A Visual Delight
Writer/ producer Julian Fellowes is a clever fellow, indeed. Born in Cairo, Egypt in 1949 to a father who was a British diplomat, he leaned toward show business rather than diplomacy. Back in 1981 he went to Hollywood to try acting in films. He didn’t have much luck and returned to London where he was immediately hired for an acting role. He hung around the West End and got a few stage parts. He showed some skill at writing and turned to that more and more.
Fellowes’ career moved along splendidly when he wrote the screenplay for the film Gosford Park. He won the Oscar® for Best Screenplay in 2002. He is most well-known, of course, for writing the world-wide smash television series “Downton Abbey.” The accolades poured in like water over Niagara. This led to the first film of the “Downton Abbey” TV show in 2019.The film made almost $100 million in the USA alone, with a world-wide box-office of $200 million.
This new production of the Downton Abbey saga is as opulent as can be imagined. The production design by Donal Woods is superb. Those of you who appreciate the great costumes by Maja Meschede and Anna Robbins will go into convulsions of ecstasy when your eyes pop at the gorgeous “rags” worn by the lovely women in the cast. The story may be set in the 1929-1930s period, but imagination took hold when dressing the cast so that they look “period” and “modern” at the same time!
To freshen the film and storyline, Maggie Smith’s character of Violet, Countess Grantham, has inherited a beautiful villa in the South of France from a former beau. This sets the entire family into a dither as they cannot fathom why an old French boyfriend of hers would leave her a sumptuous property worth considerable money. She wants to leave the villa to her granddaughter Sybbie (actress Fifi Hart). The family decides to travel to France to view the villa and meet the relatives of Countess Grantham’s former lover. This provides the audience with new and spectacular scenery and settings to astonish their senses.
In the meantime, a movie company has commandeered the Grantham house as a setting for a new movie. This causes all sorts of consternation on the part of the servants. Head Butler Mr. Carson ( actor Jim Carter) is especially non-plussed at the idea of having all those “low-life” actors and technicians running around the mansion. It’s the end of 1929 and the film is being made as a silent picture. As sound is now making its inroads into Hollywood, all pictures must be made as “talkies,” director Jack Barber (young and handsome actor Hugh Dancy) is in complete disarray and needs a solution to save the movie. His leading lady has a terrible accent and can’t “talk” in the film. The vocally elegant Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) may have a solution for the director, who is sweet on her as well.
The film-within-the-film’s actor Guy Dexter (the mellifluously-voiced Dominic West) offers gay servant Thomas Barrow (handsome actor Robert James-Collier) a proposal that may change his life and add some unexpected chances for romance. Dexter’s deep voice may save his career in talkies and may thrill Thomas’s future years.
Every actor in the film is playing a memorable character. From Mrs. Patmore in the kitchen ( actress Lesley Nicole), to the others of the staff: Mr. & Mrs. Bates ( Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggett) and Sophie McShera as Daisy are all welcome sights, as well as the rest of the wonderful cast of distinct characters. Hugh Bonneville as Earl of Grantham is slimmer and fit looking and his American wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) adds new dimension to her role as the Countess. Will she live or die of a mysterious illness?
The film is a visual delight and Maggie Smith is fabulous in one bedside soliloquy. Her scene appears worthy of an Oscar® nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Plus, she gets all the funny lines to speak in her unique way.
(Released by Universal Pictures / Focus Features. Rated “PG” for some suggestive references, language, and thematic elements.)