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Movie Review

It’s been four years since Downton Abbey last graced our small screens, chronicling the charming, privileged lives of the Crawley family and their many, many servants. The movie, much like the TV series, takes us back to a time before televisions and smartphones, a time when the class system ruled and voting was still considered a privilege, not a right.

But Downton Abbey has adapted with the changing times. After all, “It’s 1927. We’re modern folk,” one resident opines.

Indeed, candles have been replaced with light bulbs. Horses are used for sport now, not transportation. Telegrams are a thing of the past. And the idea of carrying hot water up dozens of stairs just to wash your face? Well, the servants of Downton aren’t sure how they ever managed it before the boiler was installed.

Yes, things are changing around Downton—and not just the technology. Between the salaries of the servants and the upkeep required for the old castle, Lady Mary is at her wits' (and budget’s) end. She manages the estate alongside her father, Lord Grantham, and her brother-in-law, Tom Branson. But cutting back expenses isn’t an easy task for the three, especially with the just-announced visit of none other than the King and Queen of England.

Everyone is in a tizzy. Silver must be polished. Beds must be made. And every surface must “gleam and sparkle” for the royal visit. Not to mention the estate's takeover by Mr. Wilson, the royal butler—sorry, I mean the “King’s Page of the Back Stairs.” With the success of the visit riding on her shoulders, it’s no wonder Mary asks her own trusty former butler, Mr. Carson, to help with the preparations.

However, even with the extra help, Mary and the other residents of Downton can’t escape the building pressure. Despite their best efforts to keep the estate going, the old class system is failing, and the extra expenditures are increasingly viewed as little more than a waste of money—a sentiment echoed by members of both the upper and lower classes.

It all leaves Mary wondering if keeping up Downton Abbey is really worth the struggle.

Positive Elements

As the distinctions between the classes fade, many people treat their servants more as peers than hired labor. The Crawleys have always been progressive in this mindset, adopting Tom (their former chauffeur) as a son after the death of their daughter and his wife, Sybil. Mary tells Anna, her lady's maid and constant encourager, that Anna has been a good friend to her over the years. Maud Bagshaw, the queen’s lady in waiting, treats her own lady’s maid, Lucy, as more of a companion than a servant. In fact, rumors are flying that Lady Bagshaw intends to make Lucy her heir!

Tom, who has always struggled to balance his old life as a servant with his new life as a member of the gentry, demonstrates to everyone that “you can love people you disagree with.” The native Irishman hasn’t always agreed with the snooty lifestyle of the Crawleys—in fact, he’s often rebelled against it and the entire British monarchy. But he recognizes that the Crawleys were there for him and his daughter when his wife passed away and that they love him, so he chooses to be loyal to them. And loyal to the Crown as well.

Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham and Lord Grantham’s mother, is perpetually the “frightening old lady.” Her sharp tongue has often left her family begging her not to make things so awkward; but deep down, we once again see that she (mostly) has their best interests at heart. More than once we catch her arguing with Isobel Merton, Mary’s mother-in-law; more often than not, however, the two women come to an understanding if not an agreement.

A woman contemplates divorce, but eventually tells her husband that she wants them both to change and become friends in order to save their marriage. A man turns down a job opportunity in order to be with his wife during her pregnancy. A woman has a healthy attitude towards death, saying that it isn’t sad because she’s lived a privileged and interesting life and it’s just her time to go. Two women settle a years-long disagreement after discovering a secret truth behind a dispute.

Spiritual Content

When Lord Grantham and a few others volunteer to set up parade chairs in the middle of a rainstorm, he asks his mother, Violet, to pray for them. Violet responds, “I’ll put in a word.” Later, Mary boldly states her belief that God will stop the rain in time for the royal visit and parade the next day. When the weather is in fact fair, she says that God must be “a monarchist.” A few other passing references to God are heard as well.

Sexual Content

Thomas Barrow, the current butler of Downton, is a gay man (as ardent viewers of the show will already know). He befriends one of the royal valets that visit Downton and is invited to have drinks with the man. While waiting for his new friend to arrive at the pub, Thomas is approached by a stranger and invited to an underground gay pub (since homosexuality was a criminal offense at the time). Upon entering, he is both shocked and pleased to see men kissing and dancing with other men (we also see a man sitting on the lap of another in the background). Thomas dances with the stranger who brought him there until police officers break up the gathering and arrest everyone present, including Thomas.

Thomas is later bailed out by his valet friend, who tells the police that Thomas only went as a joke to mess with the “queers.” Outside, when Thomas tries to talk to him, he holds a finger to his lips and then moves it to Thomas’ lips, indicating that they should both be quiet until they can find somewhere to speak without being overheard. Thomas later expresses relief at having a gay friend who he can talk to, and his friend says he would like to be more. He kisses Thomas goodbye and hopes that they’ll meet again.

A woman explains that after her husband passed away, she became romantically involved with another man and had an illegitimate daughter (whose parentage was kept secret). She goes on to say that although they were in love, she wasn’t brave enough to marry him because he was of a lower class than her. She shows remorse not because of the moral implications, but because she truly loved him and wished she had married him.

A few brief kisses are shared between heterosexual couples. Lady Edith is seen in her undergarments (a camisole and shorts over stockings) as she changes into and out of a dress, and some cleavage is visible.

Violent Content

A man hides a gun in his jacket pocket and later aims it at the king. The would-be assassin is tackled to the ground before he can pull the trigger, then disarmed and arrested.

When Thomas and his companions are arrested, the police push and shove them roughly, knocking Thomas to the ground at one point.

A man uses a shovel to smash and break the boiler at Downton. He later confesses to his fiancé that he did it out of jealousy when another man flirted with her. Rather than chastise him, she is happy to see that he isn’t as complacent as she feared and that he is willing to fight for what he wants.

Crude or Profane Language

Back when Downton Abbey was still a TV show, Violet once chastised her granddaughter for cursing, saying, “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.” This holds true for the movie. God's name is, unfortunately, taken in vain three times, but other than that, the worst offense is the British expletive “bloody,” which is used twice (one of which, the user is immediately scolded for the profanity). “Blimey,” “heavens,” and “golly” are all also used a handful of times. There is one mention of “dirty perverts.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

Adults drink a variety of wine, champagne, and beer at parties and pubs throughout the film. Mr. Carson is seen hand-picking the wine to be served during the royal visit, and Mr. Wilson is later seen decanting the wine.

Other Negative Elements

When the royal servants rudely take over Downton Abbey, the estate's servants quietly and deviously revolt (a secret mutiny that's played for humor). They slip a sleeping draft into the royal chef’s tea, lock the royal butler in his room, and arrange for the royal footmen and maids to be out of the house during the visit so that they can serve the king and queen themselves. Mr. Carson calls this "treason" at one point, but later admits that the royal servants had it coming with their entitled attitudes. While this aspect of the plot is certainly entertaining, the characters choices are nonetheless mean-spirited and dishonest. When the royal servants say as much, the Downton servants essentially blackmail them into staying silent.

Anna discovers that one of the queen’s servants has been stealing small items from various rooms in the house. When she confronts the thief, the woman shows no remorse, claiming that she only takes things that won’t be missed. The woman rationalizes that she deserves what she takes, since she is underpaid. Anna agrees not to tell, but only if she returns the stolen items and does a personal favor for Lady Edith in preparation for the ball.

A man becomes angry when his children’s nanny breaks their usual routine and allows them into a part of the manor at a time when they're usually forbidden from being there. Violet suggests that manipulating a “corrupt” judge is OK if it accomplishes her means. She also implies that Maud should be locked up in an insane asylum for considering making Lucy her heir. After a man describes the royal visit as the peak of his career, Daisy and Mrs. Patmore (the Downton cooks), lie to him about the nature of the visit in order to spare his feelings.

Conclusion

Propriety has always been paramount at Downton. However, as the rules of propriety have changed, so has Downton Abbey. Oh, its residents remain polite and keep their language at bay. The clothing is still modest and limits the amount of skin we see.

But at times, bad behavior is rationalized and rewarded if it’s for a good reason. And scheming and blackmailing are also acceptable as long as the person on the receiving end seemingly deserves it.

“A hundred years from now, Downton will still be standing,” says Mr. Carson to Lady Mary near the end of the film. And while the butler was trying to encourage his employer that it’s acceptable to adapt with the times, whether or not such change is always positive is an open question.

Fans of the show will likely delight in this big-screen adaptation, as it offers one last chance to rub cinematic shoulders with Downton Abbey's beloved ensemble of memorable characters. But as was true on the show as well, not all of the increasingly modern values that these characters embrace—including the movie's advocacy and embrace of homosexuality—will be equally welcomed by those who don't completely share the film's worldview.

Lady Mary faced growing pressure to keep Downton Abbey running while expenses grew. And while that may had been the way it was always done, everyone began to question if that was still the right way. It is a good practice to ask questions. Families may want to think through how they are called to steward their own “castle” and finances. For some ideas, check out these offerings from Focus on the Family.

Parents Disagree About Offering Financial Assistance to Grown Child

Do Your Adult Kids Really Need Your Money?

Equipping Your Kids to Handle Money with Dave Ramsey (Part 1 of 2)

Give Them Wings

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Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Talbot; Allen Leech as Tom Branson; Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates; Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes; Jim Carter as Mr. Carson; Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley; Penelope Wilton as Isobel Merton; Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley; Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley; Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith; Robert James-Collier as Thomas Barrow; Sophie McShera as Daisy Mason; Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore; Brendan Coyle as Mr. Bates; Imelda Staunton as Maud Bagshaw; Tuppence Middleton as Lucy Smith

Director

Michael Engler ( )

Distributor

Focus Features

Network

Performance

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Publisher

In Theaters

September 20, 2019

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Emily Baker

Content Caution

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