LONDON – The English aristocratic family immortalized in the television hit “Downton Abbey” made their big-screen debut at a premier in London Monday night — but to mixed reviews in the press.
The Crawley family make their return after the series drew to a close in 2015 following several successful years.
The films open with them awaiting the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Downton.
“I didn’t particularly want to see a movie when we finished the show … then there was this kind of a groundswell asking for a movie and it became real,” Julian Fellowes, creator and scriptwriter of the show and film, said before the screening.
The entire cast of the series is reunited, including Maggie Smith as the acid-tongued dowager countess, despite her initial refusal to slip back into the matriarch’s starched dress.
With her outraged facial expressions, the fan favorite once again delivers the killer put-downs. “I never argue — I explain,” she tells a subordinate at one point in the film.
Other actors have joined the team, including Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge in “Harry Potter”), who plays Lady Bagshaw.
Initial reviews were largely positive, with the Guardian’s reviewer saying that it was “at all times ridiculous — but, I have to admit, quite enjoyable.”
But the Independent, in its two-star review, called it “nothing more than an extended Christmas special.
The series traced the ups and downs of the aristocratic family and their servants from 1912 to the end of 1925, mixing day-to-day gossip and intrigue with large historic themes.
The film begins in 1927, a year after the general strike that pitted the British working class against Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.
Fellowes said it was a period that had always interested him.
“From 1890 to 1940, it is only 50 years but the world changed utterly in western Europe,” he told AFP.
Director Michael Engler, who counts “Sex and the City” and “The West Wing” among his credits, promises even more glamor and splendor than the series, with rivalries and romance on every level.
“It is a great skill, on Julian’s part, to be able to write for 20 characters and give them all a good story line, and do all that in two hours, it is extraordinary,” actor Doyle said.
The series ran for six seasons, winning Golden Globes and Emmy awards in the U.S. and Baftas in its native Britain. An estimated 120 million people in more than 200 countries tuned in to follow their story.
And it picked up some famous fans along the way.
Allen Leech — who plays Tom Branson, the Irish communist chauffeur who marries into the family — recalled how he had met Michelle Obama when she was still first lady at the White House.
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