By Kelly MacConomy
ALEXANDRIA,VA- They’re ba-aaack! (spoken with an English accent). It’s been two years since Downtoners last peeked inside the goings on of the gang that made teatime happy hour again.
PBS’s insanely popular Downton Abbey ended in 2016 with never-ebbing tears and much fanfare. All the series’ beloved characters reunited for this first feature film based upon the life and times of Lord Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, and his wife, Lady Cora, who reside in regal splendour on an estate in the verdant Yorkshire countryside.
That is, all those ladies and gents who survived season six make a comeback.
The story began on the telly back in 2010, with the Grantham household, upstairs and down, awakening to the tragic news of the Titanic sinking. Lost in the Atlantic were the two immediate heirs to the title and lands of the Lord of the Manor, who had unfortunately failed to produce a male heir of his own.
His three coming-of-marital-age daughters, along with his affluent American bride, would be put out in the event of his untimely passing. The estate is now deemed to be in the hands of the unassuming barrister from Manchester, who is welcomed to Downton with warily open arms in the company of his rather indomitable and ambitious mother.
Skip ahead to 2019, or rather 1927. The King and Queen of England are coming for dinner and a parade while touring York, including a night’s stay at Downton Abbey. The seasoned staff downstairs is all atwitter at the prospect of serving the royals, as are the only modestly more insouciant Lord and Lady, she being an American and as unabashedly giddy as a schoolgirl. Dame Maggie Smith reprises her inimitable portrayal of the Dowager Countess Violet Crowley, asp-tongued matriarch of the Grantham clan. Smith delivers the sardonic repartee and witticisms as only she can, getting the out-loud laughs we all wish we could contrive in as timely and clever a fashion.
At a sneak preview at AMC Hoffman 22 Theater on September 12, local Downton aficionados gathered in period attire to celebrate the return of their favourites from the revered Brit series. Retired Alexandria librarian and historical interpreter Steven Mark Diatz, was dressed to the nines. “It was entertaining and picturesque and could have gone on for a third hour,” he said, “and any new plot twist would have been savoured. I give it the highest praise, that all Downton fans will be impressed and satisfied.”
In Old Town, the Lee-Fendall House and Garden feted the occasion with a special Downton soirée on September 28. The film was not screened, but ticketed guests were cordially received by staff at “Downton Abbey: The Movie Celebration.” The event offered a trivia contest, a scavenger hunt, tutorials in formal antique table service, photo opps about the house, upstairs and down, and refreshments that would meet with Mr. Carson’s approval!
Downton Abbey returns to Lee-Fendall House this fall with ongoing themed tours spotlighting the connection between Lee-Fendall and Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England, where the movie and telly series were filmed. The current owner of Highclere, Lord George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon, is a direct descendent of the original owner of the Lee-Fendall home. Tours are Sundays in October at 2:00 p.m., with tickets available through Eventbrite at $25 for adults and $15 for members and Downtoners under 16.
It’s always the rub to condense what is normally experienced over several weeks into a 120-minute experience. Picking up where series viewers were left, without resurrecting anyone from the grave, and creating several subplots played quite well. Both die-hard Downtoners and newbies to the series will find the time spent with this film diverting and engaging. It’s one jolly-good show! Meantime, all signs, as in dollar signs, point toward a sequel, indicating franchise potential.
Fans are already poised in anticipation of the encore, dispelling once and for all the old adage, “You can’t go home again.” Quite right! Indeed the welcome mat is out. Tea anyone?