It’s not often I see a film on release day, but it perfectly aligned that this film was released on the last day of some time off work and it seemed like some kind of message. Downton Abbey on a Sunday night used to be the perfect way to end a weekend with a bit of daft escapism, so ending a 2 week holiday with the film seemed to fit. I wasn’t disappointed, the second Downton Abbey film fits all the expectations you have of a Downton Abbey film, and also a fair number of the expectations you probably have for any sequel.
The most sequelly thing a sequel can do is take the characters on holiday. I don’t know whether that trope is so frequent because it’s a way to keep audiences interested, the writers having run out of ideas, or a reward for the cast and crew for proving bankable enough to justify a holiday. Either way, half of the Downton crowd end up in the South of France for an artificial story line involving a mysterious old ‘friend’ of the Dowager Countess. I never quite shook the feeling that the plot was just there as the bare minimum to justify the beautiful shots of sun and sea. It was a bit sketchy, but the sunshine was indeed lovely.
Meanwhile the unfavoured cast members got to stay in Downton and make a film. This feels another sequelly thing to do – get a bit meta. Much ‘hilarious’ irony with people bemoaning the tackiness of films, or how talking will ruin cinema. I wasn’t enthused at the plot in the trailer, but it actually ended up being quite charming and interesting, bringing some new and unusual characters to Downton, and gave some of the existing characters the opportunity to show different sides.
For all the sequel tropes on display, this film is actually better than the first. It felt more like a film, where the previous one felt like several episodic ideas cut down and then stuck together leading to an overcrowded film with odd structuring. This time the stories were better entwined and the structure flowed more organically. Somehow almost all the characters (and there are about 2 dozen of them) got a bit of development and something to do. There were still plenty of rushed bits that could have been better covered up I think, but it felt like we were missing maybe 1/2 a dozen scenes, rather than 1/2 a dozen episodes.
The film is definitely for fans of Downton Abbey, there are so many little nods and references to past events and I smiled with satisfaction at each of them. It certainly covers the full range of emotions, I beamed as characters found happiness, laughed at the wonderful Maggie Smith’s put downs and absolutely sobbed my eyes out as well. I hope we get to continue checking in for many years to come.