting for anyone who hasn’t dedicated themselves to multiple seasons of the story prior to seeing the film. By not providing an entry point for viewers coming in cold, it flatly rejects any prospective fans who might be trying to enjoy a night at the movies.
Nonetheless, fans of the “Downton Abbey” show are probably going to love this movie. There are a myriad of familiar characters who are on their own emotional storylines, and each character would most likely be entertaining for anyone that has already had these characters established for them. It’s apparent that there are a lot of big moments that serve the fans of this film, but to anyone who isn’t a fan already, these scenes will leave no impact.
What holds the film back from bringing in new fans is the fact that it doesn’t bother to introduce the audience to any of its characters. Instead, it throws you into the middle of an established world, which is extremely disorienting for anyone who doesn’t already know who these characters are. The result is that new viewers are going to spend more time trying to figure out how each character relates to each other, rather than paying attention to the story that is unfolding.
As far as the story goes, it was perfectly serviceable for what the movie was trying to be.
The main through line is that the King and Queen of England are coming to visit Downton Abbey, the estate in which the series’ characters — the aristocratic Crowley family and the staff that serves them — live their lives. This sparks plenty of excitement and worry amongst the residents of Downton Abbey, but it doesn’t really suck the audience in. Obviously it’s a big deal to the characters that the royal family is coming to visit, but the audience won’t really care unless they are interested in these characters, and only those who have watched the show will feel that way.
It’s apparent that what is going to excite people about “Downton Abbey” is seeing these characters on screen again. Many people truly love these characters. If you’re one such person, you’ll probably get a lot of enjoyment out of this film. If you’re not, there’s really no point in seeing “Downton Abbey” because it won’t bother introducing you to anyone or anything.
This lack of introduction isn’t inherently negative, but it stifles newcomers to the franchise from developing the same love for these characters as those that have been with it since it premiered.