Film Review: DOWNTON ABBEY (UK 2019) ***

Downton Abbey Poster
The continuing story of the Crawley family, wealthy owners of a large estate in the English countryside in the early 20th century.


Michael Engler


Julian Fellowes (characters), Julian Fellowes (screenplay by)

DOWNTON ABBEY is a British historical period drama/comedy written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Michael Engler.  It is a continuation of the television series of the same name, created by Fellowes, that ran on ITV from 2010 to 2015.  Much of the original cast returns, including Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton.   If nothing is known of this series, all is not lost.  The film stands on its own.  However, for those familiar and for those with a keen admiration for the series, a lot of nostalgia will be in place.

DOWNTON ABBEY works as the kind of pompous British fare that common audiences (like myself) like to look up to and to admire the British wealthy and royalty.  

The film is set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey in 1927, where it depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era—with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy. 

TV series transitioned to film need a particular special event.  For the majority of TV series transitioned to film, a vacation abroad seems the most common excuse to warrant a full length feature film outing, examples being MUNSTER, GO HOME, HOLIDAY ON THE BUSES, KEVIN AND PERRY GO LARGE and most recently, ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS.  The excuse here for DOWNTON ABBEY is a royal visit to Downton Abbey by King George V and Queen Mary.

The film is grounded by the main plot of the King’s visit and the extensive preparations that go with the visit.  This main plot is not sufficient to hold the entire movie and several subplots are quite obviously inserted to support the story.  Among them are the gay exploits of the butler as he grows brave enough to eventually find romance in the times when gays were outlawed, the abuse of the Abbey household at the hands of the over-prude royal staff, the attempted assassination of the King, the quarrel of the Smith and Wilton characters and of course, some romance thrown in for good measure.  All work quite well just as the cooperation of the DOWTON ABBEY staff.

Academy Award Winner, Maggie Smith (way back when from THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) is given the script’s best comical punch lines and thus steals the show.  The apt supporting cast do not fare much badly either.

This reviewer who sees more than 350 films annually with no time left for television, has not seen a single episode on TV, so take this review with a grain of salt.  However, a fellow film critic who is a total fan of the series was pleasantly pleased with the full length feature.  DOWNTON ABBEY is a pleasant enough feature on the TV series and with some luck, should win over a few converts as well.



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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Poster

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a movie starring Lily James, Glen Powell, and Matthew Goode. A writer forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island in the aftermath of World War II, when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war.


Mike Newell


Kevin Hood (screenplay by), Thomas Bezucha (screenplay) |3 more credits »

The film’s trailer and film’s beginning establish the origin of the name of a book club in the Island of Guernsey.  It all began in 1941 during the World War II when a group of four English people, two men and two women, are walking at night-time in German occupied Guernsey.  They are stopped by Germans for breaching curfew.  When asked for their reason, one of the women notices a book in the pocket of one of the Germans and says that they were at a book group. Collectively they improvise the book group’s name: the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and avoid arrest when one of the men throws up on the soldiers’ boots.

This film is the second film (the other being BEAST set on Jersey Island) to open this month that has a setting on a United Kingdom associated island in the sea between Britain and France.  It is beneficial to know a bit that Guernsey like Jersey Island in order to better appreciate the film.  Guernsey is is not part of the United Kingdom though the populace share a lot in common with the British including the currency of pound sterling  The island is self governing though protected by Britain’s Military.   The island’s landscape is stunning, especially the beaches and rocky cliffs, much like Wales, west of Britain.   The film is shot in England and at Ealing Studios and not on Guernsey though the film would definitely aid the Guernsey Tourism Board in efforts to promote visits to the island.

The film has a strong female slant, understandably being based on the 2008 novel of the same name by two female writers Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, with a female protagonist at the heart of the story.  All the males have secondary importance in the story, serving the purpose of the females.  One could suitably classify this WWII historical drama as a chick flick.

The story, set in 1946 on Guernsey Island, concerns an author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) invited to the island to address the local book club.  She learns of the story of  Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Finlay) who has a daughter with a German soldier during the German Occupation of the island.  The message of the film is show how books can affect human lives.

Lily James (Kate Winslet was originally slotted) delivers a sufficiently fine performance while her co-star Dutch Game of Thrones actor, Michiel Huisman was chosen for her main love interest likely for his resemblance to Alan Bates who has a similar scruffy look in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD.  Matthew Goode has another gay role as Juliet’s publisher while British TV actress Penelope Wilton steals the show as Amelia Maugery.

One would naturally expect a whimsical female fantasy from the FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL director director Mike Newell.  The film succeeds with regards to this respect.  Commercial filmgoers would be more likely entertained by this film than the serious film critic who would be quick to shrug at the beleaguered dialogue and identify the plentiful clichés.


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Film Review: BIRTHMARKED (Canada/Ireland 2017)

Two scientists raise 3 children contrarily to their genetic tendencies to prove the ultimate power of nurture over nature.


Marc TulinMarc Tulin (story) |1 more credit »

BIRTHMARKED is a Canadian/Irish comedy with a good premise but unfortunately falls flat due its script and lack of direction.

The film begins in 1977.  Two respected scientists, Ben Morin (Matthew Goode) and his wife Catherine (Toni Collette) quit their jobs at the university to conduct an experiment they think will revolutionize our understanding of human identity, after they are inspired by a speech on scientists making a difference in human beings.   The project aims to raise three children contrarily to their genetic predispositions to prove the ultimate power of nurture over nature. They want to prove that everyone has the same potential to become anything. Maya, a newborn girl adopted from two feebleminded parents, is raised to be smart, while Maurice, a newborn boy adopted from two anger-prone parents, is raised to be a pacifist.  Finally, their own biological son Luke, who comes from a long lineage of scientific brains, is raised to become a revered artist.  The film’s message is the importance of family above all.  The experiment will reveal little scientific truth, leading Ben and Catherine to discover the true value of family.

BIRTHMARKED’s script by Marc Tulin is the sloppiest script this year for a variety of reasons, a few of the more noticeable ones mentioned below.

The film begins in a 1978 setting.  For one, the script never ever mentions where it is set. Being an Irish/Canadian co-production, one can imagine the reason the filmmakers the setting ambiguous, so that the film will be marketable in the U.S., Canada and Ireland.  Director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais takes great pains with the music, wardrobe and props (vehicles) in the creation of the ’77-’78 setting, but the script completely blows it with one character using the phrase “most importantly”, a term that was never used till after 2010.   Nothing is mentioned of the other two adopted kids’ parents – who they are or why they would allow their children to be a part of human experiments.  The ethics of the experiment is never discussed.  The ending is also unsatisfactory with no closure.  Characters like Dr. Julie Bouchard (Suzanne Clement) and Mrs. Tridek (Fionnula Flanagan) appear out of nowhere.  One is played by a French Canadian and the other an Irish, to be fair.  For a film about there children, one would expect the children to be super cute with each one memorable for their own peculiarities and perhaps even stealing the movie from the more experienced actors.  No such luck as the children’s roles are underwritten.

One wonders the reason British actor Matthew Goode (hardly recognizable) has ditched his good looks, hiding under a beard and spectacles for the role of the scientist, after all he kept his good looks as a mathematician/scientist in THE IMITATION GAME.  Director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais gives himself a cameo as a fellow scientist.  Toni Collette assumes another quirky role after the recent MADAME.

The main subject on nature vs. nurture is is never debated or concluded resulting in the film’s good intentions being insufficient to save it.