Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Downton Abbey (2019 motion picture)

Downton Abbey / Downton Abbey.
    Created and written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Michael Engler. Produced by Carnival Films.
    GB / US © 2019 Universal Pictures International, Focus Features LLC and Perfect Universe Investment Inc. PC: Perfect World Pictures / Carnival Films. Distributed by: Focus Features. P: Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge.
    D: Michael Engler. SC: Julian Fellowes – based on the television series Downton Abbey* created and written by Julian Fellowes.
    DP: Ben Smithard – colour (ACES) – 2,39:1 – digital – digital intermediate by Molinare. VFX by Framestore, supervisor: Kyle McCulloch. PD: Donal Woods. AD: Mark Kebby. Set dec: Gina Cromwell. Cost: Anna Mary Scott Robbins. Makeup & hair designer: Anne Nosh Oldham. M: John Lunn. S: Nigel Heath. ED: Mark Day. Historical advisor: Alastair Bruce. Casting: Jill Trevellick. The cast (from Wikipedia):
    Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham
    Laura Carmichael as Edith Pelham (née Crawley), Marchioness of Hexham
    Jim Carter as Charles Carson
    Raquel Cassidy as Phyllis Baxter
    Brendan Coyle as John Bates
    Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Talbot (née Crawley)
    Kevin Doyle as Joseph Molesley
    Michael C. Fox as Andy Parker
    Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates
    Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot
    Harry Hadden-Paton as Bertie Pelham, 7th Marquess of Hexham
    Robert James-Collier as Thomas Barrow
    Allen Leech as Tom Branson
    Phyllis Logan as Elsie Hughes
    Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham
    Sophie McShera as Daisy Mason
    Lesley Nicol as Beryl Patmore
    Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham
    Imelda Staunton as Maud, Lady Bagshaw
    Penelope Wilton as Isobel, Lady Merton
    Mark Addy as Mr Bakewell
    Max Brown as Richard Ellis
    Stephen Campbell Moore as Major Chetwode
    Richenda Carey as Mrs Webb
    David Haig as Mr Wilson
    Andrew Havill as Henry, Viscount Lascelles
    Geraldine James as Queen Mary
    Simon Jones as King George V
    Susan Lynch as Miss Lawton
    Tuppence Middleton as Lucy Smith
    Kate Phillips as The Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles
    Douglas Reith as Richard, Lord Merton
    Philippe Spall as Monsieur Courbet
    Oliver and Zac Barker as Master George
    Fifi Hart as Miss Sybbie
    Eva and Karina Samms as Miss Marigold
Loc: Highclere Castle, Highclere, Hampshire, England, UK.
122 min
    Leicester Square premiere: 9 Sep 2019.
    UK premiere: 13 Sep 2019.
    Finnish premiere: 13 Sep 2019 – released by Finnkino Oy – Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Anitra Paukkula / Sophia Beckman.
    DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 5, Helsinki, 25 Dec 2019.

* Downton Abbey (television series). Six series aired in 2010–2015. Creator: Julian Fellowes. Set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate Downton Abbey between 1912 and 1926, the series depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era.

Official synopsis: "This autumn, the worldwide phenomenon Downton Abbey, becomes a grand motion picture event, as the beloved Crawleys and their intrepid staff prepare for the most important moment of their lives. A royal visit from the King and Queen of England will unleash scandal, romance and intrigue that will leave the future of Downton hanging in the balance. Written by series creator Julian Fellowes and starring the original cast."

Wikipedia: "The film, set in 1927, depicts a visit by the King and Queen to the Crawley family's English country house in the Yorkshire countryside. As the Royal staff descend on Downton, an assassin has also arrived and attempts to kill the monarch. The family and servants are pitted against the royal entourage, including the Queen's lady-in-waiting, who has fallen out with the Crawleys, especially the Dowager Countess, over an inheritance issue. Gareth Neame and Fellowes started planning a feature adaptation in 2016, shortly after the series ended."

AA: I am aware of Downton Abbey as one of the most popular and highly regarded television series of all times but have never seen an episode. This motion picture is my initiation into the phenomenon. An outsider to the magic circle of the Downton Abbey experience, I realize I should know at least the first and second series of the television show for adequate assessment.

Downton Abbey covers a turbulent epoch: the end of la Belle Époque and the Age of Empire, the First World War, and the beginning of the Age of Extremes. In this motion picture we are in the year 1927 and can observe external marks of the Jazz Age and Art Deco. The movie hardly ventures deeper than the surface.

It is a grand spectacle, glossy entertainment, a nostalgia trip, proudly conventional, bordering on the reactionary, never ironical or cynical, displaying upstairs and downstairs in perfect harmony, offering a romanticized view of heritage England, idealizing and legitimizing class society.

The physical production is immaculate, the dresses are lavish, the hairdos exquisite. Geraldine James states that costume did 95% of her work in the role of Queen Mary, and the wig did the other five.

Ben Smithard's lush cinematography is constantly mobile in grandiose drone shots and close-ups revealing expensive textures of authentic textiles. Upstairs the camera movement is smooth, downstairs it is hectic. Exciting montages convey the physical reality and the myriads of details of running an aristocratic country house. The colour is beautiful and refined.

Downton Abbey the movie belongs to the cinema of attractions. There are 18 core actors with plotlines relevant to each, but they are not terribly engrossing. As an ensemble play Downton Abbey is really about the house which is the main character and can be seen as a metonym of Heritage England and a reflection of the Royal Family. Indeed, the most substantial of the plotlines is about the visit of the King and the Queen to Downton Abbey.

In terms of plotting, the assassination attempt of King George V should presumably have by far the greatest gravity, but typically for this movie the incident is quickly brushed aside and never developed further.

At its most rewarding the movie is a study of subtle protocols and deep structures. An American, Michael Engler, was brought to direct because he did not take protocols and structures for granted. The director from the federal republic of the U.S.A. retains a sense of distance to the monarchy of Britain. He registers the mysteries and tensions of this world, different from ours.

Children are kept at bay. People usually do not touch. Postures are proud, people do not have our downcast looks. Downstairs we meet the deferential worker. Women do not have equal rights, but structures of hidden matriarchy exist. Gay liberation is far away, but seeds of the future are glimpsed. The Labour Party is rising but only weakly reflected.

The most interesting structures are those of monarchy and aristocracy. The people upstairs and downstairs and in the village are devoted monarchists. The royal visit is portrayed as the most important event in their lives.

I live in a country that has been a republic since 1917, but before that Finland belonged for 110 years to the Russian Empire and before that almost 600 years to the Kingdom of Sweden. (Still in 1918 we were monarchists, prepared to a coronation of a German king). Sweden, Norway and Denmark are still monarchies but essentially the societies are similar with Finland. Kings and queens have hardly a political status but their presence is powerful in the social imaginary. Their mission: to contribute a royal dimension to society.

This is escapism but in a democratic society monarchy can be an expression of dignity. The current runs both ways: in order to be revered the royalty has to be worthy.

Monarchism can also be a delusion, a dream of past splendour, perhaps relevant in understanding Brexit. Curiously Downton Abbey became a national and international phenomenon in the post-2008 period, an age of quickly growing inequality, a new Gilded Age, with a stratum of the super-rich comparable with the elites of the Age of Empire.

Of the Christmas movies of 2019, Downton Abbey is a parallel movie to Knives Out, both with common roots in Robert Altman's Gosford Park (written by Julian Fellowes like Downton Abbey, and directed by an American like the current movie). Knives Out develops the sharp social satire of Altman's movie, also relevantly to the La Règle du jeu tradition. Downton Abbey is a continuation of the lush and glossy dimensions of the legacy.

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