The ‘Downton Abbey’ movie: what if it were a whodunnit?

The ‘Downton Abbey’ film

The ‘Downton Abbey’ film  

While the film is gorgeous to look at and the fashion is on point, it would have been served better if instead of giving more of the same, the makers had chosen to push the envelope and go in a different direction altogether

Graham Swift’s achingly beautiful novel, Mothering Sunday (2016) is set in 1924 and tells the story of Jane Fairchild, an orphan who works as a maid at an English country estate; she is also the lover of the son of the neighbouring estate.

In an interview with this writer about the book, Swift laughingly said if he got 10 pounds for every time someone asked him about the similarities to Downton Abbey, he would be a very rich man!

Downton Abbey, a historical drama created by Julian Fellowes, follows the fortunes upstairs and downstairs in a country estate in Yorkshire. While the aristocratic Crawleys — Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), his American wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and the three daughters, Mary (Michelle Dockery), Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) live and love from catastrophe to catastrophe there is no shortage of drama below the stairs. There is the butler Carson’s (Jim Carter) horror at the lack of footmen, the housekeeper Mrs Hughes’ (Phyllis Logan) dislike for Lady Cora’s personal maid, O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran). There is also the valet Bates (Brendan Coyle) and lady’s maid Anna’s (Joanne Froggat) love which lurches from disaster to nearly avoided catastrophes, kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera) and cook Mrs Patmore’s (Lesley Nicol) disagreements and under butler Barrow (Robert James-Collier) machinations with help from O’Brien.

The show aired six seasons from 2010 to 2015 in 52 episodes covering a time period from 1912 to 1926. Important world events have an effect on Downton, from the sinking of theTitanicand the First World War to the beer hall putsch and the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre. In the Christmas special of the sixth season, all loose ends are tied up. Mary is pregnant, Anna has a baby, butler Molesley (Kevin Doyle) accepts a teaching position, Carson retires, Barrow returns as butler, Daisy finds love and Edith and Mary make up at Edith’s wedding.

For all who could not have enough of those lovely flapper fashions, there is the Downton Abbey film running in a theatre near you. Since it is set a year and a half after the show ended in 1927, we will not be seeing the delicious Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) who shockingly died in the Christmas special in Season 3.

Downton Abbey is in a tizzy with a royal visit on the cards. With King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James), there is the snooty royal staff to cross swords with below stairs. Almost all the cast from the show reprise their roles including the formidable Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, who has the best lines in the film as well.

While the film is gorgeous to look at and the fashion is on point, Downton Abbey would have been served better if instead of giving more of the same, which will fall prey to diminishing returns, the makers had chosen to push the envelope and go in a different direction altogether.

Considering Fellowes won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Gosford Park, about a murder at a shooting party from the upstairs/downstairs perspective, it would have been fun if the Downton Abbey film were a whodunnit.

The gracious Highclere Castle which stands in for Downton would have been the perfect setting for a classic closed door mystery. Since we know all the characters so well thanks to being with them for 52 hours, the problem of sketchy characterisations in whodunnits is easily surmountable. The focus could have been the plot with many twists and turns.

As far as the time frame is concerned, the movie could have been set in the war years with espionage and military secrets adding that extra bit of spice to the proceedings. The feeble assassination attempt or petty thievery in the film do not count. And as for romance, we could watch Mary and Matthew spar with the bitter-sweet knowledge of how this tempestuous story would play out.

All of this unfortunately is in the realm of would have, could have, should have. One can only rue the lost opportunity of watching a murder mystery unfold in the hallowed grounds of Downton with acerbic asides from the redoubtable dowager countess.

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 12:43:04 PM |

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