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!

Weekend Roundup: Wreck-It-Ralph & catching up on Downton Abbey

Happy Monday all! Well, it’s not quite Spring yet at least not weather wise, even though we’ve sprung forward one hour. That also means we lost one hour this weekend 😦

Downright addicted to Downton Abbey

I’ve only managed to see one movie this weekend, as I’ve been catching up on Downton Abbey. I’ve even dedicated a post on it this weekend, there are just so much to love on that show. I could make an entire post just on Dame Maggie Smith alone (come to think of it, I just might). The acid-tongue Violet Grantham and her unabashed upper-class snobbery is just so amusing. Julian Fellowes really picked the right thespian to deliver those lines! Not only are the quotes memorable, her cantankerous expressions are to-die-for!

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The many faces of the Countess of Grantham

Here’s a clip of the Crawleys at the dinner table and the Grantham’s family’s reaction when Matthew told them he has job as a lawyer. Violet’s ‘Wh.. what is a week-end?’ sums it all, and her delivery is practically iconic!

Well, I would’ve given you a review of Oz The Great and Powerful but I had to miss the press screening last Monday because of the darn snow! Apparently it was a huge hit for Disney, making $80 million bucks at the box office this weekend. Check out my friends Adina’s review who saw it in Indonesia and Terrence’s in New Mexico to see how they like the movie. Seems that both have differing opinions about James Franco’s casting. I’d think Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp who were both offered the role of Oz would’ve been so much better! I do love the three female cast though.

Well, I ended up seeing a movie by Disney as well, Wreck-It-Ralph. Here’s my mini review, I pretty much echo what Cecilia said in her guest review last Fall.

Wreck-It-Ralph

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Doesn’t this poster remind you of Monsters Inc.?

I’ve been hearing a ton of great things about this one and sure enough, it was massively entertaining. The story reminded me a bit of Toy Story at first, but overall it’s got its own unique spin and like a lot of Pixar movies, it offer more than just fun and games, but a heartwarming story as well.

The big burly Ralph is a video game villain of Wreck-It-Ralph. Every day he longs to be loved and accepted like the game’s hero Fix-It-Felix who could fix anything that Ralph has destroyed. He thinks that by getting a big shiny medal like Felix, people would finally accept him.

Now, I’m not a gamer, I can count with one hand how many times I’ve been to an arcade, but I don’t think that lessen my enjoyment watching this movie. Surely people who played the games a lot would get an extra kick out of it, no doubt about that. Visually this movie is just brilliant and spectacular to look at. The concept itself it so imaginative that it was a wholly entertaining ride from start to finish.

The world of Sugar Rush could practically get you on a sugar high just from watching every colorful sweet stuff imaginable. Everything is just sooo darn cute in this universe. Here is where Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz who’s a loner and outcast just like him, something about her being a glitch that the King of Sugar Rush forbids her from participating in a go-kart race. Of course it’s no surprise that the two ended up forming an unlikely friendship (isn’t that the best kind?) and their journey together is fun to watch, with a few really moving moments along the way. The last third of the movie is full of action as Ralph & co. tries to stop the escaped Cybug that threatens the livelihood of the whole video game universe. Some of the scenes are pretty intense and kind of gross, I’d imagines the very young kids might be petrified by them.

WreckItRalph_VanellopeThat said, the story has a universal themes love, sacrifice and friendship that every kid and adult can identify with, and who hasn’t felt like an outcast at one point or another? Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is definitely a lovable big guy you can’t help rooting for, and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) is just too cute for words! The relationship between the smitten Felix (Jack McBrayer) and the bad-ass Hero’s Duty heroine Jean (perfectly cast Jane Lynch) is a hoot as well! The music by Henry Jackman is a highlight with all the retro soundtrack that enhances the video game experience.

Wreck-It-Ralph certainly rates as one of the most fun animated features I’ve seen. A far cry from the mediocre and forgettable Hotel Transylvania that started out promising but riddled with too much clichés. I don’t know if it will be as iconic as Toy Story but no doubt it’s a wonderful addition in the massive Disney cannon. It also has a great replay-ability value, a joyful ride the whole family can enjoy over and over again.


4 out of 5 reels


So how’s your weekend viewing looks like? Seen anything good?

Musings on Downton Abbey – seven things that got me hooked on the show

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Well, two years after this show premiered on PBS in January 2011, and after the urging of several friends, I finally saw my first episode of Downton Abbey. Being an anglophile AND a fan of period dramas, this show has the ingredients of the kind of show I’d be into, and I’m glad to report that indeed Julian Fellowes’ popular period drama does not disappoint!

Here are just seven things that got me hooked:

Bear in mind I’ve only seen two episodes, so these are just my first impression of the show that made me want to keep on watching.

• The story

DowntonAbbeyEstateThe social class of 20th century England makes for a fascinating drama, especially the fact that much like Gosford Park, the story focus on both the haves and the have-nots, kind of like Upstairs Downstairs but in a much bigger house, as my colleague calls it. There are just so many layers in the stories across social classes. I love how the series weave in and out of the lives of both the masters and the servants, and how money and status clearly doesn’t buy happiness as both classes have their own set of problems! Despite the fact that the masters of the house are treated like Kings and Queens, I like the fact that this show is NOT about British monarchy. It is essentially about one wealthy family, both a family by blood and marriage and also the group of servants living together like one family, all living under one roof. The servants care about the house as much as their masters do, as Carson the unmarried butler tells a fellow staff, “They’re all the family I’ve got!”

Fellowes — who won an Oscar for writing Gosford Park — certainly know how to craft a juicy story of people from all backgrounds. From sibling rivalry to servant rivalry, people of all classes plotting for and against one another to get or keep what they want, it’s a feuding frenzy with manners!

• The cast

It’s always fun to see British shows as they often recycle their actors. I’m familiar with a few of the faces in Downton Abbey even if I don’t know their names. The two I am accustomed with are Hugh Bonneville and Maggie Smith (collaborating again with Fellows after Gosford Park), one of my three favorite British Dames. I’m thrilled to see the always-reliable Bonneville in a leading role and a serious one at that. I’ve only seen him in comedies (Notting Hill, Mansfield Park, The Vicars of Dibley, etc.) but he definitely has the chops as a dramatic actor. He has such a pleasant countenance and dignity as Robert Crawley or Lord Grantham, the head of the massive estate and patriarch of the Crawley family.

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Another actor I’m familiar with is Dan Stevens. I featured him in the Jane Austen rain scenes list, as I adore him as Edward Ferrars in the BBC miniseries of Sense & Sensibility. I much prefer him to Hugh Grant in that role. As the presumptive heir Matthew Crawley, he’s perhaps the most relatable to most audiences as he and his mother Isobel represent the middle class, not used to living in a big castle with so many servants. It’s always amusing to see how Violet sneered at Matthew working as a lawyer and Isobel serving in the hospital because of her nursing background. Even the servants give disparaging remarks, murmuring that ‘real gentlemen don’t have an occupation.’

• The characters

Characters are the spice of any film or show. They’re the ones that stick with you long after you’re done watching ’em, and this show is chock full of great, memorable ones! I’m going to hold off listing my favorites until I see at least the first season, but the Crawley family, both Robert & Cora Crawley, the American heiress, plus Robert’s mother, Violet a.k.a Dowager Countess of Grantham are all very fascinating. The tentative relationship between Violet and Cora is fun to watch, and not only because the nature of the a wife and her mother in law is ripe of conflicts, but their different cultural background also makes it even more intriguing.

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And amongst the servants, I’m very intrigued by John Bates, the limping valet and the conniving footman Thomas who wants his job. There is something sinister simmering beneath the surface of both men, though Bates seemed like the ‘victim’ initially. Brendan Coyle is brilliant as Bates, as he was in North & South with Richard Armitage. I’m also intrigued by Lady Mary’s turbulent love life, which surely will get even more juicy as the series progresses.

• The dialog

Dame Maggie Smith seems to have the most great one-liners, and some of my friends who’ve seen the entire 3 seasons said the same thing. She’s quite the scene-stealer in this show, she’s a highlight in every episode.  There’s something about her shrewd delivery that made those lines sound even better!

Cora, Countess of Grantham: Are we to be friends then?
Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: We are allies, which can be a good deal more effective.

When she complained about the bright chandelier is such a hoot, normally I’d be annoyed by a wealthy woman complaining about the most trivial things in life, but the way Maggie Smith delivered it is just amusing.

Violet: Oh, dear, such a glare. I feel as if I were on stage at the Gaiety.

Can’t wait to hear more memorable lines as I catch up with more episodes!

• The historical lesson

A mix of historical events with fictional stories are always fascinating to me. The series started with the shocking news of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 12, 1912.

On board of the Titanic was the heir-presumptive of the Grantham estate, whom Lady Mary Crawley was betrothed to, so naturally that caused a major problem as the Crawleys have no son. Oh man, I’m glad I wasn’t born in those days. Not only that we couldn’t inherit anything, we couldn’t even earn our fortune either! In any case, Downton Abbey is essentially one big soap opera comprised of convoluted family drama, unbridled ambition and all kinds of scandals, but the historical setting and events make it feel more ‘grounded’ and not as superficial as it otherwise would.

I think season 2 would be set around World War I, which will bring a set of new issues for the Crawleys. Learning about class division and the prevalent cultures of the times couldn’t have been any more enjoyable!

• The costumes and set pieces

As a big fan of costume dramas, I expect to see gorgeous clothes and fashion of the times. Unlike in the Jane Austen era where the women’s figure is hidden under ginormous empire dresses, the clothes in post-Edwardian show more of a woman’s figure in their gorgeous gowns. Costume designer Susannah Buxton has won Emmy and Bafta awards for her astounding work.

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There are sooo much eye candy in this series, and the costumes is definitely one of them. It’s such a treat for fashion lovers! The set design and architecture are fantastic as well, everything in and out of the estate is meticulously crafted down to its last detail which is just astounding. Just from the first episode alone, I’m in love with Lady Mary’s elaborate black choker below, soooo beautiful and such a perfect complement to her black lace dress.

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Not only are the costumes beautiful to look at, but the production team of the show seem to have done their research to ensure historical accuracy. What each servant, footman, valet wore at the time are as crucial as what the masters put on as they reflect the measure of status. Reading the PBS site of the show, apparently the footmen were hired for their good looks and height, with the taller footmen earning a higher salary.

• The music

Since I haven’t made my Music Break post this week, I’m including John Lunn’s terrific score for the show. Lunn won an Emmy for Original Dramatic Score, and it’s become one of my favorites!

In an interview with THR, Lunn shared that he didn’t want to simply use library samples chosen by programmers, he insisted on using real musicians. He’s also mindful about the strength of the show, which is the dialog: “We use a 35-piece string orchestra, a solo piano and the odd solo instrument like a French horn and that’s about it. One of the reasons for a string orchestra is that it sits well under dialogue. You can have quite a lot of underscore without swamping the dialogue.”

Great music adds so much to the tone and mood of any production. All that drama, passion, intrigue of the show is reflected in the soundtrack. It really takes me back to the era and has that lush, beautiful melody that soothes the soul.


Well, do you watch Downton Abbey? What’s YOUR favorite parts about it? No spoilers please, thank you!

Upcoming Flix Spotlight: The Tourist

Jolie & Depp in The Tourist

It’s too early to start my Top Ten Anticipated 2011 Flicks, but this one will surely be on that list. I’m certainly psyched more for the supporting cast than the leads. When I first heard about it as far back as last November, it was still a ‘revolving-door’ sort of project with directors and cast coming and going. But it looks like as soon as Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie are on board, the project seems to be moving right along and looks like the two are surrounded by a talented British cast.

Dalton & Berkoff

About a month ago or so, Rufus Sewell and Paul Bettany were cast. I’m a big fan of Rufus so that was definitely awesome news, but then last week, yet another fave actor of mine Timothy Dalton is joining the cast, along with another British thespian Steven Berkoff. Just a bit of trivia: Berkoff is the director who took a chance on young Gerard Butler when he cast him in his theater play Coriolanus. Interesting that both actors have acting roots in theater, as well as a James Bond connection (I guess a Bond geek like me would find that amusing 🙂 ) Dalton obviously played the role twice (The Living Daylight & License to Kill), and Berkoff played Bond’s nemesis General Orlov in Octopussy.

German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) is at the helm of the spy thriller. The plot revolves around Frank Taylor, an American tourist visiting Italy to mend a broken heart. Cara Mason is an extraordinary woman who deliberately crosses his path and throws him into a whirlwind of intrigue and danger.

It hasn’t been revealed what roles the added cast members will play in the movie. News in Film writer recently reviewed a draft script by Julian Fellowes — who won Best Original Screenplay for Gosford Park, and recently penned The Young Victoria — and let’s just say he wasn’t impressed: “Without a strong third act, the script reads like a spy romance novel and a cheap Jason Bourne knock-off.  There are sultry exchanges, multiple chase scenes, and a shootout or two, but the action seems familiar and the mystery leads no where.”

Well, I guess it’s to early to tell how the final film will turns out to be, but based on the characters mentioned in the draft, I’m going to take a stab at speculating who’ll play which role:

  • Alexander Pearce: an international thief and cunning numbers man, personal friend (or lover) of Cara (Dalton?)
  • Ivan Demidov: a particularly angry Russian mobster (Berkoff?)
  • Ackerman: a “Tommy Lee Jones [type] from The Fugitive” (Bettany?)
  • One of the government agents who’s after Pearce (Sewell?)

Well, we’ll see how far off I am once they reveal the info.

Depp & Jolie filming in Venice & Paris – Photos courtesy of Movieweb.com

It’s interesting that in my blog stats several days ago, there’s a particular search term someone used to get to my blog: ‘Why British always villains?‘ Ha! Good question, why are they always playing the bad guys?? In the case of this movie, the Brits are very likely to be playing villains again as Jolie and Depp are the only two American main players.

Anyhoo, judging from the on-set photos in Paris and Venice, this is shaping up to be a good looking film (gorgeous people in gorgeous scenery!) If anything, it’ll make us want to be a tourist at those exotic locations!!