FlixChatter Review: Downton Abbey (2019)

The popular period drama tv series spanning six seasons is back. This time on the big screen, also written by its creator, Julian Fellowes. I’ve only watched the first two seasons in its entirety, then sporadically after that, enough to understand who’s who in the Crawley family. If you have never seen a single episode of the series, you might find this who’s-who featurette handy. WARNING: There are some mild spoilers here, so if you prefer to go in blind, proceed with caution.

As the trailer has promised us, the film once again takes place at the sprawling estate in the English countryside. It’s set in Highclere Castle, which has just been listed on Airbnb, conveniently announced the same week the film’s US release 😉 The film opens with the Crawleys receiving royal mail… which then sets the motion for the upstairs/downstairs drama of the family preparing for a visit by King George V and Queen Mary (which is inspired by true events you can read about here). I think it’s ingenious that Fellowes places the fictitious Crawley family and their servants in context of real life events, such as the Titanic, Britain’s general election, and now the Royal visit.

The movie could’ve easily been made into 2-3 one-hour episodes with dizzying number of storylines jam-packed into a 2-hour running time. My friend who went with me to the early screening counted at least 9-10 different plots as we drove home… some are completely frivolous, mixed with a few intriguing ones. I thought the feud between servants and the royal entourage is amusing, though borderline absurd at times. There are SO many characters who’re all vying to get our attention, given they barely get a few minutes in before the plot jumps to something else.

Penelope Wilton & Dame Maggie Smith

Of course Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (the great Dame Maggie Smith) is my personal favorite from the series, and she’s got her share of fun, GIF-worthy snarky remarks in this movie as well. But of the male characters, widower Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the former driver who’s now part of the family, gets the most screen time here. First, there’s a mysterious military guy (Stephen Campbell Moore) who despite his seemingly-friendly encounter becomes increasingly suspicious that he has grand designs on the royal visit. There’s also [SPOILER ALERT!] a potential romance between him and Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), the maid of Queen Mary’s lady-in-waiting (Imelda Staunton) who happens to be Robert’s estranged cousin. There’s apparently a falling out over some inheritance issue, which creates some hilarious shenanigans involving Violet and her ‘bestie’ Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton).

Tuppence Middleton and Allen Leech

There’s no lack of drama downstairs either. I mentioned the feud between the servants and the arrogant royal entourage, which entangles practically every single one of the servants. Some of the shenanigans are quite hilarious, thanks to the over-eager Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) who could barely holds his excitement to serve the royals! As the power struggle went on in Downton, Thomas (Robert James-Collier) has a night on the town, which provides an opportunity for a LGBTQ commentary on the legal repercussions of being gay in 1920s England. Thomas is a tough character to love given his past shenanigans at Downton, but one can’t help feel for him here.

The one scene that stays with me the most is a chance encounter between Branson and Princess Mary, more so because he didn’t know of her identity at the time. I think Tom is one of the most sympathetic characters in the series– someone from humble beginnings who has to straddle both worlds. The chance encounter ends up having quite a profound effect on the Princess who’s going through some personal struggles, which we later learn in the film.

Dame Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery

Besides Violet, Lady Mary is definitely a memorable character in her own right. Michelle Dockery portrays her perfectly as a wise, dutiful, often-conflicted who seems colder than she appears. There is a sweet, poignant scene between her and her beloved grandmother towards the end of the movie. I do appreciate that even for a film set in 1920s, the film shows plenty of strong women, both upstairs and downstairs, who are no shrinking violet [pun intended]. [SPOILER ALERT!] Speaking of Violet, think this might also be the last Downton movie we’d see her in, and Fellowes has carved her a graceful exit. One thing I’m definitely disappointed with is the lack of Mathew Goode, whose appearance is basically a cameo despite being listed so high on IMDb cast list!

Director Michael Engler (whose background is in stage directing) does his best juggling so many plot lines, but at times the movie feels jumpy and discombobulating to follow. There are a couple of mildly suspenseful moments, but mostly the movie is expectedly a tranquil affair. The visuals are gorgeous thanks to cinematographer Ben Smithard. And of course John Lunn‘s lush score is so iconic that even hearing a couple of notes of it immediately makes me want to return to Downton! The costumes and set design of the series have always been impeccable, and they turned them up a notch in this grand cinematic treatment. From the elegant dinners to the festive Royal parade through Downton Village, it would certainly make fans of the British royal family brimming with glee.

Overall it’s an entertaining movie if you’re into period dramas. Even with certain scenes some period drama fans might consider risqué, overall the movie plays it safe, aiming mostly for a feel-good vibe that won’t ruffle too much feathers. Fans of Downton would likely get the most enjoyment out of this movie, but casual moviegoers might still be entertained by the upstairs/downstairs shenanigans of British aristocrats.


Have you seen Downton Abbey movie? Let me know what you think!

Spotlight on FIVE Highly-Anticipated Fall Movies (Sept – Oct)

Happy Labor Day weekend, folks!

Can you believe it there is just one more day until September… which means Fall is looming around the corner. Weather-wise, I do love Autumn, though I’m not ready to give up Summer just yet. But in terms of movies, Fall is jam packed with a ton of intriguing movies leading up to award season. Now, there are simply too many to include in a single post, so I’m only going to narrow things down to just movies released theatrically in the US in September & October only. So here we go in order of release:

Downton Abbey (Sept 20)

The continuing story of the Crawley family, wealthy owners of a large estate in the English countryside in the early 20th century.

Ok so I’m not a diehard Downton fan, heck I didn’t even watch the last two seasons. But I did watch enough of season 1-2 to know who everyone is, and seeing the trailer did make me want to see it! The visuals look sumptuous and having the royals visit Downton would surely bring an extra dose of drama, not that the Crawleys are ever lacking of that. I’m most excited to see Dame Maggie Smith, let’s see what sort of quotable remarks she’ll make this time around. There are new cast members added as well, Imelda Staunton and Tuppence Middleton, both I’m familiar with from various British movies.

JUDY (Sept 27)

Legendary performer Judy Garland arrives in London in the winter of 1968 to perform a series of sold-out concerts.

I’m always intrigued by biopic about tortured artists, be it a painter, actor, singer, what have you. The trailer really moved me, despite me not having seen The Wizard of Oz in its entirety (yeah I know, I know) and not knowing much about Judy Gardland. I almost didn’t recognize Renee Zellweger the first time I saw her in the trailer, sounds like a role that might nab her some kudos come award season.

The Laundromat (Sept 27)

A widow investigates an insurance fraud, chasing leads to a pair of Panama City law partners exploiting the world’s financial system.

Oh man, this is one of those movies you watch for the cast!! Yes the premise definitely sounds intriguing and it looks like a fun movie despite its serious subject matter. But man, seeing Gary Oldman (what’s with his hilarious accent!) + Antonio Banderas behaving badly w/ Meryl Streep hellbent on exposing them, yeah I’m down for this!

Plus there are a ton of great actors in supporting roles, too: Jeffrey Wright, Robert Patrick, David Schwimmer, Will Forte, Matthias Schoenaerts, James Cromwell and Sharon Stone. I didn’t know Scott Z. Burns wrote this too, which I shouldn’t be surprised as he frequently collaborates with Steven Soderbergh. I hope to catch this in the theaters before it’s released on Netflix!

JOKER (Oct 4)

An original standalone origin story of the iconic villain not seen before on the big screen, it’s a gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society, and a broader cautionary tale.

I have blogged about this film before when the first trailer hit, but I’m including it here as the second trailer just came out yesterday which got me even more excited!! It’s been revealed that this film will be R-rated, and from everything I’ve seen it certainly looks genuinely ominous and dark, promising us a thrilling, suspenseful, emotional crime drama.

Per Indiewire, apparently director Todd Philips ‘spent a full year trying to convince the studio to allow him to make the violent and edgy comic book movie. He referenced 70s R-rated adult dramas Taxi Driver, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The King of Comedy as his inspirations. Apparently it took months for the director to convince Joaquin Phoenix to do the role. Apparently he signed on after he’d play the Joker as “a complex flesh-and-blood character in shades of gray rather than a black-and-white cartoon villain.”

Parasite (Oct 11)

Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.

I first heard of this movie when it won the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, the first Korean film to ever win it. I’ve only seen Snowpiercer from director Bong Joon Ho, which I think is an excellent film. There have been plenty of films about the haves and the have-nots, but this dark comedy looks like something out of the beaten path and looks visually ravishing as well.

Apparently it got a 10 mins standing ovation at Cannes, which in and of itself isn’t a guaranteed that the general public will love it, but certainly made one curious nonetheless. An original story is always a welcome respite in a sea of reboots, sequels and franchises. The trailer promises us something unique that offers plenty of mysteries to keep us guessing.


I have blogged about Jojo Rabbit in this post, which is definitely one of my most-anticipated movies coming out in October!


So any of these on YOUR list of anticipated Fall movies? Let me know which ones that you can’t wait to see!