The people of Downton Abbey have never been relatable, but they’re really pushing it this time. One of them, gifted an unwanted villa (!) on the Riviera (!!), bequeaths it to a great-grandchild who would otherwise grow up without an estate to call her own (the horror!!!). Another welcomes a film crew into her home because their exorbitant fees will pay for a new roof. Those characters who lacked the good sense to be born into money end up in love, at least, and often slightly richer too. It’s an unlikely but pleasant fantasy where good things just happen, the rich are benevolent and the poor all muddle along nicely.
There’s not much to say about the plot except that roughly half the cast visit the Riviera at one point, to inspect that new villa, while the others hold down the fort against an invasion of rampaging filmmakers (cue newcomers Hugh Dancy, Dominic West and Laura Haddock, who have somehow not been on the show before). Director Simon Curtis, an old hand at a period drama, has a feel for the characters and the comedy, though there are odd oversights in this production. Distorting lenses mar some drone shots and a few characters sport implausible tans long before their holiday; minor details, perhaps, but not something that should have reached the screen.
The people of Downton Abbey have never been relatable, but they’re really pushing it this time
That aside, for the most part this is a quality production. Writer Julian Fellowes, who created the show, believes that most people are trying their best, and that essential optimism makes this a pleasant, if undemanding, group to hang out with. He has crafted believable personalities in the Crawley family and their staff, and cast an enormously talented ensemble to bring them to life.
If his vision of the world is conservative with both a small ‘c’ and a large, well, the fans don’t seem to mind. Still, it is worth noting how classist this is; how everyone is ultimately encouraged to keep to their place in life and mix with their own people, even as the 1930s loom and the old order begins to quake again. The closest Downton gets to equality is that everyone in the sprawling ensemble gets a moment of comedy, romance or heartbreak – and often all three. But maybe, as fantasies go, this frothy confection is good enough for harder times than a sunkissed summer in the 1920.
Out in Australia Apr 29 and UK cinemas Fri Apr 29. In US theaters May 20.