An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Downton Abbey' Movie Brings You Up To Speed With The Crawleys


It's been almost four years since the silver was last polished at Downton Abbey, but a new movie version suggests it was not allowed to tarnish. Critic Bob Mondello says "Downton Abbey" the film will answer all your questions about what became of the Crawleys, Lady Mary, the Dowager Countess, Carson the butler - the whole gang.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: A fountain pen glides across paper at the outset. And the camera follows as the ink is blotted, the stationery sealed in an envelope, the letter carried on a silver tray, sent roaring by steam engine to the countryside, sped by various modes of transportation to a stately manor, delivered to the hand of a servant who raises an eyebrow at the return address and, finally, to the Earl of Grantham, who opens the envelope and looks ever so slightly startled.


HUGH BONNEVILLE: (As Robert Crawley) The king and queen are coming to Downton.

MICHELLE DOCKERY: (As Lady Mary Crawley) What?

MONDELLO: Had to be bigger for the big screen, right? Stakes higher for the Crawley family and the household staff.


PHYLLIS LOGAN: (As Mrs. Hughes) I want every surface to gleam and sparkle.

MONDELLO: They're all here; everyone you remember.


LOGAN: (As Mrs. Hughes) A royal luncheon, a parade and a dinner - I'm going to have to sit down.

MONDELLO: As will fans, especially as there's a season's worth of plotlines to deal with in two hours, if everyone's to have a moment, and the Dowager Countess is to have time to steal most of those moments.


MAGGIE SMITH: (As Violet Crawley) Here we go.

MONDELLO: Dame Maggie Smith remains the best reason to attend to these folks, whose aristocratic concerns and tangled backstories would render them indecipherable if we hadn't already lived with them for six seasons.


BONNEVILLE: (As Robert Crawley) No maid, no valet - no nanny, even.

HARRY HADDEN-PATON: (As Bertie Pelham) It's 1927. We're modern folk.

MONDELLO: You're expected to know who everybody is. There'll be no handholding in the script as a whole passel of new characters is introduced - annoying retainers from the royal household...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As page) I am the king's page of the back stairs.

MONDELLO: ...And a few far-flung relations of this household.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Tell us about Lady Bagshaw. Is she really just some cousin?

BONNEVILLE: (As Robert Crawley) No, her father was my great uncle.

DOCKERY: (As Lady Mary Crawley) And why have I never heard of her?

SMITH: (As Violet Crawley) Because she chose to cut herself off from the family. And I believe she means to cheat your father of his rightful inheritance.

PENELOPE WILTON: (As Isobel Merton) You're plotting something. I see a Machiavellian look in your eye.

SMITH: (As Violet Crawley) Machiavelli is frequently underrated. He had many qualities.

WILTON: (As Isobel Merton) So did Caligula - not all of them charming.

DOCKERY: (As Lady Mary Crawley) What are you up to, granny?

MONDELLO: Oh, quite a lot - the folks downstairs, too, what with burgeoning radicalism, warring household staffs and outings both in the gay and in the festive sense. The images are grander than on TV - lots of sweeping aerial shots. The music's grander too, with what seems at least three orchestras thundering when something is afoot.


MONDELLO: The royal visit occasions much buffing of silver and frittering about gowns. The beading really pops on a widescreen - also, much setting up of chairs with the Crawleys helping the help, as it were, earning points for egalitarianism when they do, maybe because we know the stock market crash is just around the corner or, perhaps, just because the audience can't get enough of who they are.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) You'll dislike it, but she and Tom Branson have agreed to correspond.

SMITH: (As Violet Crawley) Dislike it - I will lick the stamps myself.

MONDELLO: There's enough name-checking of Crawley children that it seems possible that series creator Julian Fellowes and his team are setting up Downtons 2, 3 and 4. Imagine the Crawleys riding out the blitz, attending Elizabeth's coronation, inviting the Beatles to tea. So many possibilities for a Downton cinematic universe. Don't put it past them.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF RYAN PARIS' "DOLCE VITA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.