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Review: Is 'Downton Abbey,' The Movie, Worth The Wait?


When we last saw the Crawley family of "Downton Abbey," there was a wedding at their English estate, there was a retirement, new beginnings. And a bit of modernity was slipping in as the Edwardian era was slipping away. "Downton Abbey" was the most popular drama in the history of PBS. And now...


GREENE: ...It is back. The Crawleys and their servants are preparing for a visit from the king and the queen - their big close-up. "Downton Abbey" the movie opens today, and MORNING EDITION and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan joins me to talk about it.

Hi there, Kenny.


GREENE: So how is everyone holding up in Downton? And did they hold up well going from the television screen to the movie screen?

TURAN: Well, they surprisingly did. You know, these things are never a sure thing. But I think they got 20 members from the TV cast switched over to the theatrical film. That's a lot of people...


TURAN: ...To make room for, but they all fit very nicely.

GREENE: And, Kenny, the house, the estate, I felt like it came alive on the big screen in a way that it didn't really on TV.

TURAN: I mean, well, first of all, it's a real place. It's called Highclere. So when it's blown up to the big screen, it's not like a set that looks chintzy and you can see the seams. This is a real dining room, a real library. And you see some of the grounds. The grounds, it turns out - I didn't know this - were landscaped by a man with one of my favorite names, Capability Brown.

GREENE: (Laughter) Love that.

TURAN: He's a famous landscape architect. And he did the original Highclere grounds. And they look great.

GREENE: I was amazed, watching it, at how many plotlines they were able to squeeze in. I left, like, counting them.

TURAN: (Laughter).

GREENE: Did that work for you?

TURAN: Yeah. I mean, because it's similar to what the TV show does. They tease some things. Some things get a few seconds. Some things are the main themes. And I felt that they really focused on two main lines here. I think, for me, they were the two main themes of this one. One is that downstairs, it turns out that the royals come with their own servants. And their own servants are very snooty. They're snootier than the king and queen....


TURAN: ...As it turns out. And upstairs, the Dowager countess, Maggie Smith - no one else - is dealing with succession issues and who's going to run things in the future. And that also becomes an interesting plot. So those are the two main ones for me. But there's all kinds of other ones that are kind of peeking in around the edges.

GREENE: I didn't think Maggie Smith could shine any more than she does in the television series, but she really did.

TURAN: I mean, Maggie Smith is a great actress. She's had an astonishing career. And she just nails this part. Julian Fellowes, who created the show and writes almost all the episodes and wrote this, he knows how to write that character. She knows how to play it. She stole everything she was in on the TV series. And she steals the movie.

GREENE: So the show "Downton Abbey" was this period piece, but it was never, like, encased in amber. Time definitely moves on. Does the present make itself felt in this world of aristocrats and servants in this film, do you feel like?

TURAN: I think only around the edges. I mean, Lady Mary has a very severe, very 1920s hairdo, which makes you think, boy, this is not the old days.


TURAN: And, you know, they worry about the future of Downton Abbey as a place - can it keep going? But that's really in the background. You know, I think the great thing about this show is that they have a lot of problems, but these are soluble problems. We feel that they're going to come to a resolution.

In real life, when you face things like Brexit, it almost doesn't seem like there is a solution. So we want to go back to this world where no matter how difficult the problems seem when they're presented, they get worked out. That's a wonderful thing.

GREENE: MORNING EDITION and LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan talking about "Downton Abbey" the movie, which opens today. Thanks, Kenny.

TURAN: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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